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ARGENTINA | 16-02-2024 14:37

Stories that caught our eye: February 9 to 16

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

 

JANUARY INFLATION TOPS 20%

Argentina confirmed its supremacy as the nation with the highest inflation in the world on Wednesday afternoon when the INDEC national statistics bureau announced a January inflation of 20.6 percent at an annual rate of 254.2 percent. The persistently high figure was the result of the continuing effects of December’s maxi-devaluation plus the lid being taken off prices by the new libertarían government, which nevertheless celebrated a five percent drop from the previous month. The main culprits were miscellaneous goods and services (44.4 percent), transport (26.3 percent) and communications (25.1 percent) with the key item of food and beverages just below the average at 20.4 percent while core inflation (excluding seasonal and regulated prices) was lower still at 20.2 percent.

 

INCREASES KEEP INCREASING

City Hall on Wednesday decreed steep increases in subway fares and highway tolls as from April. The former will rise by 360 percent to 574 pesos per journey, followed by 667 pesos in May and 757 pesos in June, while highway tolls will be as much as 2.276 pesos in peak hours, rising to 3,072 pesos in June. Those lacking the SUBE transport card might find the underground costing them close to 1,000 pesos. On Thursday the Energy Department announced electricity bill increases of 150 percent for the top N1 income bracket and 65-70 percent for the other two segments.   

 

ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME

Following a brief but cordial encounter during the canonisation of Mama Antula (Argentina’s first saint) at the Vatican on Sunday, President Javier Milei and Pope Francis held a more extended and formal hour-long meeting (their first) on Monday morning in which they discussed Argentina’s crisis with Milei claiming papal approval for his economic policies. According to Vatican sources, Milei did most of the talking with Francis interested in hearing him out although he did put in a word for the vulnerable. Later in the day Milei met his two Italian counterparts, President Sergio Mattarella as head of state and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni as head of government, establishing strong empathy with the latter on the basis of a shared far-right ideology before starting his flight home at the end of the day. While in Rome, Milei announced Ambassador to Vietnam Luis Beltramino as Argentina’s future envoy to the Vatican, requesting approval of his credentials.

 

RESCUE IN RAFAH

A complex operation by Israeli commandos and intelligence agents succeeded on Monday in rescuing two Argentine hostages, Fernando Marman, 60, and Luis Har, 70, from the hands of Hamas terrorists in Rafah, the city where most of the Gaza Strip population is now huddled. Both men, who had been seized in the massive Hamas kibbutz attack last October 7, were described as being in a good state of health. The Argentine presidential office thanked Israeli authorities for the rescue, which came only three days after President Javier Milei completed his extended visit to Israel.

 

EDUCATIONAL VOUCHERS?

President Javier Milei last Thursday announced in a radio interview that he would be launching "educational vouchers" for the purchase of scholastic equipment and to assist the payment of private school fees, also offering the latter tax breaks. Milei gave some credit to the Vatican for his decisión: "I’ve already spoken about this to Pope Francis himself. We are not abandoning the most vulnerable." Educational vouchers formed a prominent part of Milei’s electoral platform last year in order to "decentralise  education by handing over its budget to the parents," financing the demand instead of the supply.

 

OMNIBUS PAYBACK

Just before last weekend President Javier Milei dumped ANSES social security administration chief Osvaldo Giordano and Mining Secretary Flavia Royón, respectively linked to the governors of Córdoba and Salta, in apparent revenge for the perceived contribution of those governors to the failure of his omnibus bill earlier that week. Tension with provincial governors escalated, especially after the Economy Ministry almost immediately axed its support for provincial transport subsidies. 

 

RADICAL CHOCOLATE

Four months after the scandal of the Peronist middleman Julio ‘Chocolate’ Rigau caught cashing the debit cards of Buenos Aires provincial employees first broke, BAPRO bank security cameras at the start of this year exposed two suspects in La Plata using 39 debit cards belonging to Buenos Aires Province Senate employees to make early morning withdrawals to the tune of some 30 million pesos, brought to the attention of prosecutor Betina Lacki early this week. A similar scandal to “Chocolate” Rigau but a different party this time since suspicions centre on the historic La Plata Radical leader Hugo Muguerza, 72, a former municipal official who rose to be Environment undersecretary in 2016. Two of the 39 names are female relatives of his while a third is shared with ‘Chocolate’ Rigau.

