Thursday, July 18, 2024

ARGENTINA | 16-03-2023 23:16

Stories that caught our eye: March 9 to 16

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



On Tuesday INDEC statistics bureau posted 6.6 percent inflation for February, even higher than January despite being the shortest month of the year and taking inflation so far this year already into double digits (13.1 percent) and treble digits on an annual basis (102.5 percent). The leading culprit was the key item of food and beverages, which rose 9.8 percent, driven by meat prices (regaining ground from increasing less than half the general average in 2022) with some cuts hiked by over 30 percent. February’s core inflation (omitting seasonal and regulated prices) of 7.7 percent was also worrying.



President Alberto Fernández was rushed to Otamendi Hospital on Tuesday afternoon with severe back pains and at press time was awaiting an operation for a lumbar hernia in Olivos  presidential residence, to which he was confined last week, thus missing scheduled trips to Chaco and Entre Ríos. Ahead of the operation he was submitted to corticoid treatment to reduce the pain. Despite the health problems, presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti confirmed his presence at the Ibero-American Summit in the Dominican Republic on March 24-25. The most recent presidential health scare was also at a summit (erosive gastritis at the G20 Summit on the Indonesian island of Bali last November).



The International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be disbursing US$5.2 billion to Argentina later this month after approving compliance with last year’s agreement during the previous quarter, as well as lowering this year’s requirements for  Central Bank reserve accumulation in the light of the drought, among other negative factors, Economy Ministry sources confirmed on Monday . Despite showing flexibility in recognising the impossibility of adding a further US$7.8 billion to Central Bank reserves this year, the IMF have underlined that they would like to see a tighter fiscal performance. Prior to last weekend Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had sharply criticised the agreement with the IMF for not leaving Argentina the room to grow or develop. Her critique was echoed last Monday by the La Cámpora militant grouping headed by her son Máximo which (fresh from marking the 50th anniversary of 1973 Peronist caretaker president Héctor Cámpora’s election victory last Saturday) issued a scathing statement insisting: “No matter which way Argentines vote, the economy is managed by the IMF.”



Far from endorsing the conspiracy theories insistently mounted by Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner,  the intended target of his assassination attempt last September, Fernando Sabag Montiel insisted from jail that the responsibility was his alone, even disassociating his girlfriend Brenda Uliarte. "I wanted to kill her because of the situation the country was in," he told C5N television news channel in a Tuesday interview, expressing no repentance for his crime. His version of the attempt did not differ from what was plain to see on the video footage at the time: “I pulled the trigger but no bullet came out,” adding the detail that he had placed five rounds of ammunition in his firearm. 



The National Electoral Court last Thursday approved the timetable for this year’s elections, running from June 24 (the deadline for presenting PASO primary hopefuls) to November 19 (the date of the presidential runoff, if needed).  The PASO primaries are now set for August 13 with the first round of the presidential elections on October 22. Two compulsory presidential debates will be held on October 1 and 8 with a third debate between the two run-off candidates on November 12 should there be a second round.



Argentina’s hottest summer on record is having all sorts of consequences great and small – ranging from massive power cuts in Greater Buenos Aires and zones of this city (prompting the government to denounce Edesur power utility on Thursday) and a drought-stricken agriculture threatening  massive macro-economic damage through multi-billion-dollar crop losses to students in Santa Fe Province being authorised to attend school in swimsuits. Meanwhile forest fires have returned to the province of Corrientes where over a million hectares were ablaze last year.   



Business tycoon Carlos Pedro Tadeo Blaquier, who headed the Ledesma agro-industrial giant for over four decades until 2013, died last Monday at the age of 95, thus eluding a trial for crimes against humanity until the end. Since 1976 he had been under suspicion of complicity in the mass abduction of 400 of his 7,000 employees in Jujuy under cover of a blackout for transfer to concentration camps early in the 1976-83 military dictatorship but the case did not go to trial until 2012. In 2015 a Cassation Court acquitted him on 26 counts of illegal abduction for lack of evidence but that sentence was quashed by the Supreme Court in 2021, leaving the ancient businessman still liable to prosecution. Last year the fortune of the Blaquier family was estimated by Forbes magazine at US$830 million. Centred on a sugar refinery dating back to 1912, the increasingly diversified Jujuy-based company is also a leading producer of paper, other foods and biofuels.



Just before entering hospital on Tuesday, President Alberto Fernández named lawyer and Socialist Party politician Verónica Gómez to head the Anti-Corruption Office, replacing Félix Crous who resigned more than 10 weeks ago in the closing hours of 2022. Prior to her appointment Gómez advised the Buenos Aires City ombudsman in constitutional law, human rights and gender 



Police spy Américo Balbuena went on trial as from Tuesday , accused of snooping during an entire decade while posing as the "correspondent" of the Agencia de Noticias Rodolfo Walsh news agency as from 2002. According to the ruling of former judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral sending him to trial three years ago this month, Balbuena had centred his espionage on human rights and leftist organisations. The trial will be held  by federal judge Daniel Rafecas with Carlos Stornelli as prosecutor.



The 63,000 tickets available for Argentina’s match against Panama next  Thursday (a further 20,000 places are reserved for VIPs and sponsors) were snapped up within two hours with nearly two million people applying. Ticket prices ranged between 12,000 and 49,000 pesos. The organisation is in the hands of Deportick, with no known track record.

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