DUJOVNE OUT, LACUNZA IN
Early in the long weekend President Mauricio Macri picked Buenos Aires provincial economy minister Hernán Lacunza to replace Nicolás Dujovne in the national portfolio and the new economic czar was duly sworn in early on Tuesday within hours of the nation returning to work. Among his statements at his first press conference Lacunza said that the exchange rate had found a new equilibrium below 60 pesos per dollar and that the government would do its utmost to defend it. In his first week the markets played ball with the Banco Nación quoting 57 pesos as its closing figure yesterday (an average of 54.69 pesos in other banks) while country risk ended the week at 1,809 points. (See full story on Page 5.)
Good news and bad news for the new economy minister in his first week with the latest data from INDEC statistics bureau. On Wednesday INDEC announced a trade surplus of almost a billion dollars for July (US$95 million to be exact) with a projection of 12.5 billion for all 2019. But the next day INDEC reported that the economy contracted 2.6 percent in the first half of the year even ahead of the current problems despite a record harvest from an agricultural sector growing 43.7 percent (as against the drought year of 2018). Even the good news of the trade surplus was tarnished by being largely the result of a 20.6 percent fall in imports from recession with exports rising 8.3 percent.
While the July inflation figure of 2.2 percent was the lowest of the year so far with the cost of a family shoppingbasket increasing only slightly more at 2.5 percent, this still left a family with two children needing a monthly 31,934.44 pesos to stay above the poverty line – 58.6 percent more than the year before. The same family now needs 12,773.78 pesos not to fall into destitution. PROVINCIAL BACKLASH All 19 opposition governors joined forces on Wednesday to protest the tax cuts in the government’s economic relief measures (including a higher income tax floor and the elimination of IVA valueadded taxation on basic food items) on the grounds that the loss of provincial funds via federal revenue-sharing would complicate the payment of salaries, demanding 40 billion pesos in compensation. On the same day the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro and La Pampa took the Mauricio Macri government to the Supreme Court over its “unconstitutional” emergency decree to freeze fuel prices for 90 days, followed by Santa Cruz the following day. (See page 4 for full story)
Early yesterday evening Mercosur announced an agreement with the European Free Trade Area (grouping Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein with an average annual per capita income of US$ 82,000 and exports of US$630 nillion.
Yet another protest downtown yesterday but with a different theme and against a different government – outside the Brazilian Embassy against the forest fires ravaging the Amazon basin. But there were also the usual picket and other protests over socio-economic hardships last week, snarling downtown traffic on Thursday in particular. (See Pages 8 and 9.)
MARKED DANCE CARDS
The planet’s largest country provided both heroes and villains at the Tango World Cup concluding Thursday with the Russian Maksim Gerasimov winning the tournament in partnership with local girl Agustina Piaggio (a Russian couple also clinched third place) but a compatriot of his was disqualified for wife-beating after punching his partner immediately after their semi-final performance. The aggression was denounced by the Tango Feminist Movement (MFT in its Spanish acronym) although the victim refrained from pressing charges. The MFT also deplored the organisers’ failure to express zero tolerance for gender violence. But for many the real hero of the event was the 99-year-old Irish Second World War veteran James McManus (see page 14)
TIDE TURNING IN COURTROOMS?
The trial of various Kirchnerite ex-officials headed by former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido for corruption in the Sarmiento rail underpass project was quashed on Wednesday by the Federal Appeals Court, which at the same time called for the continued investigation of the debts left by the Macri family holding Socma (Sociedad Macri) while running the Post Office between 1997 and 2003. (See page 4)
As tensions mounted in the Patagonian province of Chubut over continued delays in paying provincial employees their salaries, six bulletholes were found in the car of Chubut provincial Cabinet chief Federico Massoni last weekend. On Tuesday provincial Education Minister Leonardo de Bella denounced receiving death threats from protesters the previous evening. The province has already suffered a general strike and road-blocks throughout the month.
MAYOR KILLED IN ACCIDENT
Jorge Cortes, the Peronist mayor of the rural Buenos Aires Province district of Hipólito Yrigoyen, was killed in a car crash on Wednesday evening while returning from a campaign rally in favour of Frente de Todos gubernatorial candidate Axel Kicillof.
Repression carried to lethal extremes was an issue on two different fronts last week. Metropolitan Police Inspector Esteban Ramírez kicked Jorge Gómez in the chest on Monday, causing him to fall and fatally fracture his skull on the pavement after San Cristobal neighbours had phoned the police to say the man was obstructing traffic with a knife. Judge Yamile Bernán ordered the policeman’s release on Thursday after Security Minister Patricia Bullrich had said that Ramírez “did the right thing ending a threat.” Private rather than public security was at fault in the other death – pensioner Vicente Ferrer, 68, died of a heart attack on Thursday after being badly beaten up by Coto supermarket guards for shoplifting some cheese and a couple of chocolates.