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Jan 1st-6th: What We Learned This Week

What has happened the last seven days?

Saturday 5 January, 2019
Industrial production fell 13.3 percent in November 2018.
Industrial production fell 13.3 percent in November 2018. Foto:NA/ DANIEL VIDES

EX-PRESIDENT DE LA RÚA IN ‘GRAVE CONDITION’

Former president Fernando de la Rúa remains in intensive care after suffering a heart attack. The 81-year-old, president from 1999-2001, was surrounded by his wife and two sons, according to press reports, with sources saying: “He’s in a delicate state.” De la Rúa has suffered several health problems in recent years, undergoing an operation to open a clogged heart artery in 2014 while he had cardiac problems requiring surgery in both 2017 and 2018. He was also hospitalised for a heart problem in 2001 during his presidency.

EX-FOREIGN MINISTER HÉCTOR TIMERMAN DIES

Héctor Timerman, foreign minister in former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government, died last week aged 65. A former journalist and human rights activist, Timerman’s final years were dominated by the alleged attempt to cover-up Iranian involvement in the 1994 AMIA bombing. See Page 6 for a detailed obituary.

TELEFE ON THE BLINK

The Telefe television channel interrupted its normal programming yesterday when the lay-off of 100 employees triggered a union conflict which could see the traditional Channel 11 heading into a terminal crisis, it is widely feared. The remaining workers called union assemblies and other protest measures against the move and programming was temporarily cut short for five hours in the middle of a cookery show.

LABOUR REFORM ON WAY, SAYS SICA

The Macri administration will “pursue labour reform” in the new year, Production Minister Dante Sica says. Sica’s assurances come after the CGT union confederation warned the government it would pull out all the stops to block any attempts in Congress to liberalise the labour market. “We are going to pursue labour reform. We will continue our dialogue with the CGT and with business sectors to lower extra-salary costs which impede our competitiveness,” Sica said. Around 120,000 jobs in the formal labour market were lost in 2018, according to a Production and Labour Ministry report.

DOWNTURN IN NUMBERS

Economic indicators continue to make uncomfortable reading for the government. This week, the INDEC national statistics bureau revealed that industrial production fell 13.3 percent in November 2018 compared to the same month a year previous, accumulating a fourth consecutive monthly decline and registering the worst monthly fall of the year. In total, up until November, numbers for 2018 are down 3.8 percent on 2017’s data. In addition, data from the Argentine Association of Automotive Dealers (ACARA) indicated that the sale of new vehicles in 2018 fell 10.9 percent from the previous year. In total, 802,992 vehicles were registered in 2018 compared to 901,005 the previous year.

CONICET RESEARCHERS RAIL AGAINST BUDGET

The CONICET research body is suffering a funding and budgetary crisis with some areas of research receiving only 40 percent of their 2018 budget, the organisation’s leaders have complained. In an open letter, five of CONICET’s eight board of directors expressed their “enormous concern for the budgetary and wage situation that the organisation is facing,” adding that some scholars “live on remuneration which is below the current poverty line.” Among the group’s main concerns were the reduction in the number of new scholars, the difficulties in hiring new support staff and the impossibility to renew existing contracts. They complained that some research bodies within the organisation had received only 40 percent of their assigned budget in 2018. For others, the situations as even worse, according to Ana Franchi, director of the Pharmaceutical and Botanical Studies Centre, since “the budget for some entities this year ended at between 20 and 30 percent of nominal values compared to the budget in 2017.”

PLANES, TRAINS... AND TASERS

Never an idle moment for Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, even during the holiday season – this week she announced a tender for the purchase of 300 controversial Taser stun guns for use in airports and on trains. The Mauricio Macri administration has already tried to adopt this equipment at an earlier stage but pulled back in the face of heavy opposition from human rights groups. Defending the move on local radio, Bullrich said the weapons – which cost around US$3,000 each – were intended for use in situations “where an intermediate, non-lethal weapon is needed.”

TOURIST LOSES LEG AFTER BEING SHOT BY ROBBER

Tourist Christoffer Persson, a Swedish computer engineer, lost his right leg last Thursday after being kneecapped by an armed robber snatching his smartphone in Monserrat last weekend. The amputation gave this attack the biggest coverage of any crime involving a tourist since last February when policeman Luis Chocobar controversially shot dead the mugger who stabbed Frank Wolek from the United States in the Boca neighbourhood (see Page 7 for full story).

MACRI: ‘I DON’T UNDERSTAND CRITICISM OVER VACATIONS’

After skipping his new Brazilian colleague Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration on Tuesday, President Mauricio Macri ended the week by defending his holiday-making (which totals four of his 36 months as president), saying that he “did not understand” why anybody criticises his right to vacations. Nevertheless, Macri did briefly interrupt his Patagonian repose in Angostura to inaugurate a gas pipeline in nearby Bariloche with electorally charged critiques of Kirchnerite corruption.

MARADONA HEALTH SCARE

A routine medical check-up at Olivos clinic on Friday turned into a major health scare for one of the nation’s idols, soccer superstar Diego Maradona, when he was diagnosed with a perforated stomach ulcer. But after a brief operation he had already left the clinic and was on his way back to his coaching job in Mexico by the end of the day according to some reports. Yet other reports at press time had Maradona in more critical condition facing a bypass.

FIVE ARRESTED FOR RAPE IN MIRAMAR

Sexual abuse has remained a hot topic as we enter a new year: on December 31, a 14-year-old girl was raped on at a camping complex in the coastal city of Miramar, police reported this week. Five men aged between 21 and 23 were arrested on Tuesday on charges of rape. The teenage girl was staying with her family at the El Durazno camping complex one kilometre from Miramar’s Route 11 when the attack happened. The men have been identified as Lucas Pitman (age 21), Emanuel Díaz (23), Tomás Jaime (23), Roberto Costa (21) and Juan Cruz Villalba (23), all of whom hail from Mar del Plata. The girl’s parents found her intoxicated in a tent in a distant section of the camping ground, according to the criminal complaint. Coverage in local outlets also sparked outcry, after a controversial opening to a story by Clarín indulged in what was described as some as ‘victim shaming.’ In another shocking development on Thursday, three men were arrested in Villa Elisa — a small city near the provincial capital La Plata — for allegedly gang-raping a 15-year-old girl.

MURDER ON RISE IN NEIGHBOURING URUGUAY

Neighbouring Uruguay, that country of calm reputation, recorded a record number of murders in 2018, with a 35 percent increase to 382, a study published on Thursday claimed. That amounts to 11.2 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the report by the Fundapro foundation, which has close ties to the opposition Colorado Party, that was published in the El País newspaper.

ELECTION RACE KICKS OFF AS URTUBEY THROWS HIS HAT INTO THE RING

Salta Peronist Governor Juan Manuel Urtubey has kicked off the election year of 2019 by tossing his hat into the presidential ring in its very first week. Urtubey identified Sergio Massa as his primary rival for the votes of those who neither sympathise with current President Mauricio Macri nor his predecessor, Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

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