THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
There were 2,098,728 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 51,887 deaths at press time yesterday as against 2,054,681 cases and exactly 51,000 deaths the previous Friday when Ginés González García resigned in disgrace from the Health Ministry over the “VIP vaccine” scandal. Carla Vizzotti was already up and running as the new minister the following afternoon, promising “equal” access to vaccines. On Sunday Vizzotti extended “emergency” authorisation to China’s Sinopharm vaccine, of which 904,000 doses arrived last Thursday (earmarked for teachers since restricted to those under 60). Over the weekend President Alberto Fernández defended the departed minister’s track record while describing the scandal as “reproachable” – the presidential backlash came later in Mexico on Tuesday when he dismissed the judicial investigation of the scandal as “clownery” and pointed out that queue-jumping was not a crime in Argentina. On Monday the government published a list of 70 officials and important politicians inoculated by Posadas Hospital staff, including ex-president Eduardo Duhalde and both halves of the 2015 Peronist presidential ticket (Ambassador to Brazil Daniel Scioli and Treasury Prosecutor Carlos Zannini, the latter registered as a “health worker”). On Wednesday Vizzotti gave a figure of 13,378 for the total number of “strategic personnel” vaccinated and said that the category would now be redefined. On Monday City Hall kicked off the vaccination of those aged over 80 although including prepaid health schemes and obras sociales (union-run healthcare funds) in the process triggered a lawsuit against “privatisation” the following day.
Tycoon Lázaro Báez, 64, a key business associate of ex-presidents Néstor and Cristina Kirchner, was sentenced on Wednesday to 12 years in prison for money-laundering to the tune of US$55 million between 2010 and 2013. The tycoon’s sons Martín and Leandro Báez were sentenced to nine and five years respectively while his two daughters Luciana and Melina received suspended sentences of three years. Accountant Leonardo Fariña, a key whistleblower, received a five-year sentence with three years chopped off in recognition of his testimony while financier Federico Elaskar, another important whistleblower, was given 54 months. Daniel Pérez Gadín, the main accountant of Báez, and lawyer Jorge Chueco were both sentenced to eight years. A total of 22 persons were convicted and three acquitted. Báez has been remanded in custody since April, 2016, which will reduce his sentence. Last September he was granted house arrest with an electronic anklet.
Pundits last week were speculating on the implications of this verdict for Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is a co-defendant of Báez in three other trials.
UP MEXICO WAY
President Alberto Fernández spent the middle three days of the week in Mexico marking that country’s bicentenary with his Mexican colleague Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka ‘AMLO,’ whom he has described as his most kindred spirit in the region while the two countries are jointly producing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine) although the visit was overshadowed by the “VIP vaccine” scandal – not least because AMLO lashed out beforehand against “secret vaccinations for top people” (although his intended target seems to have been Peru rather than Argentina). The presidential agenda included a bullish one-on-one meeting with telecommunications tycoon Carlos Slim (at times in the past a contender to be the richest man in the world), as well as around 30 other top Mexican businessmen, several at a time. Fernández flew to Mexico in a private jet also leased by football superstar Lionel Messi rather than an Aerolíneas Argentinas flight, thus sparking some adverse comment.
INDEC statistics bureau’s publication of last December’s economic activity as 2.2 percent down from the last month of 2019 confirmed a double-digit economic contraction of 10 percent for 2020, topped only in Argentine history by the 10.9 percent contraction of 2002. This plunge leaves per capita incomes at 1970-1975 levels, economists estimate. There were extreme variations between sectors with five actually growing while hotels and restaurants crashed minus 47.1 percent.
The parallel “blue” dollar continued its downward course of all this year last week, down to 145 pesos from 148 pesos last Friday. The official exchange rate thus moved further ahead (if its 65 percent surcharges are added), inching up from 94.40 to 94.50 pesos according to Banco Nación, or just over 153 pesos for savers with the surcharges. Among the unofficial but legal exchange rates the CCL (contado con liquidación) moved up 143.42 to 145.32 pesos between yesterday and last Friday, although down from Thursday, while the MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) also rose from 139.41 to 141.92 pesos. Country risk rose beyond the 1,500 mark from 1,484 points the previous Friday to close the week at 1,504 points.
The ANSES social security administration this week started to go through with its previous announcement that over 200 judges and prosecutors who had begun retirement proceedings should resign their benches and posts within 30 days or risk having their pension files shelved for an indefinite period. The move affects several magistrates trying current or former government officials but also judicial personnel more linked to the Frentes de Todos administration such as prosecutor Javier De Luca, co-founder of the Justicia Legítima Kirchnerite grouping.
FEMICIDE IN VILLA LA ANGOSTURA
Although a daily occurrence, a femicide hit the front pages for the first time in almost 20 days since the slaying of Ursula Buhillo – Guadalupe Curual, 21 and a single mother, downtown in the upmarket Patagonian holiday centre of Villa La Angostura. Like Ursula the victim had gone to the courts for protection to no avail with a restraining order against her ex-partner proving equally ineffective. On Thursday, the day after the femicide, her suspected killer Bautista Quintriqueo attempted suicide.
In the small hours of yesterday the family of a nurse attending the late Senator Carlos Menem (who died on February 14) in his last days approached a police station to return the ex-presidents lifelong ring which had gone missing. The nurse remains on the run. Last Monday accountant Ricardo Guerra was sworn in to replace Menem as a Peronist senator for La Rioja.
URUGUAY FOR MACRI
Uruguayan Foreign Minister Francisco Bustillo admitted on Thursday that the agreement between the European Union and Mercosur was far from sealed and that it had only been announced in 2019 to assist then-President Mauricio Macri in his election campaign. Since then environmental and other question-marks over the agreement.
MARADONA DEATH PROBE
Prosecutors have convened a medical board for March 8 to decide whether or not football legend Diego Armando Maradona received proper medical treatment before his death last November, a month after turning 60, or whether there was malpractice.