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ARGENTINA | 24-05-2024 15:00

Stories that caught our eye: May 16 to 24

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

 

MILEI PLAYS ROCK STAR

President Javier Milei ‘rocked’ Luna Park on Wednesday as he presented his latest book. In a bizarre show that echoed the singing dreams of outrageous Italian ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, Argentina’s President performed his own version of La Renga tune ‘Panic Show,’ riling up the audience, before boring the pants off them with a lengthy economic lecture. Joined onstage later by national deputy José Luis Espert and Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni, Milei then delivered some of his favourite talking-points and lines, lashing out at abortion, state overreach and “lefties.” Meanwhile, journalists are beginning to probe who paid for the security and the show, not least as all the tickets were given away free in the preceding hours.

 

SPANISH FLU

The Spanish socialist government headed by Pedro Sánchez has escalated its conflict with President Javier Milei by "definitely" withdrawing its ambassador to Argentina, María Jesús Alonso (previously recalled for consultations), Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares announced last Tuesday after Milei had refused to rectify having called Sánchez and his wife Begoña Gómez “corrupt” during a rally of the far right Spanish party Vox in Madrid last Sunday. Albares summoned Argentine Ambassador to Madrid Roberto Bosch (who is staying put for now) on Monday but they failed to heal the breach. Milei further accused Sánchez of “working aligned with Kirchnerism to try and sabotage our government with their coup attempts” but denied having named either the premier or his wife in his Sunday speech, arguing that they incriminated themselves by feeling alluded. The President said that he should be the one to feel aggrieved since members of the Spanish government had called him "xenophobic, racist, ultra-right (...), a denialist of science and a misogynist." For his part Sánchez continued to insist on a public apology from Milei while arguing that the Vox rally shows " the risk which the international far right represents for a society like ours." 

 

MILEI IN THE MIDDLE

President Javier Milei heads for Córdoba today to mark the 214th anniversary of the birth of Argentine nationhood in the middle of the country without the gubernatorial consensus to which he had aspired in his state-of-the-nation speech to open Congress at the start of March and with his 'Ley de Bases' omnibus bill of deregulatory reforms still bogged down in Senate committee debate. On Tuesday Milei warned Congress that he would veto any bill upsetting a balanced budget.

 

POVERTY LEVELLING OUT?

The first quarter of this year found 55 percent of the population below the poverty line and 18 percent destitute (almost doubling last year), according to the estimates of the Catholic University’s Observatorio de la Deuda Social Argentina poverty monitor released last Monday. But its director Agustín Salvia saw reasons to conclude that poverty had peaked before reaching the 2002 levels of over 60 percent and that incomes would start to recover. Yet at the same time he warned that even with lower inflation and improved employment, a segment of chronic, structural poverty was here to stay.

 

MAYORAL PROBLEMS

La Matanza Mayor Fernando Espinoza, 55, was indicted last weekend for simple sexual abuse by judge María Galletti with a lien of 1.5 million pesos slapped on his assets. The magistrate also issued a restraining order against Espinoza to protect the plaintiff, Melody Rakauskas, which may not be too difficult to enforce since she is reportedly living in the United States. Rakauskas first presented the charges in mid-2021. Espinoza, who remains free for now, denied the accusations as “absolutely false, a lie and a put-up job.” Espinoza is not the only Greater Buenos Aires Peronist mayor with legal problems – his San Martín namesake Fernando Moreira faces a different set of charges regarding ghost employees.

 

 

GOING EASY ON GAS

The government last Monday decided to postpone the increases in gas billing scheduled for this month, responding to an Economy Ministry recommendation in order to keep inflation on a downward path. There has thus been no increase in gas bills since April 3.


MISIONES IMPOSSIBLE

The northeastern province of Misiones has been torn this month by a wave of provincial employee pay conflicts spearheaded by the provincial police and teachers with Governor Hugo Passalacqua unable to find solutions despite extended negotiations. The continuous protest of over 15,000 provincial police officers headed by Ramón Amarilla over the previous five days was joined last Tuesday by 4,000 teachers blocking a bridge while other provincial employees began to express their discontent over being paid below the poverty line. The provincial government is offering the police a 15 percent increase whereas they are demanding at least 70 percent while teachers are dissatisfied with the offer of a 24 percent pay increase. Last weekend federal security forces belonging to the Federal Police, the Coast Guard and the Border Guard began arriving in the province to preserve law and order.

 

CONTROVERSIAL CONTINUITY

One week after Cabinet Chief Nicolás Posse delivered his first congressional report to the Senate, the number of officials from the previous Alberto Fernández administration continuing under the Javier Milei presidency continues to trigger press and social network comment. Posse’s report includes the line: “The Cabinet chief informs that the total of officials appointed to a senior post in the central administration prior to December 10, 2023 is 1,867.”


KARINA QUEEN OF X

Presidential chief-of-staff Karina Milei last Monday inaugurated her own official account on the X (ex-Twitter) social network with the message: "HOLA A TODOS…!!! Yo soy El Jefe (I’m the boss)…!!! VIVA LA LIBERTAD CARAJO" with no immediate follow-up despite acquiring 43,000 followers on the first day.

 

PICKET LEADERS SPARED JAIL

Federal judge Sebastián Casanello last Monday accepted the arguments of the defence lawyers of 13 social activists belonging to the leftist Polo Obrero and indicted by federal prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita for soup kitchen irregularities, ruling against remanding them in custody since none have a criminal record while forbidding them to leave the country.

 

RACISM ACROSS THE RIVER

Veteran Argentine football coach Ricardo Caruso Lombardi, 62, proffered racist insults against the referee Javier Feres, who expelled him during the Uruguayan league match which his relegation-threatened team Miramar Misiones lost 2-1 against Liverpool in Montevideo last Monday. "Shit nigger, I won’t go," Lombardi told Feres when the latter sent him off towards the end of the encounter. This incident was far from being the first time the feisty Lombardi had clashed with referees but he had never stooped to racism before. A few hours later Lombardi used his social network X account to apologise: "I feel ashamed. I had an outburst. For all the pressure, I must not act in that way. I used words which do not correspond." The following day, he quit his job. The local prosecutor's office said it had opened an investigation into alleged incitement to hatred, and has requested witnesses and video footage of the incident. The crime carries a penalty of three to 18 months in prison.


DECLINE DATA

Data from the INDEC national statistics bureau released Wednesday showed the impact of President Javier Milei’s austerity measures: economic activity slumped 8.4 percent in March year-on-year, in the most part due to huge declines in construction (down 29.9 percent) and manufacturing (falling 19.6 percent).

 

EXIT ON WAY?

At press time there were growing rumours about the potential booting of Cabinet Chief Nicolás Posse from Javier Milei’s government. It remains unclear if they had any basis, or if the speculation was started by the official’s non-attendance at the President’s “show” at Luna Park on Wednesday.


 

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