Tuesday, May 28, 2024

ARGENTINA | 03-02-2023 09:30

What we learned this week: January 28 to February 3

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



The mother of slain five-year-old Lucio Dupuy and her partner were on Thursday found guilty of killing the young child in November 2021. Magdalena Espósito Valenti, the mother of the murdered child, was convicted of aggravated homicide on three counts, as was her partner Abigail Páez, who was also convicted of a sexual abuse charge. 



The Río Negro provincial police apprehended the fugitive Mapuche militant leader Facundo Jones Huala in the small hours of Monday in a house not belonging to him in the La Esperanza neighbourhood of El Bolsón. The leader of the Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche (RAM) grouping, who had been on the run for almost a year, was reportedly found drunk and offered no resistance. Chile, where he skipped parole after being convicted for an arson attack on a ranch, immediately sought his extradition.



Economy Minister Sergio Massa, Agriculture Secretary Juan José Bahillo and other senior officials met the Mesa de Enlace farming leaders last Tuesday to inform them of a raft of relief measures against drought. Assuring the farmers of the “central” economic importance of their sector as a major exporter and of the “enormous” sacrifice being made by the government, Massa announced the following measures: a rotating and renewable fund of five billion pesos to provide direct assistance via provincial and municipal governments; the suspension of advanced income taxation for all afflicted farmers below an earning level of 50 million pesos; the suspension of foreclosures and injunctions on current accounts for farmers in emergency situations; tax relief for the forced sale of cattle at low prices; an extra 15 points of interest rate subsidies and a credit line of 50 billion pesos offered by Banco Nación to small farmers. The farming leaders pronounced themselves satisfied with the relief measures as a useful beginning while describing them as “cyclical” but not meeting long-term needs. FAA (Federación Agraria Argentina) leader Carlos Achetoni deplored the failure to single out regional economies for special responses. Rural Society President Nicolás Pino described the current drought as worse than either 2009 or 2018.



Argentina will soon have a new 2,000-peso banknote, double the highest nomination, the Central Bank said Thursday. "As the process of digitalisation of payments progresses, this higher denomination banknote will improve the operation of ATMs and at the same time optimise the transfer of cash," the institution said in a statement. Citizens and businesses have been calling for a higher denomination note for months. The 2,000-peso bill will be worth around US$10.25 (as of Thursday's current official exchange rate) officially, although on the 'dolar blue' market it would be closer to half that. The new banknote will bear the image of Doctors Cecilia Grierson and Ramón Carrillo, forerunners in the development of medicine in Argentina, as well as an image of the building of the ANLIS-Dr Carlos Malbrán National Institute.


Last year’s census gave a population of 46,044,703 inhabitants (of whom 51.76 percent are female and 48.22 male), INDEC statistics bureau announced on Tuesday, almost six million more people than the 2010 census but 1,282,704 fewer than last May’s first provisional total. The most populous districts were given as Buenos Aires Province (17,569,053 inhabitants), Córdoba (3,978,984), Santa Fe (3,556,522), the City of Buenos Aires (3,120,612) and Mendoza (2,014,533) with Tierra del Fuego (190,641) as the least populated at the other extreme. Opposition politicians took these latest figures as proof that the Greater Buenos Aires district of La Matanza had inflated the 2010 census to receive 34 billion extra pesos in federal revenue-sharing funds since then, arguing that this census had only shown its population rising from 1,775,816 to 1,837,774 inhabitants when the general projection for the last 12 years would give it 2,374,149.



German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, originally scheduled to spend the first half of last week in Argentina within his Latin American swing, ended up cramming the visit into the preceding weekend before flying on to Santiago on Sunday. Discomfort over German criticisms of the government’s offensive against the Supreme Court at a United Nations forum was believed to lie behind the abbreviation and rescheduling of the visit but the subject was largely avoided when the Social Democrat met President Alberto Fernández on Saturday. Apart from the inevitable subject of the war in Ukraine, the two leaders signed agreements on clean energy and software start-ups with Scholz also expressing interest in liquefied natural gas while Fernández appealed for investments in lithium and green hydrogen. The former Hamburg mayor was accompanied by a 20-strong business delegation which made few reported contacts with even Economy Minister Sergio Massa tied up for the weekend.



In a long interview published last Monday by the El Cohete a la Luna website, Frente de Todos deputy Máximo Kirchner denied that his mother Vice-President Cristina Kirchner had ever mistreated President Alberto Fernández, justified Interior Minister Eduardo “Wado” de Pedro’s complaints about being denied contact with visiting Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, blasted last year’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) yet again while also laying into the judiciary and closing with an appeal to the ruling Frente de Todos coalition to follow the example of Lionel Scaloni’s football squad by “placing teamwork over vanity and individualism.”



