Sunday, July 14, 2024

ARGENTINA | 12-08-2022 11:19

Stories that caught our eye: August 8 to 13

Inflation soars, Cristina charges, Massa's moves, protest marches and opposition disarray.



Last month’s inflation set a new record for July in the last 20 years with consumer prices rising 7.4 percent for a cumulative figure of 46.2 percent so far this year, INDEC statistics bureau reported last Thursday. Argentine families paid 71 percent more for their purchases last month than in July last year. Items topping the average were garments and footwear (96.7 percent), restaurants and hotels (90.6 percent) and health care (72.1 percent) with food prices just below average at (70.6 percent). On Tuesday City Hall announced a July inflation of 7.7 percent (with an identical percentage for the key item of food and beverages) – recreation and culture was the leading culprit, followed by restaurants and hotels, both with double-digit percentages (13.3 and 12.3 percent respectively). On the same day Venezuela, normally a runaway leader in the region, posted a July inflation of 5.3 percent.



The corruption trial of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (among others) went into its second week with the chief defendant seeking to disqualify prosecutor Diego Luciani and judge Rodrigo Giménez Uriburu on the grounds that they had played weekend football with ex-president Mauricio Macri but neither accepted the challenge with Luciani continuing to document Santa Cruz highway graft centred on contracts being steered the way of Kirchnerite crony capitalist Lázaro Báez.



Economy Minister Sergio Massa surpassed his own expectations with last Tuesday’s dual bond issue, rolling over for a year 85 percent of the 2.42 trillion pesos of the domestic debt owed over the next three months or some two trillion pesos when he had set his sights on 60 percent. The bond swap enjoyed predictable support from the public sector (accounting for 58 percent of the debt) but also from institutional investors such as private banks and mutual funds. The carrot was offering creditors the choice between index-linked and dollar-linked.



Merging the Agriculture and Productive Development Ministries into his portfolio upon taking office, the new Economy Minister Sergio Massa extended his empire last weekend to the energy sector, replacing Energy Secretary Darío Martínez with Flavia Royón (close to Salta Governor Gustavo Sáenz, Massa’s 2015 presidential running-mate). Massa also managed to do in days what predecessor Martín Guzmán had failed to do in 30 months – namely dislodge Electric Energy Undersecretary Federico Basualdo (a Kirchnerite champion of frozen public service billing), replacing him with Santiago Yanotti (close to Cabinet chief Juan Manzur). But Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner retains one foothold in the Energy Department in the person of Federico Bernal staying on as Fossil Fuels undersecretary. Massa had less joy finding a deputy minister (still looking for one at press time) withhis choice of Gabriel Rubinstein (a disciple of former minister Roberto Lavagna) failing to gain consensus in the Frente de Todos ruling coalition since his ideas are considered too antagonistic to Kirchnerite economic thinking. Meanwhile Massa’s predecessor Silvina Batakis now heading Banco Nación threw out three of its directors, including leftist Unidad Popular leader Claudio Lozano.



A midweek outburst by Civic Coalition founder Elisa Carrió against several of her partners in the Juntos por el Cambio opposition coalition sparked an internal crisis in its ranks. It would occupy less space to list the Juntos leaders who were not accused of flirting with Economy Minister Sergio Massa or corruption among other reproaches than those who were but among the most prominent names were ex-minister Rogelio Frigerio, ex-Speaker Emilio Monzó, PRO lower house caucus chief Cristian Ritondo and the Radical party chairman, Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales. One of the few leading figures to be spared criticism was ex-president Mauricio Macri, who was in turn one of the few not to hit back.



Downtown traffic chaos was once more the order of the day in midweek when the now weekly picket protests were joined by a march by striking teachers, protesting the conviction of former Chubut trade union leader Santiago Goodman for arson against the provincial legislature. The only arrest was of a car-driver trying to cross picket lines, for which City Hall later apologised. Camping out in Plaza de Mayo, the pickets are pushing for a minimum wage of 105,000 pesos and doubled pensions and salaries among other demands. Adherence to the nationwide teacher strike (extended from one day to two in Santa Cruz and three in Mendoza) ranged from 80 percent in some provinces to 12 percent in this capital, according to City Hall Education Minister Soledad Acuña.



Head of ANSES social security administration between 2002 and 2007, Economy Minister Sergio Massa joined its current chief Fernanda Raverta on Wednesday to announce the year’s third quarterly increase of 15.5 percent for pensioners as from the end of next month, accompanied by a bonus between 4,000 and 7,000 pesos for those collecting up to 86,706 pesos (i.e. twice the minimum pension after the increase).



Environment Ministry backtracking from the previous week’s resolution of its National Parks Administration declaring Lanín volcano a “Mapuche sacred natural site,” triggering a fierce backlash from the Neuquén provincial government among other negative reactions, was carried a step further last Wednesday when Environment Minister Juan Cabandié requested the resignation of National Parks chief Lautaro Erratchu.



The traditional Day of Saint Cajetan (the 16 th century Neopolitan priest who has become the patron saint of peace, bread and work, and more lately land and housing) was marked last Sunday by two different processions – one religious headed by Buenos Aires Cardinal- Archbishop Mario Poli outside the saint’s Liniers Church and warning against “suffocating inflation” and the other a picket march converging on the intersection of Avenida de Mayo and 9 de Julio. The latter called for a basic universal wage among other demands while criticising alleged agricultural hoarding and excessive price increases by businessmen but also court crackdowns on picket leaders suspected of embezzling social plan funds. The next day City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta announced that he would remove the social plans of all families who fails to send their children regularly to school.



The dozen members of the 19-strong crew of Iranians and Venezuelans aboard the Venezuelan freight plane detained at Ezeiza Airport since early June who were cleared to leave the country earlier this month by Lomas de Zamora federal judge Federico Villena will have to stay on for now after prosecutor Cecilia Incardona successfully appealed their release.'



Immigration officials at Ezeiza International Airport have arrested four Iraqi citizens for presenting false documents as they were heading out to Amsterdam on a KLM flight on Monday night. The courts reported the case to be under investigation by Lomas de Zamora federal judge Federico Villena (who is handling the case of the Venezuelan aircraft with the partly Iranian crew retained at Ezeiza Airport) while the quartet remained in detention on Border Guard premises awaiting word as to whether they were wanted by Interpol. The arrested Iraqis, aged between 20 and 23, had arrived from Brazil. No information was available on what they were doing in Argentina or when they arrived.



Santiago del Estero’s ruling Civic Front responding to Governor Gerardo Zamora won a landslide victory in last Sunday’s municipal voting, winning in 25 of the province’s 26 town halls – the exception was La Banda, which went to the Renewal Front headed by the new Economy Minister Sergio Massa.

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