Monday, June 24, 2024

ARGENTINA | 31-05-2024 13:23

Stories that caught our eye: May 24 to 31

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



The government managed to secure committee approval for its ‘Ley de Bases’/’omnibus’ bill and the accompanying fiscal package in the Senate on Wednesday night, thanks to the active intervention of Vice-President Victoria Villarruel and the new Cabinet Chief Guillermo Francos and to various concessions, many to appease the objections of Patagonian senators (including a higher income tax floor for that region and hikes in provincial mining royalties at the request of Santa Cruz).



After several days of rumours President Javier Milei decided on Monday night to ditch his Cabinet Chief Nicolás Posse, replacing him with Interior Minister Guillermo Francos at the head of a Cabinet where a place will be found for deregulatory expert Federico Sturzenegger. While Posse was strongly questioned for his reticence, control of the intelligence services was thought to be the nub of the issue and sure enough, AFI intelligence chief Silvestre Sívori was also shown the exit door with no confirmed replacement at press time (Sergio Neiffert was considered the frontrunner).



As an anti-climax to the originally announced ‘Pacto de 25 de Mayo’ with 10 pro-market points signed by all provincial governors, President Javier Milei headed a low-key, solitary and conciliatory rally in front of an estimated 6,000 supporters (including several of his ministers) in Córdoba last Saturday, promising to cut taxes if his ‘Ley de Bases’ bill and fiscal package are approved by Congress and to chart all future reforms with the help of a newly created council of opposition politicians, trade unionists and businessmen.



President Javier Milei last Monday signed emergency decree DNU 459/2024 authorising public debt to be expanded to the tune of 35 trillion pesos via the issue of Treasury bonds to permit ENARSA energy regulatory authority to tackle gas shortages as winter approaches by moving ahead with such delayed projects as ensuring a two-way flow on gas pipelines. On the previous Friday the government had suspended gas supplies to all industries lacking “uninterruptible” contracts. But a tight-fisted approach returned in midweek when delays in paying a Petrobras gas liquefaction vessel caused a further disruption of industrial fuel supplies and shortages of compressed natural gas at service stations persisting into this weekend.  



The lawsuit of the Burford Capital hedge fund over irregularities in the 2012 nationalisation of YPF oil company took a turn for the worse on Tuesday when Manhattan judge Loretta Preska declared both YPF and the Central Bank to be possible alter egos of the Argentine state, thus opening the door for the compensation of US$16 billion ruled by the New York court to be made payable in YPF shares. The plaintiffs are also looking at various state assets abroad, including the currency swap with China, which may be embargoed.



As the government continued to question the authenticity of almost half of soup kitchens, the five million kilos of food being held back in two warehouses by the Human Capital Ministry (admitted by Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni) drew criticisms from such varied sources as the Catholic Synod, last year’s presidential hopeful and social activist Juan Grabois and television hostess Mirtha Legrand, 97, who called it "criminal."  But Security Minister Patricia Bullrich argued that the food was not being withheld but guarded from being stolen. 



Madres de Plaza de Mayo–Línea Fundadora leader Nora Cortiñas died at the age of 94 on Thursday afternoon after undergoing a hernia operation last Monday and remaining in intensive therapy since then with all visits barred. The operation was reported to be a success but Nora’s advanced age worked against her. Her last public appearance was joining the Memory Day march last March 24 in a wheelchair. More recently her valiant defence of democracy and human rights earned her the Jorge Morresi Prize, awarded last month by the City Legislature.



The Supreme Court last Tuesday unanimously overturned the acquittal of Kirchnerite tycoons Cristóbal López and Fabián De Souza in the ‘Oil Combustibles’ tax evasion case by accepting the Attorney-General’s challenge of a Federal Criminal Cassation Court decision letting them off the hook on charges of the fraudulent administration of public funds as “arbitrary.” Overturning the acquittal reopens the judicial proceedings against them, thus leading to their possible trial.



The wave of provincial employee pay unrest in Misiones spearheaded by the provincial police for the last fortnight continued last week with a cavalcade of patrol cars circulating downtown in the provincial capital of Posadas last Monday, firing shots into the air, an incident which the provincial government termed an “inadmissible uprising,” threatening to throw the malcontents out of the force. Meanwhile teachers and doctors staged less violent demonstrations. A pay deal was reached as the week progressed, ending the strike.



Pope Francis advanced his travel plans to his native Argentina, bounced an archbishop and trod on the toes of the gay community in the course of last week. Asked by three children visiting the Vatican: “When are you coming to Argentina?”, he replied: “I’d like to come in late November or early next year.” Last February President Javier Milei passing through Rome invited the Pope with all the honours of a head of state. Pope Francis has also shaken up the local hierarchy by demanding the resignation of La Plata Archbishop Gabriel Mestre, 55, only 10 months after his appointment, it was announced last Monday. Pope Francis used an offensive gay slang word during a meeting with Italian bishops, where  he joked about the number of gay men in seminaries, media reports said the same day. During the private meeting one week previously, the 87-year-old  pontiff was reported to have used the derogatory Roman term “frociaggine,” which translates loosely into the offensive English words “faggots” or “poofs.” Francis repeated his opposition to openly gay men joining priest training colleges, and then joked that there were “already too many frociaggine” in some seminaries.



Jan Latham-Koenig, 70, musical director of the Teatro Colón until his arrest In London early this year, was given a suspended prison sentence of 14 months by Southwark judge Alexander Milne last Tuesday after pleading guilty to three sex offences against minors. A prestigious career of several decades directing opera and symphonic music, which led to the award of an OBE in 2020, was ended when an undercover policeman trapped him by posting as a 14-year-old boy.



Melody Rakauskas, who has denounced La Matanza Peronist Mayor Fernando Espinoza for sexual assault after inviting her to his home three years ago, on Monday said that the recent photo of Espinoza standing next to Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof made her fear for her life. 



The navies of Argentina and the United States participated in joint manoeuvres off Mar del Plata last Wednesday and Thursday with the aircraft carrier USS Washington carrying a crew of 3,200 as the star turn. The naval exercises centred on anti-submarine warfare and tactical movements. This week marked the first appearance of a US aircraft carrier in Argentine waters since March, 2010.



Guillermo Pereyra, 80, a veteran oil workers’ union leader who represented Neuquén in the Senate between 2013 and 2019, died early last Tuesday after suffering a stroke.



The result of the Qatar World Cup final was reversed last Tuesday when the World Organisation for Animal Health upheld a century of French hegemony by electing Emmanuelle Soubeyran as its next director-general over her Argentine challenger Luis Barcos by a 77-61 general assembly vote in Paris. Soubeyran is the 8th French citizen running to head the 183-country organisation.



Last seen alive on May 23 when trekking in the Tres Marías mountain (San Juan Province), German tourist Julia Horn, 19, a volunteer of the international organisation Youth for Understanding, was found dead last Monday after an intensive search. The girl is thought to have suffered fatal head injuries after falling on rocks but foul play was not ruled out until Tuesday.



Already commemorated by the 2,000-peso banknote, Argentina’s female medical pioneer Cecilia Grierson (of Scottish and Irish origin) will also be honoured by a ceremony at 5pm next Thursday when a mural painted by Irish street artist Friz (brought over by the Irish Embassy) together with local artist Mabel Vicentef will be unveiled near her tomb at the British Cemetery.

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