Between last Monday and Wednesday Argentina paid US$1.365 billion to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to refinance the US$45-billion loan incurred by the Mauricio Macri administration in 2018 in accordance with the extended fund facility agreement reached with the IMF early last year, thus bringing Central Bank reserves down to US$41.517 billion. A further sum of US$2.538 billion was paid last month with a timetable of total payments of US$20.222 billion in the course of this year. Last weekend Frente de Todos deputy Máximo Kirchner gave an interview in which he called for the renegotiation of the agreement as negative for the Argentine economy. Nevertheless, IMF monitors due here this month are expected to give the agreement a green light with its 2022 targets met, including a primary fiscal deficit of 2.4 percent of gross domestic product as against the stipulated 2.5 percent and Central Bank reserves US$4 billion ahead of the minimum requirements. This approval would release an IMF remittance of US$5.4 billion for the drought-stricken reserves. Economy Minister Sergio Massa would like to see that sum doubled in order to compensate for the damage inflicted by the war in Ukraine.



Ex-president Mauricio Macri and City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta met up for the second time this year in the Patagonian holiday centre of Villa La Angostura (complete with a symbolic photograph this time as secured by PRO chair Patricia Bullrich the previous week) and despite rival presidential ambitions (declared in the Mayor’s case and yet to be defined in Macri’s case), pronounced  themselves “united in the conviction that Argentina must be definitely changed … with a serious and sustained plan,” with Rodríguez Larreta adding: ”We’ve been working together for 20 years, exchanging ideas and constructing a shared vision of the course our country must follow.”



Social activist Juan Grabois on Thursday threw his hat into the presidential ring, proclaiming himself the first presidential candidate of Frente de Todos, expressing confidence in the support of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and offering a five-year plan. However he made his own candidacy contingent on Interior Minister Eduardo 'Wado' de Pedro not running. On the same day there were incidents at Lago Escondido (where Grabois headed a sit-in late last year) when the farm hands employed by the ranch’s British billionaire owner Joe Lewis laid into protesters with tear gas and stones.   


Infighting is not limited to the two main coalitions with the libertarian La Libertad Avanza shaken up by economist Carlos Maslatón’s criticisms of its leader Javier Milei for seeking to keep the party out of this year’s PASO primaries, leading Maslatón to call Milei “a slanderous liar … a thief and a political fraud” last Monday. The specialist in bitcoin, whose intention is to compete for the presidential candidacy, also laid into Milei’s sister Karina, who had said that Maslatón should run in his own primary. Both libertarían leaders resist the approaches of the Juntos por el Cambio opposition coalition (nervous about presenting a divided opposition in Buenos Aires Province where there is no runoff) but Maslatón even more categorically.



Five Argentine tourists were among the seven people killed when a bus carrying 54  passengers from Florianopolis to the Iguazú waterfalls crashed in the small hours of Tuesday. The dead included a three-year-old boy and his mother while a further 22 people were injured seriously enough to require transfer to hospitals.  



Former River Plate midfielder Enzo Fernández (author of a memorable goal against Mexico in the Qatar World Cup) is now also ex-Benfica as from last Tuesday after being sold to Chelsea for 121 million euros at the close of the transfer window. His contract runs until 2031. River, who sold him to Portugal for a mere 10 million euros, might seem the big loser here but will be netting 32.5 million euros from retaining 25 percent of his transfer. Enzo Fernández now overtakes Gonzalo Higuaín (transferred from Napoli to Juventus in 2016 for 90 million euros) as the costliest Argentine football player in history.



A total of 7,209 Argentines did the paperwork for residence in Uruguay, well below the record of 12,489 in the pandemic year of 2021. While only a couple of thousand Argentines annually sought to move to Uruguay in the previous decade, the change of government in late 2019 caused the number to leapfrog to 6,816 in 2020. Argentines now represent 41 percent of immigration to Uruguay, including over 10 percent of the population of Maldonado, the department containing Punta del Este (25,000 out of 220,000). 



According to the Our World In Data publication, life expectancy in Argentina and Uruguay ranks 68th in the world at 75.4 years, topped in the region only by Chile (78.9 years) with Brazil not far behind with 72.8 years. Three tiny city-states (Monaco, Hong Kong and Macao, all above 85 years) top the rankings, followed by Japan, Australia and Switzerland (all in the 84-85 range) while 10 African countries have life expectancies below 60. Only 200 years ago no country aspired to a life expectancy beyond 40 years with almost everybody in extreme poverty with limited knowledge. This was followed by huge inequalities with a life expectancy of 72 years in Norway and 26 in Mali in 1950 whereas today the world average equals the 72 years of Norway back then.


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