THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
There was a total of 123,859 deaths and 8,716,940 confirmed cases at press time yesterday as against 122,439 deaths and 8,555,379 confirmed cases the previous Friday with all data (including daily confirmed cases, death tolls and intensive care ward occupancy) now on a downward path. At the start of the week City Hall announced that the school year would be starting later this month “eliminating the word protocol” without health passes, “bubbles” or quarantine for close contacts of Covid-19 cases. The national government then said facemasks at schools should be used for those aged over six. Last weekend Mendoza announced that it would be applying a fourth dose of vaccine against coronavirus.
President Alberto Fernández wound up his Sino-Russian swing last Tuesday in Barbados, meeting up with the Caribbean island’s prime minister Mia Mottley, after arriving from China via Madrid. Late last year Argentina donated 42,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Barbados. After attending the inauguration of the Winter Olympics, the main feature of the presidential visit to China was to sign Argentina into the Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the Silk Road harking back to the days of the Han and Tang dynasties in the first millennium. President Fernández told his Chinese colleague Xi Jinping in their 40-minute meeting: "If you were Argentine, you’d be Peronist."
ENVIRONMENT (MINISTRY) IN SPOTLIGHT
The Environment Ministry was in the news spotlight last week more than usual – on Tuesday Environment Minister Juan Cabandié created controversy when he joined President Alberto Fernández in Barbados to advise him on climate change at a time when fires are ravaging over 300,000 hectares in the province of Corrientes, whose Radical provincial government reported being told by the Ministry that they had "no resources" when asking for help. Upon his return Cabandié found that he had a new second-in-command – presidential advisor Cecilia Nicolini who has been appointed Climate Change secretary. Previously best known for her sometimes controversial role in vaccine negotiations with Russia, Nicolini was also in Barbados where she joined the talks with the local prime minister Mia Mottley on bilateral cooperation over climate change (a central theme of the visit).
BUS SUBSIDY ROW
On Tuesday the national government summoned City Hall to arrange the transfer of 32 bus lines operating only within the Federal Capital to the municipal sphere, thus withdrawing 13 billion pesos of subsidies currently paid by the Transport Ministry. At the same time the national subsidies of all bus lines running in Greater Buenos Aires will remain untouched. City Mayor Rodríguez Larreta interpreted this move as a new attack against his government after the Alberto Fernández administration slashed his cut of federal revenue-sharing funds from 3.5 to 2.32 percent in September, 2020, a decision against which Rodríguez Larreta has appealed to the Supreme Court, while his Cabinet Chief Felipe Miguel urged the national government to define bus fares with a “metropolitan outlook.” The City Hall stance enjoys little support among inland provinces which have much higher bus fares due to minimal subsidies. At a press conference on Thursday presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti called on the City Mayor "to assume his responsibilities," accusing him of being keen on autonomy when receiving money but not when it came to footing bills.
Congress jockeying over the future agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) continued last week with Civic Coalition leader Elisa Carrió backing the deal and criticising her Juntos por el Cambio colleagues who would condition their support, calling on them to be "responsible.” Honouring the republic’s debts and avoiding greater evils such as international isolation and productive paralysis resulting from a “catastrophic default” came first, she insisted, rejecting any "the worse, the better" logic as opportunistic. Meanwhile Sergio Chodos, the Argentine representative to the IMF, met up with Senate Majority Leader José Mayans on Tuesday in the chase for Frente de Todos support.
The “blue” parallel dollar advanced to 215.50 pesos to 214 pesos from the previous Friday after reaching a peak of 217 pesos in midweek. The official exchange rate moved down to 110.20 pesos yesterday from 110.75 the previous Friday, as quoted by Banco Nación, or 184.26 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 to 215.21 pesos as against 219.14 pesos the previous Friday while the latter closed at 207.89 pesos as against 212.23 pesos the previous Friday. But country risk inched up to 1,787 points yesterday as against 1,783 points at the close of last week.
PENSIONERS GET BOOST
Pensions and family benefits will be hiked 12.28 percent for the second quarter of this year as from next month, the government announced on Thursday.
WAGES v INFLATION
Real wages staged their first rise since 2017 last year, going up 53.4 percent as against an annual inflation of 50.9 percent, the INDEC national statistics bureau reported last Thursday. The public sector led the way with a rise of 58.6 percent as against 55.3 percent for the private sector but the informally employed lost further ground with 40.6 percent.
COCAINE TRAGEDY FALL-OUT
While lab studies early in the week ruled out fentanyl as the lethal ingredient in the tainted cocaine which killed 24 people in Greater Buenos Aires, its far more powerful carfentanil derivative (restricted to veterinary use on large animals) was finally found on Thursday to be the culprit. Meanwhile six people remained in hospital in Rosario, two of them in serious condition, while the presumed dealer was arrested although some police sources expressed doubts that it was the same drug as last week’s killer cocaine in the districts of Tres de Febrero and San Martín.
In the two-year trial against Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for fraudulently awarding highway contracts to the tycoon Lázaro Báez, Security Minister Aníbal Fernández assured the court that he had never known the then president to favour any province in particular while serving as her Cabinet chief, praising her “superlative head.” President Alberto Fernández is due to testify in the same trial next Tuesday morning and has assured his presence, waiving his right to declare in writing.
LAKE ROW OUT IN OPEN
A group of demonstrators belonging to La Cámpora, ATE state workers’ union and the Frente Popular Darío Santillán picket grouping and staging a “patriotic march” last Monday against the Patagonian landholdings owned by British millionaire Joe Lewis claimed to have been intercepted at gunpoint by over 40 armed bodyguards of the tycoon. A Río Negro mounted police patrol denied the use of firearms at the clash near Lago Escondido but Human Rights Secretary Horacio Pietragalla upheld the accusations of the demonstrators, which were rejected by Bariloche civil judge Mariano Castro. The protesters marched to the slogan of "Las Malvinas son Argentinas, el Lago Escondido también."
RAPE TRIAL COLLAPSES
Actress Thelma Fardín announced on Tuesday the collapse of the rape trial in Sao Paulo against the actor Juan Darthés (accused of raping her in Nicaragua when she was below the age of consent) due to problems of jurisdiction, saying that this sent out "a message of impunity." The technicalities concerned the crime being committed in Nicaragua but Darthés having Brazilian citizenship. Actrices Argentinas responded by calling a march at noon last Thursday outside the Brazilian consulate to express their repudiation.
Former Entre Ríos governor Sergio Urribarri (currently ambassador to Israel) on Monday counterattacked at his trial for embezzlement, blasting the Judiciary for placing him on trial, describing himself as the “victim of a plot” and accusing deputy Rogelio Frigerio of being "the lord of illegal espionage while Interior minister [during the Mauricio Macri presidency]."
NEW PUMAS ON WAY – AND A NEW MESSI?
Mario Ledesma resigned as coach of the Pumas on Thursday after heading the national rugby team for over three years while the buzz in football was the return of a famous surname to the No.10 shirt of Newell’s Old Boys – Joaquín Messi, 19. Argentine sport will also soon be bidding farewell to legendary tennis player Juan Martín del Potro, whose Argentina Open comeback didn’t go to plan.