THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
At press time yesterday there was a total of 39,750 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 954 deaths, as compared to 28,764 cases and 785 deaths the previous Friday, thus leaving the death toll poised to enter four digits during a weekend including Flag Day today and Father’s Day tomorrow following a week with an alarming surge in the contagion curve. Chaco, the only district beyond Buenos Aires City and Province with a four-digit total of coronavirus cases almost trebling any other province, took alarm on Monday with its death toll hitting 73 and reverted to the strictest form of quarantine (Phase 1) while the metropolitan area started the week by tightening up traffic controls, strictly limiting public transport to workers in essential activities as from yesterday. On Tuesday the pandemic claimed its highest-profile case so far as former Buenos Aires Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal tested positive for coronavirus (only mild symptoms so far) while the current administration of that province began talking openly of quarantine until mid-September. On Thursday the government announced an extremely broad moratorium covering most taxes in the light of the coronavirus crisis. A new record number for deaths (35) on Thursday intensified concern as the general public is torn between lockdown fatigue with three straight months of quarantine as from today and acute anxiety over what the winter beginning tomorrow will bring. At press time, it emerged that Argentina had recorded more than 2,000 cases in a day for the first time since the pandemic began.
DEBT DEADLINE EXTENSION WARMS MARKETS
A strange week in debt negotiations featuring narrowing differences between the government and its creditors but also rising tensions between them leading to fears of an imminent default closed with the government’s decision yesterday evening to give the talks their longest extension yet – until July 24, five weeks from now. A tense week was reflected by rises in both the official and parallel exchange rates but nothing dramatic – Banco Nación closed the week yesterday on 72.50 pesos per dollar as against 71.50 the previous Friday while the “blue” dollar moved up from 123 to 128 pesos between the two Fridays. Ahead of the decision to spin out talks, country risk was jumpy yesterday with measurements ranging between 2,538 and 2,614 points as against a closing figure of 2,574 points the previous Friday. The local stock exchange jumped eight percent on the extension news.
Latam Argentina announced on Wednesday that it would be ending 15 years of operations in this country. This year’s coronavirus lockdown was the last straw for the airline already facing deficits in recent years, historic clashes with the trade unions and regulations perceived as discriminating in favour of Aerolíneas Argentinas. The Labour Ministry insistence on 100 percent payment of salaries in months of zero revenue made costs impossible, the company said. With a fleet of 12 aircraft and 1,715 employees, Latam serviced 12 domestic destinations and four overseas (Santiago, São Paulo, Lima and Miami). Clearer skies ahead for an Aerolíneas monopoly with at least 80 percent of the local aviation market now secured.
Reconquista judge Fabián Lorenzini, who has charge of the bankruptcy proceedings governing the debt-ridden Vicentin soy-crushing firm, ruled yesterday that the food conglomerate remains in the hands of its board of directors for now, downgrading government trustee Gabriel Delgado to overseer. The expropriation, announced on June 8, aroused hot debate throughout the week and there were continuous protests in the area of the company’s main plant near the northern Santa Fe town of Reconquista with a massive nationwide “banderazo” protest announced for Flag Day today while the Frente de Todos administration lobbied during the week in Congress and among provincial governments on behalf of its expropriation bill but this still had not been drafted at press time yesterday and nor were there substantial new developments during the week. At press time, the government said it was to a new path, potentially not involving expropriation.
CAFIERO DOES CONGRESS
In the first appearance of a Cabinet Chief before Congress in 14 months, Santiago Cafiero presented his maiden report in the Senate on Thursday, fielding a marathon 624 opposition questions in a session dominated by the expropriation of Vicentin food conglomerate and pensions (with the continuation of increases via decree for the rest of the year instead of the suspended index-linking system announced on the same day). Cafiero blamed this year’s negative data on the coronavirus epidemic rather than quarantine and announced cutbacks in emergency wage relief for the second half of the year. Cafiero defended the Vicentin move as basically a salvage operation and denied that the government would be nationalising any other companies in the private sector.
TRUMP EYES IDB
On Tuesday United States President Donald Trump dealt a heavy blow to the ambitions of Strategic Affairs Secretary Gustavo Beliz to head the Inter-American Development Bank (BID in its Spanish acronym) by nominating Mauricio Claver-Carone, currently heading the Western Hemisphere affairs section at Washington’s State Department, to succeed Luis Alberto Moreno. Since the US commands 30 percent of the votes on BID’s board of directors, the hawkish Claver-Carone will be hard to stop. If successful, he will break a tradition of all BID presidents coming from Latin rather than North America. Beliz based his campaign on being a key aide of a G20 president who had worked for BID during most of the 15 years between holding posts in the Néstor Kirchner and Alberto Fernández presidencies.
Fully 40 million Argentines or some 89 percent of the population depend in whole or in part on state assistance including family benefits, pensions, emergency wage relief and public-sector salaries, it emerged from the June edition of the Productive Development Ministry’s “Productive Panorama Report.” This report further revealed that to pay for all this, the money now being printed outweighs genuine tax revenue and that every sector except medicines, agrochemicals and food is in the red while job losses among the formally employed alone topped 100,000 between March and April.
The government announced on Tuesday that all public employees earning over 80,000 pesos monthly – around one in every eight of Argentina’s 3.2-million-strong payroll – would be collecting their midyear bonuses in the course of the next four months rather than at the end of this month. Meanwhile, Congress began debating a bill regulating teleworking from home which has been endorsed by the trade unions.