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ARGENTINA | 25-02-2022 20:49

What we learned this week: February 19 to 26

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

 

UKRAINE CRISIS: LOCAL REACTION

The Argentine government on Thursday expressed its "firm rejection of the use of armed force" in Ukraine, calling on Russia "to desist from military action" while recommending all Argentines in the war-stricken country to leave. The Foreign Ministry communiqué underlined the need for "full respect for international law … the sovereignty of states and their territorial integrity," insisting that "fair and lasting solutions can only be reached via dialogue." Presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti added: "We’re not going to support any war started by any country in any part of the world." Meanwhile in New York the alternative Argentine representative to the United Nations, Fabián Oddone, echoed his government’s "concern" and "alarm" over the crisis, also calling for "constructive dialogue." Ex-president Mauricio Macri also condemned "a flagrant violation of the territorial integrity of an independent nation … with unpredictable consequences." City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta repudiated the Russian attack on Ukraine while celebrating the government statements in the same direction, adding that territorial integrity was one of the principles underlying Argentine sovereignty claims to the Malvinas and expressing his "solidarity with the enormous Ukrainian community in our country." But City Hall’s International Relations Secretary Fernando Straface, took a harsher view of the national government’s handling of the situation, accusing it of running behind events and blasting the recent "untimely" presidential visit to Russia along with the supportive statements to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Finally, Congress Speaker Sergio Massa went one better than the national government in “condemning” the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
 
CORRIENTES ABLAZE

Corrientes Governor Gustavo Valdés said on Thursday that the area ablaze in his province had gone down by 30 percent in recent days thanks to rain although more was needed. Almost 800,000 hectares or nearly nine percent of provincial territory has been ravaged by fire this summer, including almost 40 percent of the Iberá National Park. Meanwhile the Corrientes courts are investigating 75 denunciations of criminal arson throughout the province, estimating that almost half the fires were intentionally started (often for agricultural purposes). Finally, the social network influencer Santiago Maratea, 29, drew media attention when he raised 100 million pesos when fundraising to aid local fire-fighters.
 
NO DEAL – FOR NOW

Last-minute hopes of the agreement between the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) entering Congress before the long weekend for Carnival kicks in were expiring at press time yesterday but Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa opened up the possibility of squeezing it in before President Alberto Fernández delivers his state-of-the-nation address to open ordinary sessions next Tuesday. The presence of Economy Minister Martín Guzmán in Congress to give full details of the understanding has yet to be confirmed. While March 22 is the deadline for the next major payment to the IMF, parliamentary sources point out that there is also a grace period, during which sufficient support for approval within a divided Frente de Todos caucus may be sought.


DOUBLE-DIGIT GROWTH

The economy grew by 10.3 percent last year, Argentina’s highest growth rate since 1965, thus snapping a three-year negative streak and offsetting a slump of minus 9,9 percent in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the INDEC national statistics bureau announced last Wednesday.
 
MARKET WATCH

The “blue” parallel dollar closed the week yesterday at 211 pesos, exactly the same level as the previous Friday. Meanwhile the official exchange rate rose during the week from 112 to 112.50 pesos yesterday, as quoted by Banco Nación, or 186 pesos if the 65 percent surcharges for savers are added. The parallel but legal exchange rates of the CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (medio electrónico de pagos) continued to move down, the former sharply below the level of 200 pesos to 199.68 pesos from 207.58 pesos the previous Friday while the latter (already below 200 pesos at the start of the week at 199.72 pesos) fell further to 195.31 pesos yesterday. Country risk returned to an upward path after dropping most of the month, rising from 1,758 points to 1,777 points by the close of last week. 


 
THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS 

There was a total of 125,958 deaths and 8,887,973 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion at press time yesterday as against 125,062 deaths and 8,815,247 confirmed cases the previous Friday. City Hall’s Health Minister Fernán Quirós pretty much summed up the situation at a Thursday press conference when he said that “the Omicron curve is more or less running out of steam” and that “we are entering a zone of transition, coming out of a pandemic and heading towards an endemic” after almost 13,000 people have died in this city in the last 23 months with nearly a third of the population infected. Almost 7.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered with 58 percent of the population receiving a booster dose while 91 percent have been vaccinated with a double dose, he further reported.

 

BILINGUAL SCHOOL BOOST

The return of the school year last week included City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s announcement of the creation of six bilingual schools teaching some subjects totally in English with the objective of adding more in the next few years. 


 
SWISS LEAK

In the latest scoop by a worldwide network of over 160 investigative journalists, data leaked from more than 18,000 accounts in the Swiss bank Credit Suisse show dozens of criminals, dictators, intelligence officials and corrupt politicians to have accumulated over US$8 billion in ill-gotten gains. Argentines seem to feature less prominently this time than in previous such scoops like the Panama or Pandora Papers. The report also rapped the Swiss government for "doing everything possible to protect (these accounts)." Credit Suisse is Switzerland’s second-biggest bank with almost 50,000 employees, 1.5 million clients and 1.5 trillion Swiss francs in deposits. Former bank employees claimed that when they tried to apply due diligence to these accounts, their bosses told them to look the other way. 


 
ONCE ANNIVERSARY

Families of the victims of the 2012 Once rail disaster last Tuesday marked its 10th anniversary by demanding that the officials whose corruption and negligence were responsible for the tragedy serve their full prison sentences (instead of enjoying house arrest in most cases) while also complaining about the delays in the passage of the legislation granting them economic compensation. "The state itself played a central role in the motives for the disaster, neglecting us ever since," said the final statement, read out by María Luján Rey, the mother of one of the 52 fatal victims and today a national deputy for PRO centre-right party. 


 
PATA MEDINA ARRESTED

The turbulent trade unionist Juan Pablo "Pata" Medina was briefly arrested last Tuesday for creating a ruckus at the Italian Hospital in the Buenos Aires provincial capital of La Plata but released the same evening. Medina, who is facing trial for money-laundering, claimed that the lives of his family were in danger from his rival Iván Tobar in the UOCRA construction workers’ union, whom he also accused of drug-trafficking. Pelted with eggs and insults by Tobar supporters upon arrival at the hospital, an enraged Medina punched one of the 50 policemen protecting him, thus prompting his arrest.


 
CUT COKE PROBE

A drug-trafficking gang steered from jail is suspected of being linked to the tainted cocaine which killed 24 people in Greater Buenos Aires earlier this month, federal prosecutor Paul Starc told TN television news channel last Wednesday, referring to the Mamelukes gang headed by Miguel 'Mameluco' Villegas who is currently serving a 27-year prison sentence. Eight people have already been arrested in the case but forensic analysts now believe that the drugs sold by the dealer Joaquín 'El Paisa' Aquino, the original suspect, had nothing to do with the killer cocaine. Shantytown raids on Wednesday resulted in 17 arrests as well as the confiscation of huge quantities of drugs and at least seven firearms, according to Security Minister Aníbal Fernández.
 

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