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ARGENTINA | 22-12-2023 12:55

Stories that caught our eye: December 15 to 22

A selection of the stories that caught our eye over the last seven days in Argentina.

 

OMNIBUS ON THE ROAD

Surrounded by all his Cabinet (except Foreign Minister Diana Mondino), President Javier Milei announced on Wednesday evening via nationwide broadcast a decree to drastically reform and deregulate a wide range of economic activities, repealing many laws. Condensing over 300 reforms and amendments into 30 points, his list included rental and labour legislation, health skies, the conversion of public enterprises into limited companies with a view to privatisation, “open skies” and the deregulation of pharmaceutical labs and tourist agencies, among other initiatives. Later that night there were cacerolazo pot-banging protests in both neighbourhoods across the capital, including wealthy barrios like Recoleta and Belgrano. A large protest outside Congress also sprang up, continuing into the early hours of the morning.

 

MONSTER TEMPEST

A freak storm battered half the country in the small hours of Sunday with Bahía Blanca the epicentre of the tragedy with 13 dead after the roof of the club Bahiense del Norte then housing a roller-skating party gave way to winds of 140 kilometres per hour – both President Javier Milei (in military garb) and Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof rushed to the scene with the latter decreeing an emergency in much of his province as well as mourning for the fatal victims. School classes were suspended both Monday and Tuesday in several southern districts of the province. Citizens in many cities nationwide were urged by their mayors to stay inside on Sunday if possible. Six northern provinces (Salta, Tucumán, Santiago del Estero, Jujuy, Catamarca and La Rioja) suffered a total blackout as a result of power cuts lasting almost into Monday. Chaco and Formosa were also affected and an orange alert was issued for the provinces of Catamarca, Córdoba, Entre Ríos and Santa Fe for storms including strong winds and hail. In Corrientes farm hand Horacio López, 49, and his horse were killed instantly when they were struck by lightning. Nor was the national capital spared with some 300,000 citizens suffering power cuts and numerous trees toppled with the upmarket Palermo and Recoleta neighbourhoods perhaps the hardest hit within this city.

 

PROTESTS NOT SO STORMY

Last Wednesday’s march of picket and leftist organisation to mark the anniversary of the violent December 20 demonstrations toppling the Fernando de la Rúa government and leaving 39 dead in 2001 unfolded peacefully enough with only minor incidents in the face of a massive security force presence. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich congratulated herself on the success of her “anti-picket” protocol announced on December 14. On Monday Human Capital Minister Sandra Pettovello had warned those blocking roads that they would lose their social plans (thus confirming a campaign promise of President Javier Milei) as well as "all kind of dialogue" with her Ministry. Pettovello also communicated that the Human Capital Ministry will audit "all the social organisations  ...  to eliminate the middlemen" while reminding social plan beneficiaries that her Economy colleague Luis Caputo’s announcements last December 12 had included doubling the AUH (Asignación Universal por Hijo) and increasing the Tarjeta Alimentar food stamp by 50 percent,

 

EXPORT DUTIES

Last Monday Bioeconomy Secretary Fernando Vilella, announced in detail the new levels for export duties to flesh out the more general announcements made by Economy Minister Luis Caputo on December 12. While 18 regional economy products were exempted from export duties altogether, soy by-products such as oil and flour will go up from 31 to 33 percent, the same rate as the crop itself, while the wine sector will now be levied eight percent. The 18 products now exempted are olive oil, rice, cattle hides, dairy products, fruit (with the exception of lemon), horticulture, beans, potatoes, garlic, chickpeas, peas, lentils, honey, sugar, yerba mate, horses and wool. Every other agricultural product will pay an export duty of 15 percent, Villela announced via his official X (ex-Twitter) account before communicating it verbally at a meeting between Mesa de Enlace farming leaders and Economy Ministry authorities, assuring the former that the new levies were "transitory." In Caputo’s original announcements all farm exports except soy were to be charged 15 percent but following protests the exemptions were offered with fiscal compensation at the expense of soy oil and flour. The Economy Ministry argues that the devaluation of 118 percent giving exporters 860 pesos per dollar (as against 620 pesos in the latest versión of the previous government’s “soy dollar”) allows plenty of margin to pay the levies.  

 

CASA ROSADA NOT IN THE PINK

The government on Monday released a video of the Casa Rosada with images of holes in the wall, broken glass, peeling paint, rising damp and other signs of decay, concluding with the message: “They left it like the country, in ruins.” The 90-second video, deleted shortly afterwards amid fake news claims, also showed a poster reading: “Don’t use the staircase as a toilet.” Some of the footage was filmed by the TN news channel in recent months, but eagle-eyed viewers online poked fun at the images from the video – including one section that showed the stones famously left by families of victims at the door of the Casa Rosada during the Covid pandemic. 

 

CULTURAL CENTRE TO BE REBRANDED?

The recent displacement of the statue of Néstor Kirchner within the Kirchner Cultural Centre has led to speculation that the former Post Office building may be renamed or even redefined, despite Valeria Ambrosio, the Centre’s new director appointed by the Javier Milei administration, claiming that the change was not a political decision but an order of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. An editorial in the Monday edition of the newspaper La Nación argued that it was ethically questionable to name a cultural centre after the surname of political figures involved in numerous corruption scandals while also urging its spending to be streamlined in keeping with President Milei’s platform. The original idea had been to name it the Bicentennial Cultural Centre since the work on converting the Post Office had begun in the bicentennial year of 2010 but the death of Néstor Kirchner in October of that year led to it being given its current name upon its inauguration in 2015, a name which somehow survived the Mauricio Macri Presidency starting soon afterwards.

 

NEVER TOO OLD

Villa María hairdresser Primo José ‘Coco’ Giusti, 96, and his grandson Lucas parachuted from a height of 3,000 metres on December 15 in Alta Gracia, Córdoba, thus setting a new Argentine record as the oldest person to make a parachute leap. Giusti had never even flown before last year when his grandson took him on a trip to Patagonia and the Alta Gracia flying club instructors sought to dissuade him from his venture. The local patriarch might even have been a candidate for the world record were it not for one documented case of a woman of 104 in the United States.

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