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ARGENTINA | 03-12-2021 23:20

What we learned this week: November 27 to December 4

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

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

There was a total of 116,639 deaths and 5,334,692 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion at press time yesterday as against 116,505 deaths and 5,324,039 confirmed cases the previous Friday – cases are up over the last two weeks compared to the preceding but are not at worrying levels just yet. At the start of the week, as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 began to turn its Delta predecessor into old news worldwide (with its first appearance still awaited here), the government began the week by ordering 10 days of compulsory quarantine for everybody flying in from the African continent (where it was first identified) or other affected areas. Argentina ordered more than 300 passengers aboard the cruiser Hamburg, sailing from Cape Verde to Ushuaia under a Bahamian flag, into isolation while in Argentine waters off Samborombón after a case of the new variant was reported in a crew nurse from an antigen test on Tuesday although claims that it was a false positive were upheld by the Malbrán Institute following a PCR the next day. The cruiser docked in at Buenos Aires before last weekend but was then barred from any other Argentine port until the clearance. 

 

CRISTINA (& FAMILY) CLEARED...

Deputy-elect Ricardo López Murphy on Tuesday accused Judges Adrián Grünberg and Daniel Obligado with malfeasance for quashing the trial of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her two children for money-laundering via her family’s Hotesur Patagonian hotel chain. News of the ruling (dated November 26), issued with “unusual celerity” in López Murphy’s opinion, broke during last weekend, causing a major political and public outcry with a petition circulating. The former president’s good fortune on the judicial front was not shared by her 2019 running-mate – on Wednesday San Isidro federal judge Lino Mirabelli rejected the request of President Alberto Fernández to close the case of the first lady’s birthday party last year, for breach of quarantine during its strictest phase, on the grounds that no contagion resulted, pointing out in his 21-page ruling that the president was violating norms which he himself had imposed.   

 

… AND MACRI CHARGED

Dolores surrogate federal judge Martín Bava on Wednesday placed ex-president Mauricio Macri on trial for illegal espionage on the families of the crew of the submarine ARA San Juan (sunk in 2017), slapping a lien of 100 million pesos on his assets and forbidding him to leave the country but not remanding him in custody. Bava’s 171-page ruling implied that Macri’s snooping extended well beyond those families to include political parties, trade unions, social organisations and legal associations of all types. Macri was thus charged with “abuse of authority,” maintaining that as the then-president, he could not be unaware of the offences with which he is charged. Macri’s defence lawyer Pablo Lanusse now has 10 days from the indictment to appeal to the Mar del Plata Federal Appeals Court. Apart from the ex-president, there are 12 other defendants.

 

CFK PICKS UP HER QUILL AGAIN

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last weekend broke an epistolary silence of six weeks to pen an open letter giving her consent to seeking an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, while retaining the right to revise it and insisting on its support by an opposition which had borrowed the stand-by loan in the first place, pinning the responsibility on them and also reminding President Alberto Fernández of words from an Independence Day speech: “Never expect me to sign anything which ruins the life of the Argentine people, never, never.” 

 

PRICE WATCHDOG GOES

Former industry minister Débora Giorgi on Thursday resigned as Domestic Trade Secretary Roberto Feletti’s second-in-command following tension with the nominal superior of both, Productive Development Minister Matías Kulfas. Named seven weeks ago, Giorgi’s appointment was never formalised by appearance in the Official Gazette because President Alberto Fernández reportedly refused to sign it on the insistence of Kulfas. Giorgi was one of over 2,000 Frente de Todos leaders signing a manifesto last May calling for the suspension of all debt payments. 

 

MACRI HEADS TO CITY

Last Thursday saw Jorge Macri make a slightly early exit from being Vicente López mayor to become City Hall’s new government (interior) minister under Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. This was widely seen as the price of a deal made between the two leaders last July whereby Macri backed down from running for Congress in last month’s midterms in favour of then-City deputy mayor Diego Santilli. The new minister’s brief will extend beyond City boundaries to cover "metropolitan questions" including relations with Greater Buenos Aires. According to PRO sources, Rodríguez Larreta’s Cabinet shuffle also includes Agustín Forchieri as the new urban development secretary while various outgoing City legislators and national deputy Carmen Polledo will also be found places. In other local news, City Hall managed to push through its controversial urban development project for Costa Salguero, Punta Carrasco and Costanera Sur through the legislation by a 36-22 vote on Thursday despite the opposition of neighbourhood groups and many City residents.

