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ARGENTINA | 23-02-2024 11:33

Stories that caught our eye: February 16 to 23

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

 

THE WEEK IN LABOUR

On Wednesday the government published Decree 170/2024 to deregulate the union-run obras sociales healthcare system, freeing millions of workers to pay their contributions to any healthcare scheme of their choice, after Presidential Spokesman Manuel Adorni had already anticipated the move on Monday. At the same time amid deadlocked pay talks with teachers in many provinces and the school year set to start next Monday, the government moved to declare education an essential service while President Javier Milei continues to insist that the payment of teachers is a provincial, not a national responsibility. In midweek the government finally assented to pay talks with the teacher unions as from next Tuesday. After the deadlock of the previous week’s Minimum Wage Council session, the government stepped in and announced on Tuesday a pay floor of 180,000 pesos (up from 156,000 pesos) for this month and 202,800 pesos for March. On Wednesday there was a strike by train-drivers, who described their patience as being at an end with the 16 percent wage increase granted them so far this year. The La Fraternidad union also rapped the government for not resorting to compulsory conciliation. All train services were halted except for some long-distance lines and there were chaotic scenes of endless bus queues in this city with over a million daily rail commuters stranded.

 

PENSIONS HIKE

The government announced a pension increase of 27.18 percent for the next quarter of this year last Wednesday, thus undershooting the 30 percent anticipated by Economy Minister Luis Caputo at the start of the week. The increase was formalised by Resolution 38/2024 published in the Official Gazette and signed by fired ANSES social security administration chief Osvaldo Giordano, who has yet to be replaced. As for the bonus for those on the minimum pension, which has been standard practice for the past few years, it was upped from the 55,000 pesos of the previous quarter to 70,000. There was no immediate word on whether this increase also applied to AUH child benefits since these were doubled last month. The new percentage takes the pension floor from 105,713 to 134,445.79 pesos and the ceiling from 711,346 to 904,690 pesos. The government further said that it would explain the methodology inherited from the previous government and leading to this percentage, which is haIf or less of the inflation expected for this quarter.

 

POVERTY ON THE RISE

Shortly after quantifying Argentine poverty at 57.4 percent (or some 27 million people) in January with 15 percent destitute in figures released last weekend, Agustín Salvia, the director of the UCA Catholic University’s Social Debt Observatory, warned on Monday that the figure could be hitting 60 percent by March.

 

CAMERON VISITS MALVINAS

Already covering much of the distance to the Malvinas in order to attend the summit of G20 foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (prime minister between 2010 and 2016) decided to go the extra miles and visited the islands on Monday where he made some controversial statements, expressing his “hopes that the Falklanders would want to stay British for a long, long time, possibly forever” and that “the sovereignty issue will not be the object of discussion.” The provincial government of Tierra del Fuego reacted by declaring Cameron “persona non grata throughout the full territorial extent of the province” (which formally includes the Malvinas in its official map) as “a new British provocation … to sustain colonialism.” Foreign Minister Diana Mondino was more subtly ironic in her response, expressing her pleasure that Cameron had taken an interest in visiting Argentine soil and inviting him also to Buenos Aires. The two foreign ministers held a tense 45-minute meeting at the Rio de Janeiro G20 summit on Wednesday, largely retreading the ground covered by Cameron’s encounter with President Javier Milei in Davos last month.

 

IMF TAKES A CLOSER LOOK

Gita Gopinath, the second-in-command of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) flew into town for a two-day visit on Wednesday, meeting up with Economy Minister Luis Caputo and other senior officials on her first day and President Javier Milei on Thursday. 

 

MILEI LOOKING NORTH

An American week for President Javier Milei with one United States contact after another – Senator Marco Rubio (Republican-Florida) on Tuesday and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (dropping in from the G20 summit of foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro) yesterday before heading out to a neo-liberal summit in Washington organised by US ex-president Donald Trump. Accompanied by US Ambassador Marc Stanley, Rubio greeted Milei with a cup decorated with a libertarian lion and the motto: “No hay plata,” for which he obtained the presidential autograph. Rubio, who strongly identifies with Milei’s rightist pitch, entered the Argentine radar late last year again when he called on US President Joe Biden “to take immediate measures to hold Cristina Elizabeth Fernández de Kirchner, the former vice-president of Argentina, and members of her family responsible for significant acts of corruption.” defining her as “a convicted kleptocrat who plundered billions from the state coffers.”

 

BICAMERAL UP AND RUNNING

The Bicameral Commission, whose prime task is to approve or reject President Javier Milei’s deregulatory mega-decree 70/2023, finally kicked off last Thursday after electing its authorities. Senator Juan Carlos Pagotto (La Libertad Avanza-La Rioja) is to chair the commission with a PRO deputy (Hernán Lombardi) as his deputy chairman and a Radical senator (Víctor Zimmermann) as his secretary with the votes of all 10 non-Kirchnerite members of the çommission while the six Kirchnerite Unión por la Patria representatives abstained. Lower House La Libertad Avanza caucus chief Oscar Zago proposed that the commission session fortnightly.

 

CHAINSAW FOR INADI

At his daily press conference presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni confirmed on Thursday that the INADI institute against discrimination would be given the chop, deriding it as “useless beyond job creation for militants.” However Justice Minister Mariano Cúneo Libarona later toned down the announcement by saying that INADI’s work against discrimination would be absorbed into his portfolio with at least some of its 400 employees being kept on.    

 

MASSA CHANGING COURSE (AGAIN)

Former economy minister and last year’s Peronist run-off runner-up Sergio Massa seems to be giving politics a back seat for now, joining  Greylock Capital Management hedge fund to work on at least 10 projects and penning a book with any extra time to go to helping Fundación Encuentro think tank. 

 

ZAFFARONI ALTER EGO FOUND DEAD

Ricardo Montivero, 76, the legal representative and close friend of former Supreme Court justice Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni, was found dead last weekend in a bath in a Flores house belonging to the latter. There were no signs of violence. A decade ago in 2013 Montivero achieved notoriety when he was investigated in the case of six of Zaffaroni’s properties  functioning as presumed brothels at a time when their owner was still a member of the Supreme Court, both defending Zaffaroni and taking the rap as responsible for the management of the flats in question with the eminent legal scholar claiming complete ignorance. Montivero was eventually acquitted.  

 

MOLESTING MOSQUITOES

Mosquitoes were the plague of this city as the week started following the abundant rainfall earlier this year. City Hall urged the intensive use of repellents amid rising fears of new dengue outbreaks. On Tuesday the City Health Ministry declared a situation of “high risk” with the cases of dengue in the last six months entering four digits.

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