THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
There were 108,815 deaths and 5,074,725 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion by press time yesterday as against 107,213 deaths and 5,002,951 cases the previous Friday. As from the start of the week thousands of citizens began to avail themselves of the new option of combining a first dose of Sputnik V vaccine with AstraZeneca or Moderna, an alternative commanding around 85 percent acceptance, while on Tuesday Buenos Aires Province Minister Nicolás Kreplak ruled out any need for a booster dose, as increasingly contemplated around the world. City Hall reported the completion of the return to classroom education. On Tuesday Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) president Daniel Funes de Rioja called on companies to deny entry to work and hence the payment of wages to workers rejecting vaccination but Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero informed him that he was trespassing upon a state prerogative.
CLANDESTINE BIRTHDAY PARTY
The first lady’s 39th birthday party commanded more attention than most news items last week even if old news in theory (it took place on July 14, 2020). The photo of a dozen party guests (all shunning face masks and social distancing) at the peak of quarantine triggered such strong reactions that the opposition is contemplating the impeachment of President Alberto Fernández. The scandal sparked greater backlash than such developments as Victoria Tolosa Paz (the top Frente de Todos candidate for Congress in Buenos Aires Province) pledging heavier corporate taxation, Public Works Minister Gabriel Katopodis moving to nationalise access routes to this city or Frente de Todos deputy Facundo Moyano abandoning both his seat and the ruling coalition. The revelations were still rattling on at press time.
NEW MINS ON THE BLOCK
President Alberto Fernández last Tuesday swore in Jorge Taiana and Juan Zabaleta as his new Defence and Social Development ministers respectively, replacing Agustín Rossi and Daniel Arroyo, who have both been transferred to the campaign trail as candidates in this year’s midterms. President Fernández thanked the outgoing ministers, who were both present at the ceremony together with Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof, Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa and Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero, among others. Zabaleta said that his priority was to repair the damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic while Taina, whose surprise appointment was only announced on the eve of swearing in, said that his was "to subordinate the armed forces to the political power." The former’s arrival in the welfare ministry was preceded by a massive Saint Cajetan’s Day march from Liniers to Plaza de Mayo last weekend to back social organisation demands for a universal wage and union status, drawing some 300,000 people, and picket demonstrations also accompanied his inauguration on Tuesday.
INFLATION 3% IN JULY
Last month’s inflation was three percent, INDEC statistics bureau reported on Thursday, or 29.1 percent so far this year, which means that Economy Minister Martín Guzmán’s 2021 Budget forecast of an annual 29 percent has already been perforated with five months still to go. Annual inflation is now 51.8 percent. The key food and beverages item was 3.4 percent despite slower beef prices while restaurants and hotels (4.8 percent) was the leading culprit.
The third quarterly pension increase due at the end of next month will be 12.39 percent, the ANSES social security administration announced on Tuesday. The minimum retirement benefit will thus go up from 23,064 to 25,922 pesos a month.
The government on Tuesday authorised 16-19 percent increases in the electricity billing of major consumers as from the start of this month. Only some 11,500 mostly industrial users will be affected. They will continue to be subsidised, as their future bills will remind them, but by lesser amounts due to the increases.
Internet is to be a public service (which was already established by Decree 690/2020 last August), President Alberto Fernández said from Tecnópolis on Monday while launching a plan for computer programming subsidies.
ALMOST HALF IN POVERTY
Poverty already affects just under half of Argentines, according to an unofficial state multidimensional index including factors such as housing, employment, health and education. At the end of last year 49.6 percent of the population or some 22.7 million people were found to be below the poverty line on at least two counts, as measured by the Consejo de Coordinación de Políticas Sociales (which functions under the Presidential Office). The index was 28.8 percent in the first half of 2019 with an estimated 10 million people slipping into poverty during the pandemic. The most recent official figure published by INDEC statistics bureau measured poverty at 42.4 percent for the first quarter of this year with City Hall data giving 26.5 percent poverty (or 817,000 people) for the Federal Capital in the same period.
The “blue” dollar bounced back to 182 pesos yesterday, thus ending its retreat over the past fortnight (178.50 pesos the previous Friday). The official exchange rate (102.50 pesos as quoted by Banco Nación) trailed with even the 65 percent surcharges for authorised purchases taking it up to just under 180 pesos. A tight lid was kept on the CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) parallel but legal exchange rates with neither rising beyond 170 pesos. Country risk was volatile yesterday with figures ranging from 1,538 to 1,567 points – all, however, were below the 1,580 points posted the previous Friday.
WORKDAY STAYS PUT
Productive Development Matías Kulfas has dismissed as "impossible" two recent bills by Frente de Todos deputies to shorten the workday with accompanying wage cuts, describing it as a luxury which only developed countries can afford. However, the minister said that the government would be asking companies to hire more workers ahead of demanding more overtime, also expressing optimism that recovery would permit fuller employment.
Several defendants in the trial of the 2013 memorandum of understanding with Iran last Wednesday not only requested their acquittal in a virtual Zoom hearing but also called for the entire proceedings to be quashed. The court will give its answer next Wednesday. The chief defendant, Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, had already made a similar demand for the trial to be scrapped last June. On Wednesday both the government and the Jewish community repudiated the new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s appointment of General Ahmad Vahidi (a prime suspect for the 1994 terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre) as his Interior minister.
INDALO’S OIL OFF THE HOOK
The Indalo Group issued a communiqué last Wednesday affirming that its flagship company Oil Combustibles S.A., facing trial for multi-billion tax arrears, was no longer considered bankrupt by the courts. Indalo founder Cristóbal López said that the holding was in a position to recover management of all its assets, following the attempts of the Mauricio Macri presidency to destroy the group.
ALBERTO DINES WITH LUIS
At press time, Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou was due to arrive at the Olivos presidential residence for a (legal) dinner with Alberto Fernández. The meeting comes at a time of tensions in the Mercosur trade bloc and talks, according to sources, would “analyse different aspects of the bilateral and regional relationship.”
Two already convicted human rights offenders from the 1976-83 military dictatorship received additional sentences yesterday – Jorge "Tigre" Acosta of ESMA Naval Mechanics School detention centre notoriety was sentenced to a further 24 years for sexual offences against at least three female prisoners there between 1977 and 1978 by the Tribunal Oral Federal 5 court, which also added a further 20 years to death squad member Alberto González. Both men are already serving life sentences. The court rejected the statute of limitations since the charges were crimes against humanity, even though over 40 years have gone by. Sexual offences are latecomers to the accusations of human rights violations from that period with the first conviction only coming in 2010 in Mar del Plata, 25 years after the junta trial.
MARADONA BRAND ROW
A court in Argentina on Friday revoked a ban on the late Diego Maradona's former lawyer from using the player's brand and imaging rights. In March, a company owned by Matías Morla, called Sattvica, was barred from using Maradona brands such as ‘Diego Maradona,’ ‘Maradona,’ ‘D10S,’ ‘El Diez,’ ‘La mano de Dios’ and ‘El Diego.’ The ban came after two of the Argentine football great's daughters filed a complaint against Morla for fraudulent administration and fraud. But in a 13-page decision seen by AFP, the National Chamber of Criminal and Correctional Appeals ruled in favour of Morla. The Maradona brands are registered officially as owned by Sattvica SA, a company owned by Morla and a brother-in-law. The company was set up in 2015, six months after Maradona signed over his brand and image rights to Morla.