THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
Argentina crossed the grim threshold of 45,000 deaths from Covid-19 on Thursday to close the week at 45,227 deaths and 1,783,047 confirmed cases of contagion since last March. The latest stage of quarantine (still not defined at press time for last Saturday’s edition) ended up delegating new restrictions to the provinces with a 1am-6am curfew the general but not universal norm, imposed in Buenos Aires Province, for example, and prompting some grumbling in Atlantic coastal resorts. Fines for violations in this City were increased to up to 3.36 million pesos. Opposition critiques of the government handling of the pandemic during the week tended to focus on the uncertainties over vaccines (where Deputy Health Minister Carla Vizzotti was forced to backtrack on her proposal that Sputnik V recipients could be doubled by administering only one of the two doses) and the resumption of school classes next month – ex-president Mauricio Macri added his voice to press for the latter on Thursday in an intervention described by Education Minister Nicolás Trotta as “cynical.“ A new controversy arose in midweek when judge Javier Pico Terrero was brought before the Magistrates Council for ordering treatment with chlorine dioxide (an unauthorised substance) as a last resort for a Covid-19 patient of 92 in critical condition against the resistance of Otamendi Hospital – the man died last Monday. On Thursday an Aerolíneas Argentinas plane headed out to Moscow to pick up 300,000 more doses of Sputnik V vaccine, due to return today.
The grain marketing lockout called the previous week by three of Argentina’s four main farm lobbies to protest the suspension of maize exports duly ran almost all its appointed course from Monday until the last few hours of Wednesday, after the government called off the suspension on Tuesday in favour of a vague “monitoring” process. The government tried to head off the stoppage from its outset with a last-minute announcement that maize exports would be permitted up to 30,000 tons (not enough to fill a large freighter) but this failed to impress the protesting farmers. Despite the early and peaceful ending of the lockout on Wednesday, Frente de Todos deputy Fernanda Vallejos added a new note of tension to the government’s relationship with the farming sector the same day when she described food exports as a “curse.” On another agricultural front the government protested Brazil’s policy of importing 750,000 tons of wheat duty-free from non-Mercosur countries (the Brazilian wheat market accounts for around 15 percent of Argentine exports).
INFLATION 36.1% IN 2020
The final 2020 figure for inflation was 36.1 percent, a third less than the 2019 total of 53.8 percent, after the INDEC statistics bureau reported month’s inflation at four percent on Thursday in line with most forecasts. But the four percent figure also suggests that this year’s inflation will be closer to 2019 than to 2020 as against the 2021 Budget estimate of 29 percent. A partial economic rebound this year as opposed to the highly deflationary lockdown recession and election spending plus excess peso liquidity are expected to keep inflation up rather than down. Health, food and transport were identified as the main culprits for the December figure with a core inflation of 4.9 percent.
The parallel “blue” dollar closed the week yesterday three pesos down from the previous Friday at 159 pesos as against an official exchange rate of 90.75 pesos (plus a 65 percent surcharge for purchases by savers), according to Banco Nación. The unofficial but legal CCL and MEP exchange rates closed the week at 146.29 and 145.39 pesos respectively. But country risk rose at an accelerated pace last week to close at 1,461 points as against 1,375 points the previous Friday.
ABORTION LAW SIGNED
On Thursday President Alberto Fernández formally promulgated the abortion law and the Thousand Days Plan to assist women going ahead with their pregnancies, celebrating that he had “kept my word.”
HEALTH REOFRM UNREST
With a reform of the health system in the air, CGT trade unionists huddled on Tuesday to defend their obras sociales healthcare schemes, even hinting at a strike at the end of this month. Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s proposal last month of an “integral reform” merging public and private sectors with the obras sociales into a single system is viewed as an existential threat since these healthcare schemes account for much of trade union funding, even if deeply in the red and strained by the pandemic “multiplying their costs exponentially,” according to the CGT statement issued after the meeting.
EVO MORALES HAS COVID
Former Bolivian president Evo Morales, stricken with Covid-19 in midweek, revealed on Thursday that the governments of Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela had all offered him treatment in their countries but that he was being treated in a Cochabamba clinic by doctors from elsewhere, reportedly Cuban. His contagion apparently stemmed from intense campaign activity in preparation for Bolivia’s local elections on March 7. Bolivia, with 11.5 million inhabitants, is heading towards 10,000 deaths from coronavirus with the ex-president joining 178,810 citizens infected at the time of his contagion.
GOLFER CABRERA ARRESTED
Golfer Angel Cabrera, 51, wanted by Interpol on domestic violence charges, was arrested in Rio de Janeiro’s upscale Leblon neighbourhood on Thursday, and will be extradited to Argentina to stand trial, Brazilian police said. Winner of two majors (the US Open in 2007 and the Masters in 2009), Cabrera has been a fugitive since mid-August with an Interpol red notice issued in September. No date has been announced for his extradition. Cabrera faces complaints of abuse and violence from three different women – his current estranged partner, Cecilia Torres Mana, his ex-wife Silvia Rivadero, mother of his two children, and ex-partner Micaela Escudero.
FOOTBALLER ACCUSED OF ABUSE
Boca Juniors and national team footballer Cristian Pavón, 24, currently playing for Los Angeles Galaxy, has been denounced by nurse Marisol Doyle, 34, for sexual abuse at her expense at a party in Córdoba 14 months ago, also claiming that she was unable to continue in her job as a result. Pavón’s lawyers attribute the charges to attempted extortion by Doyle (a Boca fan).