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ARGENTINA | 24-04-2021 00:23

What we learned this week: April 18 to 24

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

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

There were 2,824,652 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion and 61,176 deaths at press time yesterday as against 2,658,628 cases and 59,084 deaths the previous Friday. On Monday at a working breakfast Economy Minister Martín Guzmán passing through Moscow anticipated Argentine production of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine by Laboratorios Richmond, news which was confirmed by the lab itself the next day. In midweek Argentina topped the barrier of 60,000 deaths with almost 300 people dying of Covid-19 on Wednesday as Health Minister Carla Vizzotti spoke of the “worst moment of the pandemic” with hospitals increasingly saturated. Worse was to follow the next day with 537 deaths, a record that was broken just 24 hours later with 557 fatalities.

 

CLASSES OR ZOOM CALLS?

On Sunday night City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta obtained a ruling from the City Administrative Litigation Court in favour of the right of schoolchildren to a classroom education and schools were massively attended last week amid continuing protests against the national ban, which was only applied in the Peronist-governed provinces of Catamarca, Formosa, La Rioja and Santa Cruz elsewhere in the country. The next day the Supreme Court declared itself competent to intervene in legal disputes between the national government and City Hall (both over this issue and last year’s cuts in the City’s slice of federal revenue-sharing funds) but on Tuesday the Frente de Todos government hit back with Federal Administrative Litigation Court judge Esteban Furnari ruling in favour of its argument that a municipal court had no jurisdiction over a national decree. Local teachers then went on strike in line with the national ban but City Hall reported 94 percent of schools opening. For now, the nation awaits the ruling from the justices.

 

PASOs/MIDTERMS PUSHED BACK

The Juntos por el Cambio opposition agreed to postpone this year’s midterms due to the coronavirus pandemic with the dates of September 12 and November 14 pencilled in for the PASO primaries and the elections themselves respectively but they also insisted that they would not accede to any further postponements.

 

GUZMÁN (NO LONGER) ON TOUR

On Tuesday Economy Minister Martín Guzmán concluded his 12-day European swing in Moscow where he received the most positive feedback in the five capitals visited but he could report no headway in his efforts to persuade the Paris Club to defer the repayment of the US$2.4 billion debt due next month. 

 

FIRING NOT AN OPTION

The government decided on Wednesday to extend until May 31 the ban on job dismissals, except in the construction industry, in the light of an accelerating coronavirus pandemic with the corresponding emergency decree duly published the next day in the Official Gazette. But the ban will not apply to any jobs created since it was first decreed at the outset of the Frente de Todos administration. The decree also proposes to help out employers in the emergency by postponing or reducing their taxes and social security contributions.

 

CLIMATE CHANGE VOW

President Alberto Fernández joined the 40-nation global virtual summit on climate change last Thursday, pledging to have 30 percent of Argentine energy renewable by the year 2030 but devoting much of his pitch to seeking overseas support for Argentina’s debt negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.

 

POPE GIVES GRABOIS A JOB

Social activist Juan Grabois, 37, who has been a consultant of the Papal Justice and Peace Council since mid-2015, on Thursday joined the Vatican’s Integral Human Development Service with a special focus on social and environmental issues. According to Vatican sources, Grabois was recommended by Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson although he has long been close to Pope Francis. He thus joins 25 clergymen (including eight cardinals) and 17 laypeople as directors of the Service, all working ad honorem and meeting annually (virtually in the past pandemic year). “All I do is follow Christ,” said the controversial Grabois in self-defence when asked about his new appointment.

 

MARKET WATCH

 After sliding throughout this year’s first quarter, the main parallel exchange rate, the “blue dollar,” continued its climb of recent weeks, up yesterday to 147 pesos from 142 pesos the previous Friday. Even if the official exchange rate of 98.25 pesos as quoted by Banco Nación did not budge during the week, it still remains well ahead if the 65 percent surcharges for purchasers are added. Among the unofficial but legal alternative exchange rates the CCL (contado con liquidación) continued to rise, up yesterday to 153.15 pesos from 151.98 pesos the previous Friday, while the MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) reversed the previous week’s slide, moving up from 143.71 to 148.36 pesos between the previous Friday and yesterday. Country risk moved to just under 1,600 points yesterday from just over the previous Friday – 1,594 points as against 1,602.  

 

ASSAULT ON HUMAN RIGHTS

A group of over 300 protesting demonstrators attempted to storm City Hall’s Human Development Ministry in Villa Lugano on Thursday morning but the ministry’s staff repulsed the assault and were later reinforced by the Metropolitan Police. One man was arrested during the incidents. The mostly female demonstrators were reportedly protesting cuts in the funding of a textile co-operative. The Ministry afterwards professed its openness to dialogue with all social organisations.

 

MADRE VP PASSES AWAY

Mercedes “Porota” Colás de Meroño, 95, vice-president of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, died on Wednesday. Her daughter Alicia Meroño was abducted on January 5, 1978, and remains missing to this day. Porota’s anarchist father José María Colás was executed by the forces of Francisco Franco at the start of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), whereupon she returned with her family to her native Argentina. 

 

GOOGLE USURPED

The domain of google.com.ar was briefly usurped by internaut Nicolás Kuroña on Wednesday when Google Argentina forgot to renew it, thus briefly paralysing the search engine nationwide.    

 

LONGOBARDI’S QUESTIONABLE COMMENTS

Journalist Marcelo Longobardi started a tempest in a teapot on Tuesday morning when he told his colleague Jorge Lanata on Tuesday morning: “We’re going to have to reset Argentina in a more authoritarian format,” being promptly denounced by Frente de Todos City legislator Victoria Montenegro, who accused him of “jumping on structural poverty to short-circuit democracy.” Longobardi explained that he was seeking to combat, not defend authoritarian tendencies, which he also saw as worldwide, not just in Argentina, especially since Donald Trump reached the United States presidency.   

 

EMBASSY’S GREAT EXPO

Perhaps not on a par with the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park but the Great British Expo virtually showcasing British products, services and culture had already drawn over 10,000 visits in midweek. Running all last week through to 6am this morning the platform simulated a tour of the British Embassy residence where over 70 stands provide information on tourism, education (including how to apply for a Chevening scholarship), the struggle against climate change with this year’s global summit hosted by Glasgow and the profound Anglo-Argentine links among other themes. Outgoing British Ambassador Mark Kent highlighted the Great Theatre among the exhibition’s attractions.

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