Tuesday, April 16, 2024

ARGENTINA | 08-03-2024 13:40

What we learned this week: March 1 to March 8

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



Only three days after promising the closure of Télam state news agency in his state-of-the-nation speech, (“used during recent decades as an agency for Kirchnerite propaganda” were his words), President Javier Milei proceeded to translate speech into action by ordering the shutout of the newsroom, which was given a week’s leave with full pay, and the suspension of the website. In the small hours of Monday City Police officers ringed the downtown newsroom offices to prevent the entry of the workers, who were protesting loudly outside the doors by noon. Yet by the next day the government was weighing other options such as downsizing for fear of the courts overturning the move.



Although not part of Tuesday’s opening ceremony of the massive farm show Expoagro YPF Agro 2024 in the delta town of San Nicolás, President Javier Milei was the star visitor that day for some two hours around midday, basking in his rock star popularity and making a bullish speech. Interior Minister Guillermo Francos reassuring farmers against any export duty increases and Agriculture Secretary Fernando Villela replaced him at the opening ceremony. All the governors of the four main farming provinces showed up, Maximiliano Pullaro (Santa Fe), Martín Llaryora (Córdoba) and Rogelio Frigerio (Entre Ríos) at the opening ceremony while Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof held a separate event around a Monday night dinner. Recent rainfalls and the change of government has led to an atmosphere of increased but guarded optimism. Expoagro with 600 exhibitors (including 130 new companies) ran until yesterday. In contrast to the traditional Rural Society farm show in Palermo every winter, Expoagro tends to focus on the less bucolic sides of agribusiness such as agricultural machinery and credit.



The country’s 23 governors were summoned to the Casa Rosada yesterday to discuss the steps leading to the “Pacto de Mayo” announced by President Javier Milei at his state-of-the-nation” speech to open Congress at the start of the month with special emphasis on a fiscal pact as a key preliminary. This was preceded by the provincial economy ministers huddling with Treasury Secretary Carlos Guberman on Wednesday. But when performing the provincial counterpart of Milei’s state-of-the-nation speech to inaugurate the ordinary sessions of the Buenos Aires Province Legislature last Monday, a mistrustful Governor Axel Kicillof poured cold water on the whole “Pacto de Mayo” concept in a speech more aimed at confrontation with the national government than tackling provincial issues, saying that “it seems more like a threat or an imposition than a dialogue .. a meeting for photo ops and marketing” and calling on Milei to stop “extorting governors” in revenge for the failure of his omnibus bill. Meanwhile on Thursday the Congress Bicameral Commission convened to discuss the legality of Milei’s deregulatory DNU emergency mega-decree.



President Javier Milei delegated control of the fiduciary trust funds to Economy Minister Luis Caputo, enjoining him to make an integral audit of their management and funding within 60 days with a single possible two-month extension, via Decree 215/2024 published last Monday in the Official Gazette. President Milei insists that these 29 trust funds are multi-billion “political gravy trains,” backing his accusations with a critical report made by SIGEN comptrollers under the previous Frente de Todos administration, although estimates of just how many billions they manage vary considerably.



President Javier Milei’s visit to his old school Instituto Cardenal Copello was not the touching or uplifting occasion it might have been, featuring a highly charged speech fulminating against abortion and an off-colour joke in front of schoolchildren (two of whom fainted) while later calling a retired teacher called Teresa (no surname given) claiming to have taught him and praising him as era “an excellent pupil” a “liar” (a denial upheld by the school authorities). On the same day Security Minister Patricia Bullrich ordered the arrest of a man for making “Soviet” threats against the President. 



Deputy Eduardo Toniolli (Unión por la Patria-Santa) presented in midweek a draft resolution requiring the presence of Foreign Minister Diana Mondino in Congress to explain “her portfolio’s inaction” after the United Kingdom decided unilaterally to expand its fisheries conservation zone around the South Georgias and the South Sandwich islands by 166,000 square kilometres. Toniolli also demanded explanations for British Foreign Secretary David Cameron’s recent visit to the Malvinas and for the presence of the British ice-breaker RRS Sir David Attenborough in Argentine waters in January without complaint or protest from the Foreign Ministry. His draft resolution was accompanied by the signatures of Unión por la Patria caucus chief Germán Martínez and over a dozen other deputies. Toniolli belongs to the Movimiento Evita picket movement – last week Mondino was also in the wars for the educational bullying of another Unión por la Patria deputy with a picket background, Natalia Zaracho, of whom the minister said: “The problem (with you) is that you legislate without having completed secondary school,” causing social activist leader Juan Grabois to call Mondino “a horrible lady … showing repugnant elitism.”



The government confirmed on Monday that state subsidies for electricity would be strictly limited to vulnerable sectors with “no kind of subsidy for productive activities,” thus hitting at least 100,000 retail outlets, factories and PyME small and medium-sized businesses. Furthermore, the assistance in future will go directly to the demand, not the supply, with all  subsidies for non-residential demand eliminated.



Former City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta last weekend said that he was against "handing over PRO" to President Javier Milei and any merger of his party with La Libertad Avanza, as preached by Security Minister Patricia Bullrich. "What before was (the Kirchnerite television programme) 678 now takes the form of presidential Twitters," he jabbed. He accused Bullrich of "going against PRO’s original values, betraying them, not honouring them" since the yellow party "does not support populism, whether left or right."



Former Buenos Aires provincial Cabinet chief and former Lomas de Zamora mayor Martín Insaurralde spent more than double his pay as a public official on travel abroad alone between  2021 and 2023, the PROCELAC anti-corruption watchdog reported on Tuesday. It was Insaurralde’s Marbella yacht antics with the model Sofía Clérici at the height of the election campaign last September which brought his irregularities to light. The ex-mayor is currently being investigated by La Plata federal judge Ernesto Kreplak with the charges of presumed embezzlement being presented by prosecutor Sergio Mola.  



March has brought no respite for the outbreak of dengue in Argentina in general and for Buenos Aires Province in particular where cases soared in the previous week from 2,997 to 7,643 cases with seven deaths. But other provinces were not spared with two deaths in Córdoba while the Santa Fe provincial Health Ministry reported a total of 7,580 cases so far this year at the start of the week with over two-thirds in Rosario.



Four Vélez Sarsfield footballers were denounced last Thursday for sexual abuse following last weekend’s match against Atlético Tucumán. The victim was a female sports reporter of 24 who was invited to the Hilton Hotel where the team was staying with her assailants denounced as Sebastián Sosa, Braian Cufré, Abiel Osorio and José Ignacio Florentin, who allegedly drugged her.

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