 

STATEMENTS OF ASSETS

Among last week’s statements of assets by public officials, the most striking  were the 54,762,270.23 pesos declared by President Javier Milei (more than doubling last year’s 21 million pesos) while his richest minister was Mariano Cúneo Libarona (Justice) with over 6.6 billion pesos. Former vice-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner declared almost a quarter billion pesos for last year – notably including shares in Mercado Libre, Apple, Coca Cola and Berkshire Hathaway.  

 

SUSPECT PLANE FINALLY DEPARTS

After being grounded at Ezeiza International Airport for 20 months, the Venezuelan-Iranian plane finally left early Monday heading for the United States, which had long requested its decommissioning due to the irregular transfer of Iran’s Mahan Air to Venezuela’s Emtrasur. The Boeing 747-300 importing Volkswagen auto parts was detained at Ezeiza in mid-2022 after being refused entry into Uruguay to investigate possible terrorist links due to its motley crew of 15 Venezuelans and four Iranians. The decision finally to accede to Washington’s request was made by federal judge Federico Villena but Argentina’s recent change of government to a far more pro-US presidency may well have influenced his timing.

 

METAL THIEF ELECTROCUTED

Ezequiel Curaba, 21, was electrocuted last weekend while trying to steal high-voltage cables for their copper in Rosario, dying on Wednesday after suffering burns to 90 percent of his body. If the homeless youth had  succeeded in what is becoming the increasingly frequent crime of metal theft in Argentina, he might have earned around 7,000 pesos per kilo.

 

WHITE SLAVERY IN CHACO

Security and Justice Ministers Patricia Bullrich and Mariano Cúneo Libarona, were joined last Wednesday by Chaco provincial government officials in denouncing an alleged human-trafficking ring operating via social plans in the framework of an investigation pushed by the local government. The scheme of forcing women into prostitution in exchange for social plans was allegedly headed by CCC (Corriente Clasista Combativa) leftist picket leader Jorge Bregui with presumed links to previous Chaco Peronist governor Jorge Capitanich. 

 

CHUBUT ABLAZE

At the start of the week forest fires had already ravaged 8,200 hectares of Parque Nacional Los Alerces in Chubut despite the best efforts of 336 firefighters.

 

CHAINSAW FOR CAPUTO VERSUS DEPOSITO

On the first night of the Cosquín Rock Festival last weekend, the rap Singer Dillom (the stage name of Dylan León Masa) sparked a controversy when he reworked a line from the old 1998 Bersuit Vergarabat hit ‘Sr. Cobranza’ to read: “A Caputo en la plaza lo tienen que matar,” implying that Economy Minister Luis Caputo should be lynched in public by a mob. Dillom was promptly denounced for “incitation to violence” in front of a direct audience of over 45,000 people and reaching millions more. Caputo’s own response via X was: “Calling for an economy minister chosen by a president elected democratically to be killed is not very democratic for our country.” Dillom was not the only singer to get the government’s goat last week – on Wednesday (Saint Valentine’s Day), President Javier Milei re-baptised Lali Espósito as “Lali Depósito,” prompting Actrices Argentinas to issue a communiqué in the singer’s support against the “institutional violence … seeking to silence the voices against misogyny, hunger and austerity.”  

 

LIBERTADORES FINAL IN BA

This year’s Libertadores cup final will be played in Buenos Aires, Conmebol continental football association announced last Tuesday, although the stadium has yet to be defined. River Plate’s Monumental stadium is the favourite due to its capacity. Six Argentine teams are in the running.

 

LEONA DIES

Leona hockey player Gabriela 'Colo' Pando died of cancer last Tuesday at the age of 53. She won gold at the 1995 Pan American Games and played at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta in a national squad career running from 1989 to 1998, as well as helping her team Lomas Athletic to win multiple local titles. She also trained Las Leonas between 2014 and 2017.

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