THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
There was a total of 116,505 deaths and 5,324,039 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion at press time yesterday as against 116,360 deaths and 5,313,607 confirmed cases the previous Friday. On Monday libertarian deputy-elect Javier Milei contradicted his own campaign rhetoric by receiving his second Sinopharm jab against Covid-19, arguing that it was necessary in order to be able to lecture abroad as his proposed means of earning a living since he intends to waive his salary as a deputy. Milei has at least nine lectures lined up in seven countries, including three in the United States. On Tuesday Prosecutor Fernando Domínguez rejected the plea of President Alberto Fernández that holding a birthday party for first lady Fabiola Yañez at the height of quarantine last year was no crime on the grounds that there were no victims with the final decision now to be made by San Isidro federal judge Lino Mirabelli. The presidential emergency decree governing quarantine stipulates prison sentences of between six and 24 months for violators according to Article 205 of the Criminal Code.
Economic activity rose by 1.2 percent in comparison with the previous month and by 11.6 percent as against the same month last year, the INDEC national statistics bureau reported on Thursday, thus recovering 10.9 percent in the first three quarters of the year following last year’s plunge of almost 10 percent due to the pandemic. Economy Minister Martín Guzmán considered that on this basis a growth of almost double digits could be projected for this year. INDEC also reported the economy to be running 3.4 percent ahead of pre-Covid levels while growing by 4.7 percent as against September, 2019. Hotels and restaurants (59.1 percent) and construction (27.1 percent) were the sectors reporting the biggest increases while industry rose 10.8 percent. The government is forecasting growth of four percent for next year but the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are less optimistic. Also on Thursday, President Alberto Fernández announced that work had commenced on the construction of the Néstor Kirchner pipeline, which is to transport a daily 24 million cubic metres of gas from Vaca Muerta.
While the Central Bank move late on Thursday to ban quotas in all credit card spending on trips abroad shook up the local scene generally yesterday with protests by frustrated holidaymakers and vocal opposition critiques, country risk closed the week at 1,821 points, sharply up from the previous Friday’s 1,761 points and a record since last year’s settlement with private bondholders, marking growing doubts whether the government seriously intended to reach agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But the “blue” parallel dollar closed yesterday at 201.50 pesos, identical to the previous Friday, while the official exchange rate inched up from 105.50 to 105.75 pesos, as quoted by Banco Nación, or a “tourist dollar” of 175.18 pesos with the addition of the 65 percent surcharges for purchasers in the first day of the new crackdown on credit card spending abroad. The other parallel rates – CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (mercado electrónico de pago) – moved down from the previous Friday from 216.05 to 213.42 pesos and from 205.58 to 200.17 pesos respectively as the latest Central Bank move also hit them.
Chile’s Foreign Ministry on Monday rejected the disparaging remarks of Argentine Ambassador Rafael Bielsa against far-right candidate José Antonio Kast, who topped the first round of presidential voting across the Andes last Sunday with almost 28 percent of the vote, calling them an “unacceptable interference,” especially when coming from an Argentine government claiming to base its foreign policy on the “principle of non-interference.” In a radio interview that morning, Bielsa had called the rightist “a disruptive follower of [late dictator Augusto] Pinochet,” as well as “anti-Argentine” and “xenophobic,” comparing him with Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump in the United States. Both the Foreign Ministry, now headed by Santiago Cafiero, and presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti the next day downplayed Bielsa’s comments as “a personal opinion … since the government does not intervene in the electoral processes of neighbouring countries” although Cerruti avoided comment on whether the indiscretion could lead to the ambassador’s resignation. The opposition wasted no time in criticising Bielsa for crossing the diplomatic line. Kast of the Partido Republicano, now faces left-wing rival Gabriel Boric in a presidential run-off on December 19 – the first in which neither the centre-left nor the centre-right will participate since Chile returned to democracy in 1985. Last month Bielsa already stirred up controversy in Chile when he intervened in a parole hearing on behalf of Mapuche militant leader Facundo Jones Huala, convicted in Chile for arson attacks.
In a reference to the fatal shooting of Mapuche youth Elías Garay last Sunday, RAM militant leader Facundo Jones Huala called for "his blood to be avenged … and the bullets returned" in a letter written from his prison in Chile in midweek, adding: "This is our land and just as the invaders kill our people, let this be the tomb of capitalism." His letter was widely repudiated, including by presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti, but was also followed by the arrest of two suspected killers of Garay the following day. Asked about the letter, Cerruti replied that "the government repudiates any violent action and any call to violence … since it believes in peace, harmony and negotiation" as the way to resolve conflicts while respecting the rights of all sectors. She admitted that the national government was intervening in the conflict with the Mapuches while describing it as “primordially the responsibility of the provinces.” The same morning a man was arrested in Esquel for killing Garay, 29, a member of the Lof Quemquemtreu Mapuche community who had been reclaiming land in Cuesta del Ternero south of Bariloche, while later the same day a man was arrested in Comodoro Rivadavia. Another Mapuche, Gonzalo Cabrera, suffered two stomach wounds in the same attack.
ATTACK ON CLARÍN
Nine hooded goons previously detected by security cameras as loitering in the vicinity hurled at least a similar number of Molotov cocktails at Clarín head offices in Piedras 1743 on Monday night in what the media group initially described as "a worrying minor incident," later upgrading it to a “serious deed … and a violent expression of intolerance” and calling for its "urgent clarification and punishment." The Barracas branch of the fire brigade was immediately called and quickly extinguished the flames caused by the devices (which included a tree set ablaze by a misaimed missile) while the anti-explosives squad of the City Police came to the scene just in case. The case is under judicial investigation as "public intimidation." Virtually every important opposition leader had something to say to repudiate the attack with ex-president Mauricio Macri calling it "unacceptable" while Juntos por el Cambio Congress caucus chief Mario Negri (Radical-Córdoba) said that it was impossible to separate this incident from the government’s "anti-media crusade." But the opposition was not alone in its repudiation – President Alberto Fernández, Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Security Minister Aníbal Fernández all disowned the violent attack although the vice-president also deplored the blast against the Frente de Todos headquarters in Bahía Blanca last May among other such attacks while the minister expressed his hope that the assailants be identified (presumably the responsibility of his portfolio.
River Plate were crowned 2021 football champions on Thursday after thrashing Racing Club 4-0 at home, thus ending a seven-year drought for the domestic trophy for coach Marcelo Gallardo while winning 12 other cups in that period. Thursday’s win brought a 17-match unbeaten streak to a successful climax.
Argentine Sergio Calderón, who has spent over three decades working as the wine steward for the Bras dynasty of French chefs (father Michel and son Sébastien), has been named the world’s best sommelier by Les Grandes Tables du Monde, an association formed by over 180 prestigious restaurants in all five continents. The communiqué announcing the award praised the self-educated Calderón (who has been living in France since he was 21) for his open-minded approach and for scrapping much of the confusion often accompanying wine snobbery. Calderón had earlier been picked as the sommelier of the year by the magazine Le Chef in 2010.
Television journalist Luis Novaresio abruptly resigned from América TV last Tuesday as from the new year. Radio La Red chief Pablo Montagna said that Novaresio intended to dedicate next year to writing a book but other motives suggested for his departure were because of the channel’s low ratings, to make his exit before the channel was sold or with the ultimate objective of joining the growing team of prestigious journalists on La Nación’s LN+ television channel.