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ARGENTINA | 27-06-2020 08:53

What we learned this week: June 20 to June 27

A round-up of the stories that caught our eye over the last seven days in Argentina.

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

Yesterday afternoon (more than three hours after the originally scheduled 1pm) President Alberto Fernández announced a new and stricter quarantine from July 1 to 17, restricting shopping and transport to essential services (chiefly the health sector, food supply and social services among 24 categories with all travel permits up for renewal as from Monday). The controls will be strictest in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA) and Chaco where the coronavirus crisis is hitting hardest but these zones will also qualify for renewal of the IFE emergency family benefit through to next month, while ATP wage assistance will continue nationwide. As always when announcing quarantine, the president was flanked by City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof, who both spoke for the first time. 

At press time yesterday there were 55,343 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1,184 deaths, as compared to 39,750 cases and 979 deaths the previous Friday with Covid-19 crossing the four-digit threshold for fatal victims on Father’s Day last Sunday. The re-opening of shopping centres in Córdoba last weekend just in time for Father’s Day seemed to point in the opposite direction to yesterday’s announcements but a stricter line was already decided by a Monday meeting between the three protagonists of those announcements with speculation as to their exact details accounting for much of the week’s media coverage. On Wednesday Education Minister Nicolás Trotta held a press conference to detail the restrictions permitting a return to classes but without giving any dates. The day before quarantine was tightened yesterday, one restriction was eased when weekly air connections with Madrid, Paris and Amsterdam were agreed for July and August despite the closure of frontiers and the ban on flights until September 1. But with the daily total of coronavirus cases rising from over 1,500 to almost 3,000 in the course of the week, an increased death toll (including three infants last week) and a sharp rise in hospital bed occupancy, yesterday’s announcements hardly came as a surprise. 

BINNER DIES AT 77

Former Santa Fe governor Hermes Binner, 77, Argentina’s first socialist provincial governor and runner-up in the 2011 presidential elections, died yesterday of acute pneumonia (after testing negative for coronavirus). A doctor by training, he always gave priority to public health, whether as Rosario mayor 1995-2003), provincial governor (2007-2011) or presidential candidate.

VICENTIN ON BACKBURNER

Following last weekend’s Flag Day “banderazo” against the expropriation of Vicentin food conglomerate (drawing significant numbers both in this city and in the vicinity of the main Vicentin soy-crushing plant in northern Santa Fe province), the controversy subsided last week as the national government mulled the proposal of Santa Fe Peronist Governor Omar Perotti for a more mixed management of the debt-ridden company (resisted by its current board for not including compensation). Government action was limited to appealing the court ruling downgrading its chosen trustees to overseers and creating a Senate commission to investigate the 2015-2019 Mauricio Macri administration’s handling of the company’s debt situation.   

NUMERICAL DOOM AND GLOOM

On Tuesday the INDEC national statistics bureau announced some negative data for the first quarter of the year – an unemployment figure of 10.4 percent but especially a slump of -5.4 percent in Gross Domestic Product when lockdown only accounts for 11 days of that quarter. The next day the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised its 2020 growth forecast for Argentina downwards to -9.9 percent as against -4.9 percent for the world as a whole.

ALL CALM ON THE EXTERNAL FRONT

Little movement on money markets last week with the dollar also virtually in quarantine – the official exchange rate (Banco Nación) inched up from 72.50 to 73 pesos while the closing figure for the parallel “blue” dollar this week was identical to last week, 128 pesos. These static trends reflected debt negotiations receding into the background with the latest deadline of July 24 still almost a month away. There the differences shifted more towards the legal terrain rather than exit yield percentages, especially concerning class action clauses where the creditors accused the government of abusing the new majorities to head off hedge funds to impose its own terms.

CRISTINA OFF ONE HOOK

Federal judge Marcelo Martínez De Giorgi on Tuesday quashed the trial of Vice-President Cristina Kirchner in the chapter of the so-called “cuadernos (notebooks)” trials for public works graft related to Techint multinational, grounding his decision on lack of evidence as well as doubts as to whether the payments were really graft or extortion by a Venezuelan government threatening to expropriate Techint’s Sidor plant in the Caribbean country in 2008 (Techint executive Luis María Betnaza admitted to the payments but claimed that their aim was to repatriate around 200 Argentine employees of Sidor in Venezuela). The ex-president’s co-defendants in the trial (ordered by the late federal judge Claudio Bonadio in 2018) include former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido. The ruling does not end other corruption trials against the vice-president. 

TEEN RECORD-BREAKER

Argentine youth international Luka Romero made sporting history on Wednesday by becoming the youngest player ever to play in Spain’s La Liga first division when still five months short of his 16th birthday. The attacking midfielder’s baptism of fire on behalf of his relegation-threatened team Real Mallorca was against no less than league-leading Real Madrid (winner of 13 Champions Leagues), coming on as a substitute in the 83rd minute of his team's 2-0 away loss. Romero thus broke a record set way back in 1939 in the first season after the Spanish Civil War, describing it as " an unforgettable moment." Born in Mexico because his Argentine father was playing there at the time, the left-footer could also qualify for Spain but has no doubts about his preference for the Albiceleste shirt, which he has already worn at under-15 level.

ESPINOZA ARRESTS AND TRIAL

Tucumán judge Mario Velázquez last weekend remanded in custody nine provincial policemen and a night-watchman in order to face trial for the murder of farm hand Luis Armando Espinoza (31).

NOW LOCUSTS, ALL 10 PLAGUES OF EGYPT?

As if coronavirus were not enough, Argentina has been facing a plague of locusts from Paraguay for the past month although until now it has spared both crops and livestock, agricultural authorities report. The swarm is already 1,000 kilometres deep into northern Argentina, spreading over several provinces, but apparently the onset of winter is halting further advance. 

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