Tuesday, April 16, 2024

ARGENTINA | 15-03-2024 12:50

Stories that caught our eye: March 8 to 15

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



Despite the support of the main Kirchnerite-led Peronist Unión por la Patria caucus, the Hacemos Coalición Federal caucus of traditional Peronist and provincial deputies failed on Wednesday to reach quorum in its bid to present alternative mechanisms for updating pensions urgently, never managing to seat more than 119 of the 257 deputies. While the La Libertad Avanza (LLA), PRO and 29 of the 34 Radical deputies lining up behind the government’s austerity drive against a fiscally disruptive improvement of pensions equally lacked the numbers to block a session, the weather played a decisive role here with the flights of several inland legislators cancelled while some feared to jeopardise the fragile truce between President Javier Milei and provincial governors. The session ended up being testimonial. Meanwhile in the other house of Congress it was the government’s turn to suffer a setback when Vice-President Victoria Villarruel finally yielded to opposition pressure last Tuesday and called a special Senate session for Thursday to discuss the deregulatory DNU  emergency mega-decree signed by Milei to repeal or amend over 300 laws. At least 42 of the 72 senators were expected to vote against the mega-decree, which was facing a vote at press time.



Figures in Javier Milei’s administration have played down talk of a row within the upper echelons of La Libertad Avanza, namely between the president and his vice-president, Victoria Villarruel. Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni denied reports that the two are at loggerheads over Villarruel’s decision to allow a vote on Milei’s controversial DNU economic deregulation decree in the Senate Thursday, a move that could see it voted down in the upper house. “There is no kind of quarrel or internal conflict” between them,” said the government mouthpiece, aghast at the idea that a Milei statement denouncing the “unilateral decision of some sectors of the political class” and their attempt to “advance with their own agenda” could be interpreted as referring to his second-in-command. New La Libertad Avanza lawmaker José Luis Espert said he thought the VP was attempting to “destabilise” the government and didn’t understand why. Ramiro Marra, recently ousted as the head of the LLA caucus in the City legislature, said it was better for the media to “focus on the problems of the Argentines.” 



Last month’s inflation was 13.2 percent for the third deceleration running, INDEC statistics bureau announced on Tuesday, but the annual rate climbed again to 276.2 percent. The main culprits for this increase – below virtually all expectations and also City Hall’s 14.1 percent – were communications (24.7 percent), transport (21.6 percent) and housing, fuel and public services (20.2 percent, mostly due to the latter) while the key item of food and beverages weighed in below the monthly average at 11.9 percent. Core inflation (excluding regulated and seasonal prices) was 12.3 percent. Celebrated by the government for undershooting expectations, the improvement on January’s 20.6 percent was attributed by analysts to recession, austerity and the libertarian government’s peso squeeze. Such factors convinced economic experts that the February percentage was plausible but teamster leader Pablo Moyano accused INDEC chief Marco Lavagna of fiddling the figures, insisting: “Nobody believes (13.2 percent).”  



Four random slayings in Rosario breaking with the previous syndrome of drug-ring warfare placed that city’s narcotics-trafficking scourge high on the national agenda from the start of the week, leading the government to move towards amending domestic security legislation in order to expand the role of the Armed Forces and send 450 members of federal security forces (Border Guards, Coast Guards and the Airport Police) to the troubled river port. Schools and shops closed down and transport (with two taxi-drivers and a bus-driver among the slain) was paralysed as terror gripped the city.



After days of facing accusations of hypocrisy over Decree 235/2024 upping Executive Branch salaries by 48 percent starting with himself, Javier Milei ejected Labour Secretary Omar Yasin as responsible for the “error” after quashing the offending decree over the weekend, even if it had also been signed by higher authorities including Cabinet Chief Nicolás Posse, Economy Minister Luis Caputo and even the president himself. The Human Capital Ministry headed by Sandra Pettovello has thus shed nine senior officials in just three months. In the previous week there had been a controversy over a 30-percent pay increase for senators and deputies but this too was rolled back over the weekend by Vice-President Victoria Villarrueel and Lower House Speaker Martín Menem at Milei’s behest.    



In the first days of the week Economy Minister Luis Caputo made two surprise moves in his war on inflation – knocking the floor out of interest rates to bring them down to approximately 80 percent and freeing imports on a variety of food items to bring down prices after admonishing supermarkets for basing their pricing on the dollar at the start of this year instead of the current greenback slipping below 1,000 pesos. At the AmCham summit, he also revealed talks were “just starting” with the IMF over Argentina’s US$44-billion credit programme, with all options – including further monies – on the table.



Violent thunderstorms and torrential downpours were the story of the week through to Thursday at least, especially on Tuesday when more rain (125 millimetres) fell than the average total for the entire month of March.  Flooded streets, traffic chaos and flight delays or cancellations formed part of the urban damage (with at least two deaths in Buenos Aires Province) with mixed rural results – an elevated water table after last year’s drought but some crops obliterated by hailstorms. There were over 80 flight delays or cancellations at Aeroparque and Ezeiza International Airports, all but five at the former.



British Ambassador Kirsty Hayes was summoned Monday to the Foreign Ministry for a 40-minute dressing-down by Diana Mondino’s deputy minister Leopoldo Sahores and other Ministry officials over recent British moves around the Malvinas, especially British Foreign Secretary David Cameron’s visit to the islands last month and London’s extension of its South Atlantic fisheries conservation zone. According to Clarín journalist Natasha Niebieskikwiat, concern was also expressed over the recent US$153-million contract granted by the island government to the company Harland & Wolff to construct a new port to compete with Ushuaia. Later that day Mondino received María Fernanda Araujo, a La Libertad Avanza deputy who also chairs the Committee for the Malvinas Fallen. Until now the Javier Milei administration has kept Malvinas issues on the backburner – in response to political and public pressure, they seem to be taking it more seriously.



Presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni last Tuesday confirmed among other issues that Argentina would initiate “diplomatic action” against Venezuela due to the ban on Argentine flights entering that country’s air space, as ordered by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as a reprisal for the Argentine decision to send an Emtrasur Cargo aeroplane held 20 months at Ezeiza Airport to the United States. “Argentina will not allow itself to be extorted by friends of terrorism,” said Adorni.



Former Frente para la Victoria deputy Diana Conti, perhaps most famous for her “Cristina eterna” drive to secure indefinite presidential re-election for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, died of cancer just before last weekend at the age of 67. Conti began her political militancy with the Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR, in its Spanish acronym) in her youth but she first entered Congress in 1997 as an opposition senator in the Frepaso wing of what was to become the Alliance government under the Radical Fernando de la Rúa (1999-2001). But the Néstor Kirchner Presidency saw her switching to Frente para la Victoria before moving to the other house of Congress in 2005, remaining an ultra-Kirchnerite for the rest of her life. Fernández de Kirchner herself was the first to express her condolences with a brief message in her social networks, followed by several other Kirchnerites.



More than 50 universities kept their doors shut on Thursday as part of a protest against their lack of funding. After weeks of complaints, the government indicated this week that it would up the budget for higher educational institutions but there was no confirmation at press time. It’s the latest in a series of strikes across various sectors.

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