IN CASE YOU DIDN’T NOTICE
Argentina won its third World Cup in Qatar last Sunday in a penalty shootout (4-2) after two hours of thrilling football against France ended 3-3 – if they had won outright, they would now be topping FIFA rankings but remain two points behind Brazil. The team returned home in the small hours of Tuesday to a tumultuous welcome by up to five million people.
EVERYBODY LOVES A WINNER
Argentina’s World Cup triumph in Qatar received the congratulations of leaders across the planet ranging from Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Russian President Vladimir Putin to the International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and even including President Emmanuel Macron of last Sunday’s rivals France. The list was joined by Presidents Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Mexico), Gabriel Boric (Chile) Guillermo Lasso (Ecuador) and Miguel Díaz-Canel (Cuba), as well as Spanish premier Pedro Sánchez. The chorus was echoed by ex-presidents Evo Morales (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Dilma Roussef (Brazil) via the social networks. Lula sent his "congratulations" to Lionel Messi and the rest of the team, as well as to "my friend" Alberto Fernández. "Your joy crosses mountains," wrote Boric while Maduro hailed the win as "for all South America" and Lasso spoke of being "flooded with joy." Morales congratulated "the duo Messi and [Ángel] Di María for giving the Greater Fatherland its best joy with Argentina’s third Cup," calling it the most exciting final in history while Rousseff called it "the best in decades." López Obrador invoked "Che [Guevara], [Diego] Maradona and their people." President Fernández watched the final in Olivos presidential residence together with first lady Fabiola Yañez and their eight-month-old son Francisco, just as he has all the World Cup matches. "Always together, always united. We’re world champions, nothing more to say. Thank you," concluded the presidential message. But the president put a brave face on his frustrated bid to host the winning team in the Casa Rosada, saying: “They wanted something else and that’s very respectable,” also speaking out against “mixing football and politics.” He also sent a message to Macron: "Dear friend @EmmanuelMacron! You gave us a difficult match but the best team won. Immense joy in Argentina and all Latin America ... Long live football and friendship between peoples." The aspect of the World Cup which most appealed to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was Messi using aggressive language after the quarter-final penalty shootout against the Netherlands, maintaining that "with that Maradona touch he definitely won Argentine hearts," but adding: "Oh... I almost forgot, thank you very much also for bringing the fatherland its third World Cup."
Tuesday’s public holiday to celebrate the return of the team winning the World Cup championship in Qatar last Sunday was criticised by ex-president Mauricio Macri and several opposition leaders while eight mostly Peronist provinces refused to implement the measure, which kept banks open until noon with public transport to function normally. Macri dismissed the decision as “inconsistent and anti-federal” while various provinces argued that they were too distant from Ezeiza Airport and the celebratory route to justify a holiday disrupting Christmas shopping. Libertarian deputy José Luis Espert termed the initiative “totally delirious.” Catamarca, Chaco, Corrientes, La Rioja, San Juan, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero and Tucumán rejected the holiday while Córdoba and Mendoza expressed their disagreement but felt obliged to obey the national government’s emergency decree.
CITY MOSTLY WINS
The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled an injunction in favour of Buenos Aires City’s lawsuit against the national government, ordering the latter to provisionally restore an allocation of 2.95 percent of federal revenue-sharing funds, thus reverting a 2020 reduction to 1.4 percent with the rest transferred to Buenos Aires Province then facing a police mutiny. This did not totally satisfy City Hall’s claim of 3.5 percent, which remains subject to continuing litigation. Both City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Macri celebrated the decision with the latter tweeting: “The end of populism is ever closer.”
Economic activity fell off by -0.3 percent in October for the second month running, INDEC statistics bureau reported on Wednesday, although this year remains on target for 4.5 percent growth. Hotels and restaurants (27.2 percent) and mines and quarries (12.5 percent) weighed in with the best figures while drought-stricken agriculture fell by -0.3 percent. On the same day INDEC issued the unemployment figures – 7.1 percent for the third quarter of this year (as against 8.2 percent in the same period last year) with 11 percent underemployment. Among regions Greater Buenos Aires (8.2 percent) had the worst unemployment and among cities Bahía Blanca (nine percent).
