Monday, June 17, 2024

ARGENTINA | 07-06-2024 17:55

Stories that caught our eye: May 31 to June 7

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



In the name of defending the fiscal surplus so far this year, President Javier Milei threatened to veto a Congress bill improving pensions almost as soon as it cleared the lower house by a 162-72 vote in the small hours of Wednesday. The veto can only come after a highly probable Senate approval and may not be the last word since it can be overridden by a two-thirds parliamentary majority. The bill basically adds the January inflation figure of 20.6 percent to the government’s updating mechanism limiting compensation to 12.5 percent. 



Guillermo Francos formally became Cabinet chief last Tuesday while DNU emergency decree 484/2024 eliminated the Interior Ministry he had just vacated with its responsibilities and budget allocations now falling under his new watch. Francos will thus be heading a total of seven ministries instead of the original eight. Furthermore, José Rolandi (a key aide of the previous Cabinet chief Nicolás Posse) was appointed deputy Cabinet chief while Lisandro Catalán will cover the Interior with both enjoying ministerial rank. In the original Cabinet of La Libertad Avanza the now extinct Interior Ministry had absorbed two areas which had been separate ministries under the previous Frente de Todos administration – Tourism & Sports  and Sustainable Development (the environment). In a weekend interview Francos forecast that the ‘Ley de Bases’/omnibus bill would clear Congress by next month while conceding that it may have been initially overambitious. He further called the scandal of withheld food relief an “error” while defending Human Capital Minister Sandra Pettovello.



The continuing flak over the scandal of soup kitchen food supplies withheld in government warehouses took the form of courtroom drama last Tuesday when social leader Juan Grabois, a plaintiff in the case, and Human Capital Ministry official Leila Gianni exchanged insults outside Comodoro Py. Gianni told Grabois to “stop using the name of God in vain” while Grabois accused her of serving governments of all stripes with “a penguin tattoo and a lion T-shirt” and a total lack of credibility, to which the Legal undersecretary of Sandra Pettovello’s ministry retorted: “Stop extorting people, Grabois.” Last year’s presidential hopeful concluded the exchange with a “Chau, kuka ladrona (thief)!”. Gianni and Grabois were in court over the government’s bid to revert judge Sebastián Casanello’s order for the Human Capital Ministry to deliver a plan for distributing the food at issue but the court proceedings were interrupted several times by the crossfire of insults and almost suspended. On Thursday Pettovello faced a new legal front when she and her ministry’s top brass were denounced by investigative reporter Christian Sanz for irregular salary bonuses via suspect contracts with the Organisation of Ibero-American States handled by the Catholic militant wing of the libertarían movement.



Argentina on Thursday joined 16 other countries in underwriting a plan for a ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel presented by United States President Joe Biden on May 31. The other countries included Britain, Spain, France, Germany, Brazil and Colombia, among others. Analysts expressed surprise that the fervently pro-Israeli President Javier Milei could be on the same page as leftist regional colleagues like Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Gustavo Petro of Colombia, both of whom have been highly critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamín Netanyahu.



Ex-presidents Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Alberto Fernández and Evo Morales of Bolivia were among those congratulating Claudia Sheinbaum , the first woman to be elected president of Mexico, on her landslide win last Sunday with some 60 percent of the vote. Alberto Fernández was in Mexico City in person to embrace Sheinbaum, hailing her as a "progressive woman who will continue in Mexico the enormous task begun by my dear [Andrés Manuel] López Obrador." Others enthusing were Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (himself facing elections next month), social leader Juan Grabois and ex-minister Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro among others. President Milei, meanwhile, stayed mum on the issue.



With just two days to go before Journalists’ Day (which was yesterday), the journalists Darío Villarruel and Nancy Pazos were denounced by Justice Minister Mariano Cúneo Libarona for "instigation to commit crime," to which Pazos responded that their only crime was "to give an opinion" while Villarruel, also a lawyer, said that the minister should explain what crime was being instigated.” The case of Pazos has passed to federal judge (and controversial Supreme Court nominee) Ariel Lijo while Villarruel (C5N) will be judged by Sebastián Ramos. Cúneo Libarona has requested a prison sentence of six years for Pazos. Periodistas Argentinas expressed their solidarity with the accused, saying: “The freedom of expression is in danger and without freedom of expression, there is no democracy.” 



Setting new records of oil production month after month, the Vaca Muerta shale deposits are more active than ever with almost 5,000 fracking perforations in the last three months and a total of 7,608 so far this year or over half of last year’s total of 14,747 with a month to spare. YPF accounted for 750 of the 1,582 fracking operations in May.



Science and Technology Secretary Alejandro Cosentino (an area which had been a full ministry in previous governments) resigned last Thursday. Cosentino, who had been close to former Cabinet Chief  Nicolás Posee, another recent departure, objected to his department being divided into the areas of ‘Technology and innovation’ and ‘Science.’



The University of Buenos Aires is rated the best in Latin America while ranking 71st in the world, according to the prestigious QS (Quacquarelli Symonds ) World University Ranking 2025, overtaking the Universidade de São Paulo which was last year’s regional leader. The recognition comes at a time when the state financing of universities has become a major issue under the Javier Milei presidency. For the 13th year running the list is headed worldwide by MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), followed by Imperial College London, Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge. QS senior vice-president Ben Sowter singled out Argentina, Chile and Colombia as countries where the gap between the top and other universities was widening.



Just one week after Nora Cortiñas, Angela Catalina ‘Lita’ Paolín de Boitano, the founder and president of the Familiares de Desaparecidos y Detenidos por Razones Políticas human rights grouping died last Thursday in her 93rd year. Born to Italian parents on July 20, 1931 she grew up in Caballito and it was the disappearance of her children Miguel Angel and Adriana, both students and both Peronist University Youth militants, in 1976 and 1977 which prompted her to found the organisation. Her search for the missing was so insistent that she was soon forced into exile in Italy. Lita defined herself as a Peronist, a Boca Juniors fan and a feminist.



Argentine chess prodigy Faustino Oro, 10, again stunned the chess world when he finished the Continental Championship in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo as the unbeaten runner-up, despite being the youngest participant.



The writer, playwright and filmmaker Edgardo Cozarinsky, died of cancer at the age of 85 last Sunday. In a lengthy career he wrote 27 books, directed 23 films and scripted a further 19.

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