Saturday, June 22, 2024

ARGENTINA | 18-05-2024 10:57

Stories that caught our eye: May 10 to 17

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



Widespread expectations of single-digit inflation for the first time in six months were met when INDEC statistics bureau posted 8.8 percent inflation for April last Tuesday. Annual inflation is now running at 289.4 percent with 65 percent for the first third of this year. Experts highlighted a steep fall in core inflation (excluding seasonal and regulated prices) from 9.5 to 6.3 percent as heralding further deceleration. The Central Bank celebrated on the same day by lowering interest rates from 50 to 40 percent.



The technical staff of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last Monday approved the 8th review of its US$44-billion stand-by agreement with Argentina, also clearing the remittance of US$800 million to meet upcoming payments due to the IMF. The technical staff’s generally positive view of the Javier Milei’s fiscal and monetary performance (always with attention to “improving the quality and equity of fiscal consolidation”) was followed on Thursday by bullish remarks from IMF Communications Director Julie Kozack on the prospects for economic growth and the free competition of currencies in the second half of the year.



Social organisations were the target of a government crackdown last week with 30 court raids on Monday alone, ordered by prosecutor  Gerardo Pollicita acting on Security Minister denunciations that picket leaders were extorting welfare beneficiaries to attend their marches via their control of social plans. A total of 27 picket leaders were indicted by judge Sebastián Casanello as a result. Many of the raids centred on soup kitchens, almost half of which are bogus according to a parallel Human Capital Ministry report. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich celebrated that both money and evidence were found in these raids on the “false social leaders.”  



A tearful President Javier Milei unveiled the bust of the late ex-president Carlos Saúl Menem in the Casa Rosada last Tuesday (the anniversary of his election victories in both 1989 and 1995), paying tribute to him as “the best President of the last 40 years at least.” Taking office amid hyperinflation, Menem handed over a stable country in 1999 with a per capita income 60 percent higher, besides “placing Argentina among the emerging protagonists of the new globalisation” thanks to his “audacity, intuition and pragmatism,”  Milei said. Menem took centre stage among the presidential busts, replacing Néstor Kirchner who was relegated to the back of the room. Several members of the Menem family and senior government officials were among the 80 guests. But on the same day critics revived tweets of Vice-President Victoria Villarruel (published in 2020 on the 25th anniversary of his re-election) blasting Menem for covering up the 1994 terrorist destruction of the AMIA Jewish community centre, abolishing compulsory military service, gun-running and climbing down over Malvinas sovereignty, concluding that “without Menem there would never have been any Kirchners.”



Early on May 10 a San Martín line train crashed into a stationary locomotive on a Palermo railway bridge, resulting in 90 injuries. The crash is still under investigation with theories ranging from human error to a failure of the signal system due to the constant theft of cables.



In the course of Cabinet Chief Nicolás Posse’s report to the Senate in midweek (his first appearance in Congress in almost half a year despite a constitutional obligation of monthly accountability), details of President Javier Milei’s travels emerged in that eight-hour sesión (see elsewhere for other aspects) on the eve of the libertarían leader’s departure to Spain for a Vox summit. The 1,286 questions asked included an enquiry into the cost of presidential travels abroad, which totalled over 230 million pesos through to April 22, a figure not including either his Spanish trip nor his attendance of the Milken Institute summit in Los Angeles earlier this month. The President and his entourage logged a total of 102,541 kilometres in these flights overseas, whose agenda was more often personal than official. Answering another question, Posse further revealed that the presidential earnings in March were 4,066,018.15 pesos (a basic salary of 1,807,295.63 pesos plus expenses) while Vice-President Victoria Villarruel took home a total of 3,764,820.82 (a basic salary of 1,747,023.33 pesos plus expenses). Posse also detailed the earnings of ministers and other senior officials.



Few weeks seem to go by without some resignation from the Javier Milei administration and last week was no exception with at least two exits – Diego Guerendiain as the Cabinet chief of Justice Minister Mariano Cúneo Libarona (in Vienna for a United Nations conference at the time) and Rodrigo Puértolas as director of the National Car Registration Board (CNRPA in its Spanish acronym) even ahead of being officially confirmed for the post. A personal friend of the minister over three decades, Guerendiain had been his nominee for the Council of Magistrates but had been displaced by Sebastián Amerio at the insistent behest of presidential spin doctor Santiago Caputo. The departing official cited “personal motives” but dissatisfaction with his work was rumoured. The resignation of Puértolas, who had backed the Peronist presidential candidacy of Sergio Massa last year, goes in tandem with the resignations of dozens of DNRPA officials in reaction to the drastic deregulation of its tasks while cutting staff by 30-40 percent – last Monday the government scrapped the Cédula Azul driving licences as part of that process.



The University of Buenos Aires (UBA) has withdrawn its declaration of an educational emergency after the government agreed to increasing its budget for running expenses by 270 percent and the funding of university hospitals by 300 percent, presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni announced on Thursday. The issues of academic salaries and research financing remain unresolved, however.



The government continued filling Argentine embassies around the world by formalising in the Official Gazette the appointment of four more ambassadors in midweek – Mariano Caucino (previously ambassador in Israel and Costa Rica) in India, the diplomat Marcos Antonio Bednarski in Vietnam, the economist Guillermo Nielsen in Paraguay and the Ambassador to Warsaw Alicia Irene Falkowski to add Lithuania to Poland as her responsibilities.



The 48th International Book Fair closing last Monday registered a total of 1,126,351 visitors, down almost 10 percent from last year’s 1,245,000 persons, according to the data of Fundación El Libro, with sales down even more – between 30 and 50 percent according to preliminary estimates. The event was soured from the start by a running dispute with the Javier Milei government after his cultural chainsaw was the subject of hostile inaugural speeches by Fundación El Libro president Alejandro Vaccaro and the writer Liliana Heker, prompting Milei to cancel his book launch there. The fair had 328 stands (11 of them representing other countries) and 672 exhibitors with the books of 1,620 publishers on sale. Lisbon was the guest city.



Gastón Ariel Mercanzini, the man who hurled a bottle at President Javier Milei as he was being inaugurated last December 10, was sentenced by judge María Eugenia Capuchetti to 42 months in prison, the sentence requested by the prosecutor Carlos Rívolo. The bottle did not even hit Milei but one of his bodyguards.

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