Saturday, June 22, 2024

ARGENTINA | 16-12-2022 13:40

Stories that caught our eye: December 9 to 16

A selection of the stories that seized our attention over the last seven days in Argentina.


Argentina takes on the reigning champions France for the World Cup tomorrow in the tournament’s final match after the two finalists respectively won their semi-finals 3-0 and 2-0 in midweek over Croatia and Morocco (who play for third place today). French President Emmanuel Macron, who was already in Qatar to watch his team’s win over Morocco on Wednesday, invited his Argentine colleague Alberto Fernández to join him but at press time it seemed that he would not be going (though the banter continued on Twitter). Attendance is expected to top the 50,000 Argentine fans cheering on the Scaloneta against Croatia with two extra flights leaving yesterday booked up in less than 30 minutes despite prohibitive prices of some two million pesos for the round trip. Meanwhile ex-president Mauricio Macri, now heading the FIFA Foundation, injected some political controversy into this sporting jamboree, brushing aside Kirchnerite claims that his presence brought bad luck (originating from the 2-1 defeat by Saudi Arabia in the national team’s first match) as "wrong-headed," pointing out that he had won 17 titles heading Boca Juniors before entering politics. He also praised Croatia as "the best team of the World Cup – they don’t have a [Lionel] Messi or a [Kylian] Mbappé but they all play" while ranking Lionel Scaloni’s players as among the world’s top six but he also praised Messi as "the best player in history." The opposition leader concluded by saying that the government could not take credit for a World Cup triumph – "If they finish as champions, it’s the merit of the players." Earlier in the tournament Macri sparked controversy by praising Qatar as a model for Argentina.



Argentina joined Mexico, Colombia and Bolivia in backing deposed Peruvian president Pedro Castillo, who describes himself as "humiliated, mistreated and kidnapped" while under arrest, dismissing his vice-president and successor Dina Boluarte as a “usurper.” The joint statement of the four countries deplored the "anti-democratic harassment” of an elected president. Demonstrations against Castillo’s ouster continued throughout the week in Peru, despite the new government rolling back the next elections from 2026 to 2024. Chile refused to sign up to the regional declaration.



The government on Wednesday padded out both the Christmas and New Year holidays to three days by adding December 23 and 30 as days off for public employees although banks will remain open on those days. Decree 820/2022 also announced the calendar for next year’s public holidays, totalling 15 days. On the same day the government decreed an increment of 1.53 trillion pesos to pay extra Christmas bonuses of 24,000 pesos for all private-sector workers earning up to 180,000 pesos monthly and 13,500 pesos for the beneficiaries of the Potenciar Trabajo job assistance scheme, as announced by Ministers Victoria Tolosa Paz (Social Development) and Raquel ‘Kelly’ Olmos (Labour).  



Diego Luciani, the federal prosecutor whose charges against Vice-President Cristina Kirchner were partially upheld by the judges giving the verdict in the Santa Cruz highway contract trial earlier this month, suffered verbal abuse when dining at the restaurant Lo de Fran in Mar del Plata last weekend. A woman later identified as the wife of Kirchnerite political consultant Artemio López told Luciani that he made her want to vomit while López said that Luciani assaulted her, a claim not supported by any bystander. Various opposition leaders repudiated the incident in the strongest terms in the course of the week. 


The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an extraordinary appeal presented by the defence team representing Kirchnerite ally and Túpac Amaru social leader Milagro Sala, confirming the 13-year prison term handed down to her in 2019 by a court in Jujuy Province following her conviction for being the head of a criminal organisation that committed “fraud against the public administration and extortion” in a case known as ‘Pibes Villeros.’ The conviction states that Sala implemented "a system of illegal collection at the expense of the Public Treasury, within the framework of federal and provincial programmes for the construction or improvement of housing, which had as its purpose the unjust benefit of the leader and members of the illicit association."



The Foreign Ministry of Ecuador summoned Argentine Ambassador to Quito Gabriel Fucks last Tuesday to "demand explanations" for the asylum granted to former Public Works minister María de los Ángeles Duarte, convicted for corruption 28 months ago and taking refuge in the Argentine Embassy residence ever since. The government is reportedly pressing Ecuador to grant Duarte a safe conduct so that she can leave the country, a pressure resisted by Quito’s Foreign Ministry. Sentenced to eight years in prison alongside leftist ex-president Rafael Correa for kickbacks totalling US$7.6 million, Duarte, who has a daughter by an Argentine father, insists that her conviction is “lawfare” – a claim accepted by the Frente de Todos administration.



Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will take office on New Year’s Day, will make his first official visit abroad here on January 24, holding a bilateral meeting with President Alberto Fernández and participating in the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in its Spanish acronym), which Brazil abandoned during the Jair Bolsonaro presidency. President Fernández plans to attend Lula’s inauguration in Brasilia.



Consumer prices slowed sharply in November to 4.9 percent, compared to October. The figure, released by the INDEC national statistics bureau on Thursday, means that inflation so far this year stands at 85.3 percent with one more month to go. In the last 12 months the year-on-year cost of living climbed by 92.4 percent.



Argentina was one of 29 countries voting to remove the Islamic Republic of Iran from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women with eight other countries voting against (including Russia, China and Bolivia) and 16 abstaining. Iran has been shaken by protests and repression since last September when Mahsa Amini was killed for wearing her veil irregularly with over 450 people dying since then. 



In further investigation of last October’s trip Lago Escondido by federal judges, City Hall officials and Grupo Clarín executives, the ranch where they stayed (the property of British billionaire Joe Lewis, one of the 500 richest persons in the world) was raided on Thursday at the behest of Bariloche judge Silvina Domínguez. Meanwhile, a plaintiff in the case of the presumed illegal espionage on the families of the victims of the i submarine denounced that Federal Cassation judge Carlos Mahiques signed a sentence while on the flight to Lago Escondido. The casebook of Mahiques, currently reported to be in Qatar watching the World Cup, also includes an appeal against the acquittal of ex-president Mauricio Macri in the illegal espionage case.



The mystery of the Catamarca provincial Social Development Minister Juan Carlos Rojas, 76, who was found dead in the patio of his home in the first weekend of this month, continued to deepen last month. The death was initially defined as natural but on the insistence of Uthgra restaurant workers trade union leader Luis Barrionuevo (since Rojas headed the provincial branch of the union), there was further investigation which led to the cause of death being established as a blow to the head.  But a further twist emerged early last week when it was revealed that his housemaid Silvia Nieva, 50, had been arrested the previous Wednesday on suspicion of having killed him out of jealousy since there had also been an amorous link for decades between employer and employee. Nieva insists on her innocence. Rojas is believed to have been killed just before the World Cup match between Argentina and Australia.



With Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner placing Covid-19 back on the map, the Health Ministry last weekend reported 27,119 new cases of contagion in the previous week, more than doubling the 12,609 cases of the preceding seven days, but there were only seven deaths to take the total pandemic toll up to 130,041 while there are 248 patients in intensive care wards. All but 3,208 of the new cases were reported in Buenos Aires City or Province. Pressures to use face-masks are starting to return.




The film Argentina, 1985 was nominated as the best foreign film for a Golden Globe prize last Monday and will thus compete in next year’s Oscars against Indian, German, Belgian and South Korean rivals. Santiago Mitres’s film on the 1985 juntas trial has been breaking domestic audience records since its local premiere on September 29. While a Golden Globe is a virtual guarantee, final confirmation will have to wait until next Wednesday when the five foreign films vying for an Oscar will be named.



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