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ARGENTINA | 27-08-2022 02:00

Stories that caught our eye: August 20 to 27

A selection of the news that grabbed our attention over the last seven days in Argentina.

 

CRISTINA VS. THE COURTS

Federal prosecutor Diego Luciani on Monday requested that Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner be sentenced to 12 years in prison, as well as being banned from public office for life with a 5.32-billion-peso injunction slapped on her fortune. President Alberto Fernández promptly condemned the “judicial and media persecution” but the veep was far more emphatic in her own defence the next day with a fiery 90-minute diatribe – among other arguments, she argued that the US$9 million tossed over a convent wall by her Public Works secretary José López (for whom Luciani requested a 10-year sentence on Monday) really originated from ex-president Mauricio Macri via his business friend Nicolás Caputo who had exchanged messages with López. On Wednesday President Fernández ruled out a presidential pardon and expressed the hope that Luciani would not commit suicide like his colleague for the AMIA case, Alberto Nisman. A 12-year prison sentence was also requested for former tycoon Lázaro Báez, the chief beneficiary of the allegedly fraudulent award of Santa Cruz highway contracts, with sentences ranging from two to 10 years ought for the other 11 defendants. There was jostling on the day of Luciani’s summation between supporters and detractors outside Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Recoleta flat.

 

ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Last month’s fiscal deficit was 23 percent down on the previous July at almost 76 billion pesos but the new Economy Minister Sergio Massa is not satisfied, slashing some 210 billion pesos of unspent funds from various ministerial budgets (especially the education, health and housing portfolios). Last month’s trade deficit figures were worse news than the fiscal with imports of US$8.21 billion outrunning exports of US$7.77 billion by US$437 billion, the INDEC national statistics bureau reported, although it could also post 1.1 percent growth for June by comparison with the previous month and 6.3 percent in the year-on-year comparison.

 

MINIMUM WAGE UPPED

The pay floor will be progressively raised from a monthly 47,850 pesos to 57,900 by November, the Minimum Wage Council resolved on Monday. Leftist and picket demonstrations have been demanding a six-digit figure in recent weeks. The pay floor directly affects around 400,000 workers but also provides the basis for defining teacher salaries and welfare benefits, as well as a knock-on effect for millions of other workers via wage differentials.

 

FUEL PRICES HIKED

YPF state oil company, which controls 55 percent of the market, raised its petrol prices by 8.5 percent and its diesel prices by six percent last weekend.

 

YES, IT’S RUBINSTEIN

Almost three weeks after taking office, Economy Minister Sergio Massa finally managed to confirm Gabriel Rubinstein (linked to ex-minister Roberto Lavagana) as his choice of deputy minister last weekend, overcoming Kirchnerite resistance due to his recommendation of austerity and earlier tweets along the lines of “Joining Kirchnerism is tantamount to saying: I’m an idiot.” Rubinstein had also criticised the appointment of Massa’s predecessor Silvina Batakis as being approved by a “fiscally irresponsible” vice-president. But Massa explained the delay as Rubinstein first needing to resolve family issues and contractual obligations. At least half a dozen prestigious economists had previously turned the offer down.

 

CONSTRUCTION WHITEWASH

The government last Monday promulgated the extension of Law 27,679 whitewashing investments in the construction industry for a further year. Congress had approved the extension of the law (first passed early last year) on August 10. Economy Minister Sergio Massa hailed the move as a pro-growth initiative promoting a dynamic, labour-intensive industry which had been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The whitewashed funds will only have to pay a levy of five percent in the first three months, 10 percent if returning in half a year and 20 percent if within a full year. The government hopes to thus find formal employment for the recipients of social welfare benefits. AFIP tax bureau and the Central Bank are now to regulate this law within the next fortnight with the provinces invited to offer tax exemptions.

 

NEW BAP LABOUR MINISTER

The administration of Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof took a new turn to the left on Wednesday when tanners’ union leader Walter Correa (one of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s closest allies among organised labour) was sworn in as labour minister, taking his oath in the name of “Néstor and Cristina, 30,000 missing comrades and the martyrs of the worker movement.” Kicillof took advantage of the occasion to say that the trial of the vice-president for “invented crimes” was at odds with democracy. Correa must now contend with the pay demands of teachers and provincial employees to keep up with inflation.

 

BATISTUTA FINED

Reconquista federal judge Aldo Alurralde on Monday slapped a lien of over 71 million pesos on former football star Gabriel Batistuta for not paying last year’s wealth tax, to which the former national team and Fiorentina striker objected on principle as “confiscatory.” Alurralde made his move after his decision was confirmed by the Federal Appeals Court in the Chaco provincial capital of Resistencia. Batistuta owns 126,000 hectares in his native province of Santa Fe, as well as assets abroad.

 

OUTSPOKEN DIPLOMATS PASS AWAY

Two ex-diplomats from different generations but possessing the common denominator of denouncing the governments they served have died in the last week or so – Gregorio Dupont (82), who denounced junta chief Admiral Emilio Massera for the slaying of fellow-diplomat Elena Holmberg and whose brother Marcelo was one of the last victims of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, and Eduardo Saddous (76), who as ambassador to Venezuela during the first decade of this century denounced shady deals between Julio De Vido’s Public Works Ministry and the Bolivarian regime.

 

ARGENTINA TOP DRAW FOR QATAR

Tickets for two games featuring Lionel Messi's Argentina have been the top attractions for fans at this year's World Cup in Qatar, according to the chief organiser. Argentina's first round group games against arch-rivals Mexico on November 26 and Saudi Arabia on November 22 were the "most requested", Nasser Al-Khater, CEO of the Qatar organising committee, told the QNA national news agency last Wednesday. The Argentina-Mexico match was sold out in the first round of online sales at the start of the year, the official added. Both matches will be at the 80,000-capacity Lusail stadium, where the World Cup final will be staged on December 18. FIFA said this month 2.45 million of a total 3.2 million tickets have been sold for the first World Cup in an Arab nation with more than one million going to sponsors and FIFA partners. Argentina and Mexico have been named among the top ticket-buying countries along with Qatar, the United States, England, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, France, Brazil and Germany. Qatar has said it expects about 1.2 million visitors at the 32-nation event starting November 20. 

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