THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
Topping the milestones of eight million cases on Tuesday and 120,000 deaths on Wednesday, the week ended with a total of 120,657 deaths and 8,271,636 confirmed cases at press time yesterday as against 118,171 deaths and 7,694,506 confirmed cases the previous Friday. As from today Argentines and residents completely vaccinated against Covid-19 re-entering from neighbouring countries will no longer have to present a negative PCR, the government announced on Wednesday, nor undergo any quarantine although they will still have to certify their vaccination.
A preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was reached yesterday after the deadline was met on a payment of US$718 million, though the full details were not available at press time. The previous day social organisations and leftist demonstrated outside the Economy Ministry openly calling for default (starting with the US$718 million due the following day) and a break with the IMF. The issue divided government ranks during the week with Frente de Todos Leopoldo Moreau urging that nobody should be scared of default, which was “not the worst remedy,” while Productive Development Minister Matías Kulfas questioned Kirchnerite critics of an IMF agreement as “irresponsible.” On Tuesday the IMF upped its 2022 growth forecast for Argentina from 2.2 to three percent while downscaling growth in most of the world due to the Omicron outbreak. Last November’s data showed 1.7 percent growth as against the previous month, almost doubling the expectations, while growth of 9.3 percent was registered for 2021 until then.
Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner attended the inauguration of the new Honduran President Xiomara Castro (with whom she met, telling her that she would not have an easy time as a woman) on Thursday. Beforehand, she gave an explosive university lecture in which she escalated her previous equation of “lawfare” with the military coups of the past (which she repeated) to say that those seeking to impose austerity were trying to weaken the state in order to assist the advance of drug-trafficking. The two-term Argentine ex-president was made an honorary citizen of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.
ALBERTO ASKS BEIJING
As President Alberto Fernández continued to prepare next week’s trip to China for the inauguration of the XXIV Winter Olympics, informed sources reported that ahead of the presidential visit the Argentine government had already asked Beijing to expand its currency swap from 130 to 150 billion yuan (or over US$24 billion) in order to strengthen reserves ahead of payments due to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The currency swap, which began in 2009, currently accounts for over half of the Central Bank’s gross reserves. In an interview with Chinese television last Wednesday, President Fernández described his upcoming trip as “a great opportunity to make ties more solid,” calling China “an important trade partner during all these years.” Remarking that his visit coincided with 50 years of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic, he praised China’s Sinopharm lab for supplying 31,672,800 doses of vaccine against coronavirus.
The “blue” parallel dollar retreated by almost 10 pesos in the immediate wake of yesterday’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), closing on 212.50 pesos as against 219 pesos the previous Friday, followed by a slow climb during the week with a peak of 223.50 pesos on Thursday. The official exchange rate moved up from 109.25 pesos last Friday to 110.25 pesos yesterday, as quoted by Banco Nación, or 182.62 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) did not accompany the fall of the “blue” with the former slightly up from the previous Friday with a range of 222-226 pesos as against 221-224 pesos but sharply down from a peak of 240 pesos while the latter closed at below 217 pesos as against 215 pesos the previous Friday. Country risk was also less impressed with the agreement, inching up to 1,889 points from 1,885 points the previous Friday but down 17 points from Thursday while nearing 2,000 points at times last week.
A tribute to slain Noticias news photographer José Luis Cabezas on the 25th anniversary of his brutal murder was held last Tuesday at the scene of the crime outside Pinamar with calls for an end to impunity. Curiously enough the home of courier businessman Oscar Andreani (whose Pinamar party was the last time Cabezas was seen alive by anybody but his killers) was robbed the weekend before the anniversary.
NEW US AMBASSADOR IN TOWN
After presenting his credentials to President Alberto Fernández in company with other ambassadors last Monday, the new United States Ambassador Marc Stanley pledged himself to "deepening the close ties and bolstering the cooperation" between both countries.
Argentina dropped 18 places from 78th to 96th last year in the Transparency International (TI) rankings of corruption perceptions, thus ending up in the lower half of the 180 countries measured, it emerged when the TI index was published in their Berlin headquarters on Monday.
CLAUDIA BELLO TO ARSAT
Claudia Bello, 61, one of the earliest supporters of the national career of the late ex-president Carlos Menem (going as far back as 1987), staged a political comeback after a long absence last Wednesday when she was named to the board of directors of the Arsat state satellite company. Her federal trusteeship of Corrientes in 1992 (where she called provincial elections which had to be quashed due to suspicions of massive graft) and her handling of the "Y2K" project to protect the nation’s computers from potential millennium bugs with the turn of the century then approaching just after Menem left office (when accusations of irregular contracts led to a lifelong ban from public office only lifted in 2014) were among the most controversial episodes of her previous career. Her ties to both Strategic Affairs Secretary Gustavo Beliz and Congress Speaker Sergio Massa are believed to have assisted her comeback.
Argentina is one of the six potential new members with whom the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has opened “accession discussions,” the OECD announced in a press release last Tuesday. Two other South American countries (Brazil and Peru) and three Eastern European countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania) complete this sextet. Democratic values and an open market economy are the two main criteria for joining the OECD (founded in 1961 and accounting for 80 percent of world trade), whose 38 members already include four Latin American countries: Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico.
Joined by fellow-ministers Martín Soria (Justice) and Jaime Perczyk (Education) as well as Shoa survivors, Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero last Thursday marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day (the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp) at the Holocaust Museum in Recoleta where he described "giving battle against those who relativise this barbarity" as part of Argentina’s human rights policies and Holocaust remembrance as "a moral imperative for anybody who wants to construct a society free from racism, discrimination and xenophobia."
The government declared May 18 the official date for the 2020 Census (delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic) and a public holiday, according to Decree 42/2022 published last Tuesday in the Official Gazette. There will also be a parallel digital 56-question census between March 16 and May 16. Owing to the current context of the pandemic, the decree stated that the census methodology has yet to be defined.
Already down to four justices following the retirement of Elena Highton de Nolasco late last year (still awaiting replacement), Supreme Court ranks were further depleted last weekend when Juan Carlos Maqueda, 72, suffered a heart murmur when lunching in a Recoleta restaurant and was rushed to hospital although later declared out of danger. Maqueda, a Supreme Court justice since 2002, had already suffered a similar episode in 2014 when he passed out at an Italian Embassy reception.
An Argentine beach club manager Federico Mazzoni, 47, was killed last Tuesday by two hitmen firing two bullets through his head at Playa del Carmen in the Mexican Riviera where the Córdoba native had been working for the last 20 years.
The Santiago del Estero Legislature yesterday denied that there was any bill to create a Female Orgasm Office, as claimed by journalist Juan Martínez, a leader of the locally ruling Civic Front, on his Facebook account last Tuesday. His suggestion that there would be less femicides if more women reached climax was widely repudiated as banalising gender violence problems.