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ARGENTINA | 01-08-2020 09:18

What we learned this week: July 25 to August 1

The most important stories that caught our eye in the last seven days.

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

At press time yesterday there was a total of 191,302 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 3,543 deaths, as compared to 153,520 cases and 2,807 deaths the previous Friday. Although the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA) continues to dominate these data, accounting for some 90 percent, the authorities expressed concern at the start of the week about faster spread inland, outstripping AMBA growth by 51 to 34 percent in the previous fortnight. The build-up to yesterday’s announcement of the new phase of quarantine followed familiar lines of the City half of AMBA favouring more flexibility (with hairdressers and beauty parlours reopening after almost 20 weeks) while the provincial side urged tightening up with the number of infected in Buenos Aires Province hitting six digits on Tuesday while provincial health minister Daniel Gollán forecast collapse of the hospital system in mid-August if current trends are sustained. Just 10 days after breaking into three-digit territory, the number of deaths nationwide topped the 200 threshold at 210, a grim prelude for yesterday’s announcements. Faced with a record number of cases and fatalities on Thursday, President Fernández announced yesterday that the lockdown in AMBA would be extended “on the same terms” until August 16, after both City and provincial leaders agreed not to roll back to tighter restrictions.

 

JUDICIAL REFORM BATTLE

President Alberto Fernández on Wednesday presented a sweeping judicial reform to decentralise justice as well as creating an 11-strong consultative commission to evaluate all judicial bodies from the Supreme Court down. The reform merges criminal, civil and corporate law with administrative litigation, doubling the 23 judges currently covering these areas (12 of them in Comodoro Py) to 46 while also doubling the 47 inland federal courthouses to 94. As a gesture towards the opposition, the transfer of all non-federal penal jurisdiction to Buenos Aires City is to be completed, despite which Wednesday’s ceremony was shunned by the Juntos por el Cambio opposition, as well as by four of the five Supreme Court justices. The previous day the Juntos por el Cambio helm, including ex-president Mauricio Macri, had rejected the reforms, especially any possible expansion of the Supreme Court, as aimed at the impunity of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other Kirchnerite officials accused of corruption. They also questioned the majority of government supporters among the legal experts chosen for the consultative commission.

 

COUNCIL OF MAGISTRATES VOTE

The Council of Magistrates on Thursday approved government review of the transfer of 10 key judges (some of them investigating Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and mostly moved by the Mauricio Macri administration) by a 7-5 vote with third party deputy Graciela Camaño of Roberto Lavagna’s Federal Consensus breaking the previous deadlock. The transfer of magistrates was a short cut for covering vacancies, a cumbersome process taking about three years when following normal procedure, but the government is now insisting on all the requisite steps being followed, especially Senate approval, but the opposition argued that these transfers had already been cleared by the Supreme Court.

 

CANICOBA CORRAL RETIRES

Federal judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral duly went into retirement upon turning 75 last Wednesday (the same day President Alberto Fernández presented a judicial reform almost quadrupling the number of federal judges), ending a career of 27 years on the bench, but he did not leave quietly. A short week included committing former Treasury minister Nicolás Dujovne to trial over highway toll concession irregularities on Tuesday (after handing out the same treatment to Dujovne’s Transport colleague Guillermo Dietrich just before last weekend). On his retirement day Canicoba Corral forecast that the highway investigation would not end with these ex-ministers but would reach ex-president Mauricio Macri himself.

 

VICENTIN DECREE REPEALED

Yesterday evening President Alberto Fernández tweeted: “We’re repealing Decree 522/2020 ordering a 60-day trusteeship over Vicentin SAIC” while criticising Reconquista judge Fabián Lorenzini ruling against the trusteeship for blocking verification of the soy-crushing company’s true debts and maintaining the board of directors.

 

DEBT AND MARKETS

The exchange rate gap narrowed last week with the parallel “blue” dollar down to 136 pesos from last week’s peak of 140 while the Banco Nación quotation edged up to 76.25 pesos from 75.75 the previous Friday. Country risk registered little change at 2,276 points, reflecting a stalemate in debt negotiations. The three main bondholder groups united for the first time on a joint position barely three cents above the government’s most recent July 6 offer, hailed by many analysts as simplifying negotiations, but the government stood firm on its “final effort,” thus making a fifth postponement beyond next Monday’s deadline inevitable.

 

NIETO & C5N

The pro-government C5N television news channel was on a collision course with ex-president Mauricio Macri last week – over charges lodged by Indalo Group co-owner Fabián De Sousa last year that Macri had used extortionate tactics of tax evasion accusations in a vain bid to pressure C5N into toeing his government’s line and (far more recently) last Tuesday when the channel reproduced compromising telephone messages from Darío Nieto, Macri’s private secretary. The De Sousa case resurfaced when federal judge María Servini de Cubría ratified the analysis of the cross calls between Macri and various ex-officials over 44 months in order to verify the charges. Nieto’s calls involved both the bankrupt soy-crushing firm Vicentin and the scandalmongering pseudo-lawyer Marcelo D’Alessio.

 

THIS WEEK IN CORRUPTION...

On Thursday prosecutor Abel Córdoba upped the 102-month sentence requested the previous week by the Anti-Corruption Office for Kirchnerite tycoon Lázaro Báez to 12 years, as well as sentences ranging between 54 months and nine years for his four children and four other co-defendants. The UIF money-laundering watchdog had previously recommended eight years for the businessman’s part in the misallocation of Santa Cruz public works funds. Meanwhile the trial of Vice-President Cristina Kirchner (among other defendants) for presumed corruption in the award of public works contracts during her 2007-15 presidency will be resumed this coming Monday after being suspended for 20 weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was decided just before last weekend, following the “satisfactory results” of technical tests for remote hearings. This is the first of the nine cases involving Kirchner to come to trial. In this trial the ex-president is accused of favouring Báez by awarding him 51 highway contracts in Santa Cruz.

 

HOME OFFICE LAW

The Senate on Thursday approved the new bill governing distance working by a 40-30 vote with only one senator voting in favour beyond Frente de Todos ranks. The opposition criticised the bill as too rigid since it sets strict timetables and obliges the company to pay for the employee’s computer.

 

MACRI OFF TO EUROPE

Ex-president Mauricio Macri on Thursday flew to Paris with his family where he began complying with a fortnight of quarantine before proceeding to Switzerland where his duties as FIFA Foundation president await him. Macri had only completed a previous fortnight of quarantine last Monday following a trip to Paraguay and once again received a barrage of criticism from pro-government supporters.

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