INTERCHANGING MORE FUNDS
At the start of the week the government paid some US$2.5 billion to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the expectation of receiving the US$6 billion due upon approval of the third quarterly review within the extended fund facility before the year is out. This year the inflow of IMF funding is expected to exceed the outflow of payments by some US$5 billion. Between such funding and this month’s “soy dollar” Economy Minister Sergio Massa is confident of topping this year’s target of US$6 billion of Central Bank net reserves by at least US$1 billion. But not all was good news for the economic team – in the previous week it was informed that the IMF had rejected its claim for a waiver of the interest rate surcharges on countries exceeding their quota, even though IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva had promised President Alberto Fernández during last month’s G20 summit in Bali that she would put in a good word for this reform. Away from the monetary agenda IMF Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath tweeted a “Congratulations, Argentina !!!” shortly following last Sunday’s World Cup triumph, to which Deputy Economy Minister Gabriel Rubinstein responded [in English]: “Thank You.”
As the week drew to a close, private consultants warned that the government was not on target for adding US$3 billion to Central Bank reserves via the second edition of a special exchange rate for soy exports unless it almost doubled the pace of daily inflow to US$120 million. The consultants reported farmers as reluctant to let their grain go for the PIE Programa de Incentivo a las Exportaciones) II exchange rate of 230 pesos per dollar when the prices being paid on the local market in recent days were equivalent to 273 pesos per dollar. Portfolio Personal Inversiones (PPI) warned that buying the “soy dollar” dear only to sell it cheap at the official exchange rate would entail printing money to the tune of 0.3 percent of gross domestic product.
A Lomas de Zamora courthouse last Monday sentenced all 10 Buenos Aires provincial police defendants to the maximum prison term of 25 years for a trigger-happy massacre in early 1994. Yet none of the convicted policemen will go immediately to prison pending appeal. Their defence lawyers requested acquittal. The policemen, who all belonged to the Lanús detective squad, fired over 100 rounds of ammunition at two cars (a Dodge 1500 and a Peugeot 505) in the belief that they were criminals on the run. Travelling the cars were Edgardo Cicutín, Claudio Díaz, Norberto Corbo, Enrique Bielsa and Gustavo Mendoza, of whom only Díaz survived.
ARGENTINE TO PROBE IRAN
Federico Villegas, the Argentine diplomat chairing the United Nations Human Rights Council announced on Tuesday that Argentine human rights activist Viviana Krsticevic, the director of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) in the United States, has been named to investigate repression in Iran as part of a group headed by Bangladeshi lawyer Sara Hossain and also including Shaheen Sardar Ali, a Pakistani law professor at the University of Warwick in Britain. The team is not very optimistic about being allowed to enter Iran to carry out their mission. Iran has been torn by protests since September when the young Kurd Mahsa Amini died at the hands of the morality police after being arrested for infringing the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. Since then almost 14,000 people have been arrested and an estimated 469 demonstrators have died with 11 sentenced to death (of whom at least two have already been executed).
The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo announced on Thursday evening that they had found the 131st illegally adopted child of parents who went missing during the 1976-1983 dictatorship, the first such discovery in three years. “Again we confirm that there are almost 300 men and women with falsified identities living among us and we have the illusion of recovering more in 2023," read their press communiqué.
DIRTY WARRIOR SENTENCED
Former police officer Mario ‘Churrasco’ Sandoval, 69, extradited from France in 2019 where he had been living since 1985, was sentenced last Wednesday to 15 years in prison for the abduction and disappearance of a student during the dictatorship, local court sources revealed. The prosecution and the plaintiffs had requested sentences ranging from 20 years in prison to life imprisonment.