CABINET RESHUFFLE. MASSA RULES OK
A week of uncertainty was brought to an end on Thursday when the return of soon-to-be ex-minister Silvina Batakis triggered a string of announcements of various Cabinet changes. The most important of these was Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa being named a super-minister to replace not only Batakis (who had placed her resignation at the disposal of President Alberto Fernández soon after her return) but also Productive Development Minister Daniel Scioli (who thus returns to the Argentine Embassy in Brasilia less than two months after vacating it) and Agriculture Minister Julián Domínguez – in other words, all three portfolios are rolled into one. One persistent rumour had Massa replacing Cabinet Chief Juan Manzur who would then be shuffled to the Interior Ministry displacing Eduardo “Wado” de Pedro but both officials stay where they are for now, as do most of the ministers, although rumours of a Cabinet shrinkage are in the offing. The Cabinet shuffle kicked off early on Thursday afternoon with the resignation of Strategic Affairs Secretary Gustavo Beliz, who will be replaced by Mercedes Marcó del Pont. Massa will be replaced as Chamber of Deputies Speaker by deputy Cecilia Moreau, who hails from the same Renewal Front wing of the ruling Frente de Todos coalition as the new super-minister. More changes might yet be announced between our press time and today.
BATAKIS IN DC
Silvina Batakis arrived in Washington last Sunday as Economy minister for a strenuous week seeking aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ease the impact of the crisis. On Monday she held a brief and guarded 20-minute meeting with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, who welcomed “her initial efforts to boost fiscal sustainability,” and with key US Treasury official David Lipton who had briefly headed the IMF in 2019 and was a key figure in the 2108 agreement with Argentina. On Tuesday she met with over 20 investors, many of them debt swap participants, telling them she had support across the board from the Frente de Todos government for austerity policies. Her flight back on Wednesday was delayed but she was back to an uncertain future by Thursday morning with her resignation accepted later that day and her move to the helm of Banco Nación announced in the evening.
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NO CALM FOR THE FARM SHOW
The Rural Society’s annual farm exhibition is due to be inaugurated today (on the eve of its closure tomorrow in keeping with the show’s unusual traditions) but the event is unlikely to be mere routine with picket groupings announcing simultaneous demonstrations outside but at press time there were doubts about the exact format and timing of the protest or even if it would go ahead with some groupings (Movimiento Evita and the CCC among them) already dropping out and others uncertain. The merger of the Agriculture Ministry into Sergio Massa’s super-ministry also stood to be perceived by farmers as a relegation of their sector.
COAXING GRAIN GREENBACKS
For the second week running Argentina has yet another exchange rate – following the previous week’s scheme to offer foreign tourists a more attractive rate for their dollars (with scant interest shown by visitors from abroad thus far), the Central Bank on Tuesday evening offered the farming sector a new deal as soy sales plunged to their lowest levels since 2005, boosting the official exchange rate with the same 65 percent increments applied to ordinary dollar purchases (from 30 percent tax plus a 35 percent surcharge to be deducted from income tax). Central Bank governor Miguel Pesce expressed optimism that the new incentive could net as much as US$2.5 billion but the farming community rejected the offer in advance, saying that it only trimmed by 15 percent the fourfold difference between parallel exchange rates and the official rate after deducting export duties. Instead the sector insisted on a unified exchange rate at realistic levels as the only solution. Otherwise money markets were more volatile than ever last week with good news and bad news in midweek – the former was netting over half a trillion pesos on the bond market to finance the Treasury and the bad news was the Central Bank already having shed over a billion dollars in reserves in the course of the month by Wednesday.
Picket hardliners were out in force on Thursday, filling the Plaza de Mayo and rejecting the quasi-midyear bonus of 11,000 pesos to be paid to 1.2 million social plan beneficiaries next month at an estimated cost of 13.2 billion pesos, as announced by President Alberto Fernández in Chapadmalal on Tuesday. But such marches were not limited to the capital – on Tuesday and Wednesday teachers and doctors in Mendoza not only went on strike against the provincial Radical administration headed by Governor Rodolfo Suárez but staged massive marches to protest salaries often falling below 50,000 pesos although provincial officials estimated adherence to the strike at around a third of educational and health workers.
SEVEN DECADES WITHOUT EVITA
The 70th anniversary of the death of Eva Perón last Tuesday received universal but fragmented recognition from Peronism. While President Alberto Fernández summoned his entire Cabinet for the re-opening of a mass tourism hotel originally sponsored by the Fundación Eva Perón in the Atlantic resort of Chapadmalal just south of Mar del Plata (less than half attended), Vice-President Cristina Kirchner limited herself to a five-word tweet. The rival CGT and CTA labour umbrellas could not agree on a single time or place with the former marking the event at their downtown headquarters while the latter held a torchlight event (also attended by one of the three CGT secretaries-general, Pablo Moyano).
ARMY IN THE DOCK
Nine Army officers at the Corrientes artillery base of Paso de los Libres were indicted on Wednesday for the death of Matías Chirino last month in drunken initiation rites to celebrate his promotion to second lieutenant last month.
BLIZZARDS IN THE ANDES
Five days of intense snowfall along the Andes had serious consequences by the start of the week with power cuts and blocked roads in several mountain communities.