Monday, April 12, 2021

ARGENTINA | 19-01-2019 11:49

Jan 14th-20th: What We Learned This Week

What has happened the last seven days?


Presidents Mauricio Macri and Jair Bolsonaro were on the same page without writing much in the way of words or sentences on Wednesday when Macri in the last year of his term became the first leader to visit Brazil’s new president. Both men underlined the importance of trade and the need to “modernise” Mercosur customs union by pursuing trade agreements beyond the bloc while also opting for the hardest line against Venezuela by recognising its National Assembly Speaker Juan Gerardo Guaidó as the only legitimate president instead of the “dictator” Nicolás Maduro. But Macri’s day in Brazil remained basically a courtesy visit with nothing specific beyond an extradition agreement. (See full story on pages 8 and 9)


The airline pilots of APLA union in midweek called a strike for Thursday and Friday to protest the licensing of foreign colleagues, also threatening to defy the compulsory conciliation duly ordered by the government on Wednesday evening. The government further defused the dispute by reportedly backtracking but this did not stop APLA from replacing their strike with an assembly, thus causing airport chaos to continue into Thursday and disrupting numerous flights at precisely the time of the midJanuary holiday turnover.


The 4th anniversary of the death of special AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman was marked yesterday with opinions still divided between murder and suicide. (For more see pages 11 and 16).


The dollar continued its downward trend early this year throughout the week, closing yesterday a fur ther 10 cents down at 38.50 pesos. Thursday was the only day last week when the greenback did not fall below the floor for intervention, thus permitting Central Bank purchases. Yesterday the Central Bank bought US$ 90 million for a total of US$ 220 million in the week, thus bringing reserves up to US$ 66.25 million.


Argentina’s hantavirus outbreak claimed three more lives In the course of the week to reach a death toll of 12 but perhaps even more worryingly it has spread to three more provinces beyond its Patagonian origins – all previous cases were in western Chubut (mostly the town of Epuyén) but while one of last week’s deaths was in the same place, the other two were in Entre Ríos and Salta with five cases also reported in Buenos Aires province (scattered over five different areas). At least one of the latter cases was in critical condition but provincial health authorities explained that this was a less virulent strain than the Andes variant in Chubut since it is only transmitted by rodents. For its part the Entre Ríos provincial Health Ministry said that the province averaged 6-10 hantavirus cases every year but this generally went unnoticed at national level. Almost 600 cases have been reported nationwide since 2013 with a death toll of 111.


Jujuy social activist leader Milagro Sala was sentenced on Monday to 13 years imprisonment for misusing public funds in collusion with previous Kirchnerite presidencies. A provincial court specifically convicted her for embezzling 60.3 million pesos from the Pibes Villeros low-income housing programme (whereby a total of 1.2 billion pesos was entrusted to her Tupac Amaru organisation), alongside other fraud and extortion charges, but that is only a fraction of the presumably misallocated funds. The prosecution had requested a 22-year sentence while the AntiCorruption Office had recommended 18. Sala blamed political persecution by Jujuy Radical Governor Gerardo Morales for the sentence (which also sent 15 of her 30 co-defendants to prison), claiming that he had sought this conviction with the accompanying ban from public office in order to prevent her from defeating him in this year’s election. But Morales celebrated the verdict of the six-month trial as a “landmark.”


A 703-gram baby was born yesterday morning via caesarean section to a 12-year-old girl who was raped in Jujuy, thus interrupting a 23-week pregnancy and reviving the abortion debate in a new form. The girls’ parents had requested a standard abortion (legal in such rape cases) but were resisted by pro-life groups, especially strong in the northern province.


A December inflation figure of 2.6 percent has confirmed the final official figure for 2018 to be 47.6 percent, the highest in 27 years (see full story on page 11).


Former economy minister Roberto Lavagna continues to be the flavour of the month in terms of campaign buzz, hosting Federal Peronist Senate caucus leader Miguel Angel Pichetto at his summer house in the Atlantic coastal resort of Cariló. The veteran economist’s casual footwear (sandals and socks) drew at least as much comment as the presumed content of their talks. Lavagna is one of the very few political figures whose positive image tops 50 percent in approval ratings. Ex-president Eduardo Duhalde was among those joining the incipient bandwagon to restate his endorsement of Lavagna.


No respite in the crackdown on corruption during this holiday month as Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio ordered spectacular raids on over 70 major construction companies on Thursday while yet another private secretary of ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Isidro Bounine) was arrested on Wednesday. At the same time Bonadio refused to release former Santa Cruz economy minister Juan Manuel Campillo despite the latter being accepted as a “whistleblower,” the first time that somebody turning state’s evidence has been denied freedom.


Ever on the move in this summer holiday month, the Security Ministry this week has come up with the idea of replacing police bodyguards with anti-panic buttons in mobile telephones, thus adding to their Taser stun gun purchase announced at the start of this year. This latest initiative would free up almost 4,300 security personnel currently guarding top officials, protected witnesses and sensitive buildings. At the same time the government is exploring the idea of restricting penitentiary wardens to guard duties, replacing them with civilian employees in all other aspects of prison life.


President Mauricio Macri preceded his Wednesday visit to Brazil with a Patagonian tour of Argentina’s three southernmost provinces. Monday saw him in Tierra del Fuego and Santa Cruz, the only two provinces he had not previously visited as president. Macri was shunned by both Peronist Governor Rosana Bertone and Kirchnerite Ushuaia Mayor Walter Vuotto during his three-hour official visit to Tierra del Fuego (which included the naval base and a sewage plant) but in Santa Cruz was received by Governor Alicia Kirchner, the sisterin-law of Macri’s predecessor and arch-rival Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Macri briefly inspected the Chinesefunded Cóndor Cliff and La Barrancosa hydro-electric dam projects (now back to their original names after then President Cristina Kirchner renamed them Néstor Kirchner and Jorge Cepernic in 2012). Tuesday was exclusively dedicated to Chubut where Macri was received by Peronist Governor Mariano Arcioni, inaugurated a wind energy park near Puerto Madryn and watched dolphins off Puerto Pirámides amid local anti-austerity protests in both places.

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