STATE OF THE NATION
President Alberto Fernández inaugurated the 141st session of ordinary sessions of Congress on Wednesday with a two-hour speech consisting of 90 minutes listing the economic successes of his administration, followed by a ferocious attack on the Supreme Court (with Chief Justice Horacio Rosatti and justice Carlos Rosenkrantz sitting a couple of feet to his right) to the accompaniment of both applause and boos. He spoke to an almost full house with Máximo Kirchner the only absentee deputy.
MAFIA CHALLENGE MESSI
Only three days after being anointed “The Best” football player in Paris, superstar footballer Lionel Messi faced a grim new reality when a Rosario supermarket belonging to the family of his wife Antonela Rocuzzo was attacked by gunfire early Thursday. Just to underline that this incident was no coincidence, the assailants left behind a mafia message reading: “Messi, we’re waiting for you” after firing 14 bullets at the supermarket, thus clearly pointing to organised crime as lying behind the attack, which was deplored by Security Minister Aníbal Fernández and Juntos por el Cambio opposition leaders, among others. “The narcos have won,” was the minister’s gloomy and heavily criticised conclusion.
MASSIVE POWER CUT
Argentina suffered its biggest outage in four years last Wednesday with almost half the population (20 million people in six million households) affected. Greater Buenos Aires was the worst hit with some Federal Capital neighbourhoods also affected but several provinces also suffered widespread power cuts with Mendoza, Santa Fe, Córdoba and Neuquén foremost. The Subte underground system went on the blink precisely around rush hour. While the power cut might logically have been expected to stem from excessive demand during an exceptionally torrid summer week (with a heat index temperature of 43 degrees Centigrade last Thursday equalling a 1952 record), it was actually caused by a fire near a high-voltage line in the vicinity of the Atucha 1 nuclear energy plant, prompting the safety system to turn off various power plants. Economy Minister Sergio Massa called for suspicions of arson or foul play to be investigated, with officials pointing to sabotage.
Last Tuesday on the eve of ordinary sessions the ruling Frente de Todos coalition managed to squeeze through the first quorum of the year to open up debate on a pension moratorium, which was eventually approved by 134 votes to 107 amid chants of the Peronist March. The measure will permit almost 800,000 persons (in many cases housewives) with incomplete pension contributions to qualify for complete retirement benefits. The quorum of 129 was made possible by the attendance of all 118 Frente Todos deputies plus the support of the four leftist Frente de Izquierda members, two Santa Fe socialists and half a dozen dissident Peronist and provincial deputies. The debate was prolonged by various unrelated issues also being raised. During the debate, Alejandro Cacace (Evolución Radical-San Luis) objected to the moratorium as presenting "an enormous fiscal problem" in adding half a point of gross domestic product to the budget deficit while his Córdoba party colleague Rodrigo de Loredo said that previous moratoria benefitting some 2.5 million people had destroyed the sustainability of the pension system, taking it up to close to 40 percent of public spending. But dissident Peronist Alejandro "Topo" Rodríguez (Interbloque Federal-Buenos Aires Province) argued that the lack of pension contributions was not the fault of the informally employed and housewives from low-income families.
UPPING THE SOUTH ATLANTIC ANTE
Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero on Thursday took advantage of sharing a G20 forum in New Delhi with his British counterpart James Cleverly to scrap a 2016 Malvinas agreement between the two countries while calling for the start of sovereignty negotiations. The interrupted agreement , signed by then Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Foradori and British Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan during the Mauricio Macri presidency, had called for “the removal of all obstacles to the economic growth and the sustainable development of the Malvinas Islands,” also including improved flight connections. But the Frente de Todos government considers that the agreement made too many concessions to British occupation of the islands and the exploitation of Argentine natural resources by British economic interests. The 2016 pact returned to the news last year when a “Drunken with Duncan” story claimed that a few bottles of Merlot in the British Embassy residence’s ample wine cellars had been a key factor in coaxing Foradori into signing the agreement, a story suggested by Duncan’s memoirs but denied by then-British Ambassador Mark Kent as well as Foradori himself. Cafiero called for a Foreign Ministry investigation at the time with no concrete results. Earlier in the week Cafiero also took advantage of his presence in the Indian subcontinent to reopen the Argentine Embassy in Bangladesh (closed since 1978) in recognition of that country’s effusive support for Argentina’s ultimately successful World Cup campaign.
ARE SECOND PARTS BETTER FOR SCIOLI?
Last weekend Argentine Ambassador to Brazil Daniel Scioli, the 2015 Peronist presidential candidate who lost out to Mauricio Macri, confirmed from Brasília that he would be running again and this time win. He thus became the first Frente de Todos leader to throw his hat officially into the ring (if not counting social activist Juan Grabois, who has said that he would withdraw his announced candidacy if Interior Minister Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro ran). “I’m convinced that I can represent the people and lead them to victory,” said Scioli, thanks to his qualities of “common sense, pragmatism and consistency.” Cabinet Chief Agustín Rossi smiled on his announcement as “good news” while warning: “There is still some way to go.”
A snap strike by bus-drivers on 50 lines owned by the DOTA group to press for wage arrears left thousands of commuters stranded at the start of the week. Most of the main bus routes and the Subte underground continued to function but with greater congestion.
ARGENTINES ARE THE BEST…
The Qatar World Cup champions swept the field at FIFA’s “The Best” awards ceremony in Paris last Monday with the two Lionels (Messi and Scaloni), Emiliano ‘Dibu’ Martínez and Argentine fans all winning top prizes as the best player, coach, goalie and spectators respectively. Prior to the ceremony Scaloni (with 37 wins, 15 draws and only five defeats against his name, not to mention the Qatar glory) signed a contract to remain at the helm of the Albiceleste squad through to the 2026 World Cup in North America. In a related development, the Kirchnerite journalist Ernesto Cherquis Blanco sought to explain away the photo of ex-president Mauricio Macri (in his capacity as FIFA Foundation president) with Messi and ‘Dibu’ Martínez and their wives by saying that “you would need to be [Diego] Maradona to say no,” adding that he would almost have preferred Argentina not to have won the World Cup in order not to have to see that photo.
…BUT NOT AT BASKETBALL
Finalists in the last basketball World Cup, Argentina will not be going to this year’s after failing to clinch one of the five Latin American places last weekend, their first absence since 1982. The Dominican Republic squeezed them out 79-75 in a home match in Mar del Plata where Argentina was 61-44 ahead at one point, a far cry from winning the gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004.