Tuesday, May 26, 2020
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ARGENTINA | 16-05-2020 09:09

May 9th-16th: What we learned this week

Stories that caught our eye in the last seven days.

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

At press time yesterday there were a total of 7,134 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 353 deaths, as compared to 5,611 cases and 293 deaths the previous Friday. For the first time in several weeks these figures were a cause for concern, spiking as from midweek and thus raising a question-mark over the partial relaxation of quarantine announced at the end of last week. This next phase – which included authorising factories and shops to re-open after a seven-week lockdown while heeding sanitary protocols as well as restricted recreational outings for children – duly came into effect at the start of the week, causing road congestion to become a new problem at times as around half a million people returned to work in this metropolis alone (City authorities reported 29 percent more traffic last Monday). At the start of the week President Alberto Fernández created a minor diplomatic storm when he sought to defend his tight quarantine policies by comparing Argentina favourably with Sweden, which leads the world in having the least pandemic restrictions. 

 

CONGRESS GOES VIRTUAL

On Wednesday Congress held its first session of the year in virtual format with the Senate rubber stamping some 20 emergency decree introduced during the quarantine since March 20 while the Lower House approved a bill to exempt health sector workers and the security forces from income tax.

 

MAY PAY HELP

The state will continue paying half of private-sector wages this month, Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero announced on Tuesday. Employers receiving this aid are also to be given the choice between lowering their social security contributions by 95 percent or postponing them for two months. The state will thus be paying half the wages of almost two million private-sector workers, as it did last month. According to AFIP tax bureau data, the national government has already this month financed to the tune of some 27 billion pesos part of the wages of over 1.3 million employees of companies affected by the quarantine and acceding to the ATP (Asistencia al Trabajo y la Producción) benefit, which cannot be less than a single minimum wage (16,875 pesos) nor more than a double minimum wage (33,750 pesos). The private health sector, passenger transport companies and schools not receiving state subsidies have also been recommended for this benefit. 

 

THIS WEEK IN CORRUPTION...

The Anti-Corruption Office (OA in its Spanish acronym) on Thursday announced that it would be withdrawing as a plaintiff in the money-laundering cases of the hotels Hotesur y Los Sauces centring on Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, thus prompting opposition politicians to complain loudly about “impunity for corruption.”

 

INFLATION

Last month’s inflation was 1.5 percent, the INDEC national statistics bureau reported on Thursday, the lowest since 2017. But unlike during Argentina’s previous Peronist government, nobody suspected this figure of being an INDEC invention – instead the fall was attributed to extraordinary factors stemming from the pandemic such as a deep recession, a static official exchange rate and frozen public service billing with some prices simply non-existent amid the lockdown. The success was dimmed by the 3.2 percent surge in the most important item, food and beverages, with core inflation up 1.7 percent. Annual inflation thus dipped to 45.6 percent with 9.4 percent so far this year but the volume of money printed to counter the pandemic points to higher inflation figures arriving in the second half of the year.

 

A BLUE SKY HIGH DOLLAR

No stopping the “blue” dollar with Argentina’s default deadline now less than a week away – it closed the week yesterday doubling the official exchange rate (69.75 pesos in Banco Nación) at 142 pesos, 20 pesos up on the previous Friday. But country risk moved in the opposite direction, falling over 200 points yesterday alone to close the week at 2,837, sharply down from an already improved 3,319 points the previous Friday, as investors registered optimism regarding a last-minute solution to bond swap deadlock (even if Buenos Aires Province edged ever closer to default by failing to meet a debt payment of US$ 115 million on Thursday). 

 

BUILDING WITH BILLIONS

On Thursday President Alberto Fernández presented an ambitious “Argentina Construye” housing plan which would entail an investment of almost 29 billion pesos and create 750,000 jobs. President Fernández said that the plan would improve and expand 42,900 houses but did not give a figure for housing starts. He further said that he was already discussing the revival of the Procrear home financing scheme with the new ANSES social security administration chief Fernanda Raverta. Fernández described the creation of jobs as an “obligation” and “challenge” in view of their potential destruction by the pandemic, pointing to the construction of modular hospitals as one step in that direction.

 

PRISONERS

On Monday the Buenos Aires Province Supreme Court ordered judges to review all releases and house arrests for convicts after overturning the collective habeas corpus granted prisoners by judge Víctor Violini, a decision prompting a massive backlash over the preceding fortnight.

 

SERGIO DENIS

Crooner Sergio Denis died in hospital yesterday at the age of 71 after lingering for 14 months with multiple injuries sustained from a fall from the stage, thus ending a long and successful career in which he recorded over 300 songs in the course of half a century. His real name was Héctor Omar Hoffmann, of Volga German origin. President Alberto Fernández was quick to pay tribute to the departed singer, saying: “He will remain in our collective memory.”

 

BRAZIL EXTRADITION

On Thursday the Brazilian government extradited to Argentina a former military policeman linked to the high-profile deaths of writer Rodolfo Walsh and Swedish teenager Dagmar Hagelin during the 1976-83 dictatorship. The extradition of Gonzalo Sánchez, 69, followed his arrest near Rio de Janeiro by only three days after an earlier warrant to arrest and extradite him in 2017 failed to prosper. Sánchez was tested for Covid-19 prior to his return to Argentina. Apart from the more famous cases of Walsh and Hagelin, Sánchez is potentially linked as a task force member to the cases of over 5,000 people who went missing at the ESMA Naval Mechanics Academy. 

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