 

MARKET WATCH

The “blue” parallel dollar slipped a cent during the week to close yesterday at 200.50 pesos while the official exchange rate moved in the opposite direction, rising from 105.75 to 106.25 pesos, as quoted by Banco Nación, or a “tourist dollar” of 175.94 pesos with the addition of the 65 percent surcharges for purchasers. The other parallel rates – CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (mercado electrónico de pago) – moved up from the previous Friday from 213.42 to 219.71 pesos and from 200.17 to 204.21 pesos respectively. Country risk was pretty static, closing yesterday at 1,827 points as against 1,821 points the previous Friday. 

 

INDEC IN THE DOCK

The 'vulture fund' Aurelius Capital Management is demanding in a Manhattan courtroom that INDEC statistics bureau reveal its methods of calculation back in 2013, claiming to have been short-changed to the tune of US$159 million on its growth-linked bonds. The 2013 growth rate was initially given as 4.9 percent but then scaled back to 2.9 percent by a change of method, thus saving billions of dollars in debt payments. 

 

SUBSTANDARD SCHOOLING

Argentina performed below the regional average in an educational survey of 16 Latin American countries when testing primary schoolchildren for writing, maths and science, according to UNESCO’s pre-pandemic ERCE (Estudio Regional Comparativo y Explicativo) 2019, with regress in every aspect since the last such evaluation, TERCE 2013. Only reading abilities matched the average regional standard. The government was quick to blame the Mauricio Macri administration for the decline. Across the region Uruguay, Costa Rica, Perú and Cuba had the best results while girls were reported to be especially penalised by the slumping educational standards. ERCE 2019 surveyed 160,000 primary schoolchildren in 16 countries (not including Bolivia, Chile or Venezuela within South America), of whom Argentina contributed 10,073. Nobody doubts that the Covid-19 pandemic caused a further decline with time running out to meet the Agenda 2030 aims as the region falls ever shorter. 

 

GRUESOME KILLING OF FIVE-YEAR-OLD

The gruesome fate of five-year old Lucio Dupuy at the hands of his mother Magdalena Esposito Valenti and her lover Abigail Páez has shocked the entire country. The child died at the Hospital Evita in the La Pampa provincial capital of Santa Rosa on November 26 but the sickening details of his brutal end only came to light in the course of last week. Juan Carlos Toulouse, the forensic expert in charge of the autopsy, said that he "had never seen anything like this" in the 27 years of his career after he had examined the bruised, burned, beaten and bitten body of the small boy with internal bleeding, adding that he could not understand such anger against a boy of five. The two women claimed that Luico had suffered an accidental fall during an attempted robbery of their home but both were arrested soon after the boy’s death. Lucio’s grandmother Silvia Gómez said that the child had previously complained of being beaten and offered the opinion that her ex-daughter-in-law was taking out her hatred of her ex-husband on the kid (whose parents had separated before he was two years old). Neighbours said that they had alerted both police and court authorities, criticising them for their indifference, as did the boy’s father Cristian Dupuy, who regretted arriving too late: “They [the courts] said he was better off with his mother and now we are paying the consequences.” Lucio Dupuy entered medical centres with injuries at least five times last summer, thus bringing the medical authorities into question for not sounding the alert. Lucio’s mother was originally content for him to be living with his grandparents but then she decided to battle for his custody, gaining it 15 months ago. Both the women were beaten up by other inmates soon after their entry into San Luis penitentiary last Wednesday and had to be jailed apart for their own safety.

 

DARTHÉS TRIAL

The trial of the well-known actor Juan Darthés on rape charges presented by the actress Thelma Fardín began last Tuesday afternoon in Brazil with the presumed victim testifying in virtual format to Judge Ali Mazloum. Although Darthés is now living in Brazil (where he has been since Fardín first pressed the charges in 2018 as the only country from which he cannot be extradited to Nicaragua, the venue of the presumed crime in 2009, where he faces similar charges), he will not be required to present himself in Sao Paulo courthouse and nor will the 11 other witnesses. The virtual proceedings will not be made public and a verdict is expected early next year. 

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