Stories that caught our eye in Argentina from the last seven days.
THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
At press time yesterday there was a total of 153,520 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 2,807 deaths, as compared to 119,301 cases and 2,178 deaths the previous Friday. It was a week which saw the daily death toll break into three digits as from Monday and confirmed cases repeatedly set new records – not the best kick-off for the first week of the new and more flexible stage of quarantine permitting the re-opening of various industrial and commercial activities as well as services. Monday presented a contrasting picture between more people in the streets, more traffic and more shops open as against intensified vigilance by authorities to prevent Friend’s Day reunions from being too numerous. The escalation of the pandemic with the entry into triple-digit fatalities was not limited to the Buenos Aires metropolitan area where two Greater Buenos Aires mayors from opposite ends of the political spectrum (Gustavo Menéndez of Merlo and Néstor Grindetti of Lanús) tested positive for Covid-19 – following an outbreak of nearly 200 confirmed coronavirus cases at a lithium mine, Jujuy reverted to the first and strictest phase of quarantine last Tuesday, a step already taken last weekend at the other end of the country by Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof said that his government would begin paying individuals with mild Covid-19 symtoms 500 pesos a day to isolate themselves in government facilities, while on Friday, President Fernández announced the state would continue wage assistance in June for those companies whose turnover fell from the previous year, while new financing measures for firms will also be introduced.
On Monday the three main creditor groups holding over a third of the bonds under foreign jurisdiction united for the first time in a counter-offer containing what they called “significant economic and legal concessions” but the government continued to insist that its July 6 proposal offering 53 cents per dollar of debt (sent to Congress on July 16) was final. Despite the stand-off, analysts hailed the fact that the three bondholder groups (minus the investment funds Fintech, Gramercy and Greylock headed by Hans Humes, all of whom have accepted the July 6 offer) are on the same page, which should make the final settlement easier if and when it comes with both sides standing to lose from a default and the differences minimal. Last weekend the government announced that it has succeeded in passing around two-thirds of “reprofiled” peso debt into new bonds.
The local stock exchange rose 15 percent from Monday to Friday amid hopes that creditors and the government might finally reach a debt restructuring deal. Meanwhile, the informal 'blue' dollar rate soared to 140 pesos, close to its historical record. It is now more than 80 percent up on the official rate, which was at 75.75 pesos at Banco Nación at press time.
One of the most widely commented news items of a wet and wintry week was a new episode of vigilante justice – after being tortured and robbed by half a dozen burglars in his Quilmes home last weekend, pensioner Jorge Ríos, 71, grabbed his pistol as soon as they left and chased after them, fatally wounding one of them about half a block away from his house. He was immediately placed under house arrest (to be served in his son’s home) for “aggravated homicide” but his lawyer requested his release on the grounds of self-defence, a request widely echoed, including from opposing ends of the political spectrum by Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni and former national Security minister Patricia Bullrich now chairing ex-president Mauricio Macri’s PRO party, who proclaimed: “I’m with the victims.”
THIS WEEK IN CORRUPTION…
In the last full week of his lengthy judicial career (ending next Wednesday when he turns 75), federal judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral on Monday committed former National Highways director Javier Iguacel and former Treasury Prosecutor Bernardo Saravia Frías to trial for fraudulent administration in presumed irregularities in the award of highway toll concessions during the 2015-19 Mauricio Macri administration which they served, also slapping a lien of half a billion pesos on the assets of each but without remanding them in custody. The judge further summoned ex-ministers Guillermo Dietrich (Transport) and Nicolás Dujovne (Economy) to testify via videoconference yesterday and next Monday respectively. Elsewhere, the Anti-Corruption Office (OA in its Spanish acronym) requested a prison sentence of 102 months for the Kirchnerite tycoon Lázaro Báez on charges of money-laundering and eight years for his eldest son Martín when their trial, along with 19 co-defendants, resumed last Tuesday via Zoom.
Dozens of the 1,715 employees of LATAM airline protested last Wednesday outside Aeroparque Jorge Newbery airport to press for job protection after the Labour Ministry on Tuesday denied the company the crisis prevention mechanism permitting it to pay only half of severance. Dismissals are currently banned by decree for the duration of coronavirus pandemic on pain of paying double severance. On June 17 LATAM had announced from the Chilean capital of Santiago that it would be discontinuing its operations in Argentina after 15 years on the grounds that local market conditions aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic made them unsustainable.
MENEM’S MARRIAGE NOW OFF?
Zulema Yoma on Wednesday denied that she would be remarrying ex-president Carlos Menem, as reported on this page last Saturday as well as by other media.
The former first lady, 77, told Ámbito newspaper that if it were true, she would be announcing it herself but as it was, she was the last to hear about it in quarantine. Their previous marriage fell one year short of a silver wedding anniversary when Menem ordered her eviction from Olivos presidential residence in 1990.
The magazine Caras became the target of controversy after its latest cover page showed Queen Máxima of the Netherlands with an overweight Crown Princess Amalia, 16. Feminist journalists criticised the magazine’s digs at the royal teenager’s "plus size" as dictating stereotypes of the female figure. But magazine editor Liliana Castaño argued that the publication only sought to praise the princess, “a victim of bullying,” for her courage in not hiding her weight or allowing it to "enslave and stigmatise her," presenting her story as a gesture towards inclusion.