THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
There were 2,054,681 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 51,000 deaths at press time yesterday as against last week’s figures breaking through the barriers of two million cases (2,008,345) and 50,000 deaths (50,029), in both cases on the previous Friday (February 12). Ash Wednesday saw a major milestone within the pandemic with the first mass return to classes after all schoolchildren nationwide lost all classroom education last year save for a few thousand in some inland rural schools in a couple of provinces – around 370,000 of the City’s 785,000 schoolchildren went back to school. The vaccination of those aged over 70 in Buenos Aires Province was announced for that same day but did not start until Thursday due to delays in vaccine delivery. Also on Wednesday Health Minister Ginés González García called for the elimination of the PASO primaries as an “unnecessary risk” despite expressing optimism about vaccination, while 520,000 doses of India’s Covishield vaccine (based on the AstraZeneca-Oxford offering) arrived in Argentina. The nation’s health minister was back in the news on Friday, however, when President Alberto Fernández asked for his resignation after journalist Horacio Verbitsky revealed he had been able to skip the queue for a jab with a call to González García’s office.
MENEM PASSES AWAY
Senator Carlos Menem, the longest-serving president in Argentine democratic history (a full decade between 1989 and 1999), died last Sunday at the age of 90 from complications stemming from a urinary infection.
COUNCIL OF MAGISTRATES
On Thursday Lomas de Zamora University chancellor Diego Molea, the academic representative on the Council of Magistrates, was unanimously picked to head the judicial watchdog with powers to designate and remove judges. Molea, whose political origins lie in Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa’s Renewal Front but who also has strong links with La Cámpora militant grouping, is a Frente de Todos supporter while the new vice-president (president until this week), judge Alberto Lugones, also leans that way. But opposition members will be chairing some key committees such as Discipline and Accusation (the judge Ricardo Recondo) and Selection of Judges (deputy Graciela Camaño) with all posts being negotiated between all sectors over a period of weeks, thus making all of Thursday’s voting unanimous. Molea has pledged “continuity” with Lugones. At the close of the meeting Juntos por el Cambio deputy Pablo Tonelli raised the question of the recent pressures by ANSES social security administration on over 200 judges and prosecutors to pension themselves off, calling the move "unconstitutional" and "grossly arbitrary" as well as violating the "acquired rights" of judges. This issue was passed to the Council’s Labour Committee for analysis. The meeting was attended by 12 of the 13 members with Senator Mariano Recalde (Frente de Todos-City) the only absentee after testing positive for coronavirus.
CRISTINA APPEALS TO COURTS
Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who yesterday turned 68, has blocked the transfer of the illegal espionage case against the preceding Mauricio Macri administration to the Federal Capital’s Comodoro Py courthouse from Lomas de Zamora by challenging the Criminal Cassation Court ruling ordering the change of jurisdiction, as well as requesting the intervention of the Supreme Court against any move.
FIRMS FACE HOARDING PROBE
The government has accused a number of leading companies, including Mastellone, Fargo, AGD, Danone, Molinos Cañuelas, Bunge, Molinos Río de la Plata, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Paladini and Potigian of holding back mass consumption items and creating shortages, enjoining them to distribute products normally to supermarkets to meet demand. The government notes that its recent inspections of retail outlets have turned up more cases of products missing from shelves than price abuses violating controls. Some companies complained that the drastic methods of 2006-2013 Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno were making a comeback.
The parallel “blue” dollar continued its downward course of all this year last week, even if inching only one peso from last Friday to close at 148 pesos. The official exchange rate thus moved further ahead (if its 65 percent surcharges are added), going up from 94.10 to 94.40 pesos according to Banco Nación, or 152.95 pesos for savers with the surcharges. The unofficial but legal exchange rates fell below the “blue” dollar for the first time this month with the CCL (contado con liquidación) down from 151.61 to 143.42 pesos since last Friday while the MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) dropped from 146.88 to 139.41 pesos. as against 150.90 pesos a week ago. Country risk moved up to 1,484 points from 1,462 points the previous Friday, reacting to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s reported intentions of rolling back the repayment of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by two decades.
PETROL UP AGAIN
YPF increased petrol prices for the fourth time in six weeks last Monday, only 1.2 percent this time but a cumulative 11-12 percent for the year so far, well ahead of inflation. Increased fuel taxation and rising world oil prices alike mount price pressures on oil companies.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC COUNCIL LAUNCH
The Socio-Economic Council for long-range planning, promised by President Alberto Fernández in his 2019 election campaign, was finally up and running yesterday after a 14-month delay, headed by Strategic Affairs Secretary Gustavo Beliz.
SANTIAGO DEL ESTERO FEMICIDE HOTSPOT
Carnival Tuesday saw the year’s bloodiest femicide in Santiago del Estero with two sisters falling victim when Rino Garnica, 43, stabbed both his estranged wife and his sister-in-law to death. Silvia and Silvana Rojas were both still alive when local police arrested Garnica amid pools of blood but died on the way to hospital. What drove Garnica to this double murder was his wife setting up a divorce hearing in the city of Añatuta. While this was the year’s bloodiest femicide, it was not the first double slaying of 2021 with an antecedent in the same province – last month a man shot dead both his ex-wife and his former mother-in-law in Monte Hermoso. The news came in the same week anti-gender-violence activists held a protest outside Congress (pictured), decrying recent femicides.
PJ PARTY VOTE
Last Wednesday the deadline expired for filing lists to run in the March 21 elections to pick new Justicialist (Peronist) Party authorities. President Alberto Fernández heading the official Unidad y Federalismo list as its nominee for party chairman faces a single challenge from San Luis Governor Alberto Rodríguez Saá heading a list named 17 de octubre Fuerza Argentina. President Fernández is accompanied further down the list by no less than nine Peronist governors (including Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof as one of his five running-mates) as well as Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero, two ministers, Anses social security administration director Fernanda Raverta and numerous trade unionists. Several of the names in Rodríguez Saá’s list are in the dock on corruption and other charges – its credentials have been challenged but not for that reason. Assuming he emerges victorious next month, President Fernández will replace former San Juan governor José Luis Gioja as Justicialist Party chairman.
The Carnival long weekend running until Ash Wednesday was a success, the Tourism and Sports Ministry reported, with domestic tourism of over three million people. The five provinces of Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Entre Ríos, Río Negro and Neuquén drew over three-quarters of this total. Most of the 10 most popular destinations were on the Atlantic coast with Córdoba and San Martín de los Andes the only exceptions while the 20 most successful had 100 percent hotel occupancy (the biggest resort of Mar del Plata 70 percent). The Ministry estimates domestic tourism over the entire summer vacations at over 11 million nationwide despite the coronavirus pandemic, thus helping regional economies.
A tourmaline semi-precious stone found on Thursday in Teniente Origone police station in southern Buenos Aires Province could prove a direct link between the Buenos Aires provincial police and the death last year of Facundo Astudillo Castro since the youth wore such a stone around his neck. A hair found in a patrol car is also being subjected to DNA testing to see if it belonged to Astudillo Castro.