THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
Argentina reached 115,935 deaths and 5,287,447 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion by press time yesterday as against 115,819 deaths and 5,278,910 cases the previous Friday for the first weekly death toll of only two digits this year. The week started with the government eliminating public transport restrictions such as rush hour seating, also enjoining bus companies to "guarantee the maximum frequency of their services" in Resolution 389/2021 published in the Official Gazette. But transport units were also ordered to keep all their windows open at all times to optimise ventilation while passengers will be obliged to continue using face-masks the whole time. On Tuesday the government announced free vaccination for incoming tourists as from the start of November while Health Minister Carla Vizzotti confirmed that a third booster jab was on the way for next year, starting with the elderly and groups with diminished immunity.
MEDIA SCRUM FOR MACRI
Accompanied by throngs of militant supporters, ex-president Mauricio Macri showed up in Dolores last Thursday to testify in the trial of his administration’s illegal espionage on the families of the crew aboard the lost submarine ARA San Juan but was unable to do so because judge Martín Bava had neglected to relieve him of his obligation to respect the secrecy of intelligence operations. This oversight was quickly corrected by President Alberto Fernández, who signed a decree relieving his predecessor of this obligation just before heading off to the G20 summit in Rome, and a new summons will now presumably be set. Eagle-eyed viewers on the Internet made a point of adding the detail that the van transporting Macri on this wasted trip has accumulated over 180,000 pesos in traffic fines after checking its licence plate. Dolores was not the only legal front facing Macri in a week which started with Treasury Prosecutor Carlos Zannini calling for the bankruptcy being sought for the Correo Argentino post office being made extensive to its previous owners, Socma (Sociedad Macri).
CRISTINA VERDICT APPEALED
DAIA Jewish umbrella grouping last weekend appealed the acquittal earlier this month of vice-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the other defendants in the trial of the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding with Iran governing the interrogation of Iranian suspects in the 1994 terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish community centre.
ROSENKRANTZ WON’T RECUSE
Carlos Rosenkrantz, Supreme Court chief justice until this month, announced on Wednesday that he would no longer excusing himself from cases involving former clients in order to make it easier for the Supreme Court to reach majority rulings following the departure of Elena Highton de Nolasco. The fact that these former clients include the Clarín group prompted a wave of Kirchnerite criticism of this justice nominated by the Mauricio Macri administration with Senate legal affairs director Graciana Peñafort considering that his decision was "completely illegal" and left him open to malfeasance charges.
The 14 directors of the grain export conglomerate Vicentin were indicted for fraud by Rosario prosecutor Miguel Moreno last Tuesday with a judicial decision pending on whether they should be remanded in custody as requested by Moreno, who is seeking sentences of between six and 50 years while the firm has offered a bail of US$5 million. Three of the 14 charged in the 18-month investigation are members of the Vicentin family. Macro, Banco Nación and Bapro are among the banks who extended loans to the grain giant on the basis of allegedly falsified financial reports between 2017 and 2019 when the company entered into crisis.
MARADONA CASE CONTINUES
Diego Maradona's former lawyer last Monday criticised the medical treatment given to the football star. "They inflated the poor guy until his heart exploded," Matías Morla (who has been questioned by both Maradona’s eldest daughters, Dalma and Gianinna, whom he accused of abandoning their father) told reporters after more than three hours of testimony at the prosecutor's office in San Isidro. National icon Maradona, who had just turned 60, died of a heart attack last November while recovering from an operation to remove a blood clot from his head. He also suffered from kidney and liver problems, heart failure, neurological deterioration and alcohol and drug addictions. Meanwhile, Amazon Studios has launched a new 10-part series detailing the life of the local legend.
Marc Stanley, United States President Joe Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Argentina criticised the Alberto Fernández administration during a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, especially its passive attitude towards human rights abuses in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, as well as its lack of an economic plan to place on the table in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over its “huge" debt of US$45 billion. Argentina's “long history of economic instability has taken a toll on its productivity and competitiveness,” the Texan lawyer observed. He also expressed apprehension about Chinese penetration, especially in relation to its “below market (5G) technology” which would allow Beijing “to access all data and information among Argentina’s people.” On a more positive note, he described Argentina as a “beautiful” country, adding: “Argentina and the United States enjoy a longstanding relationship founded on our fidelity to democracy, prosperity, security, and the protection of human rights across the Americas.” There is no indication of Stanley’s nomination being confirmed by the Senate any time soon with dozens of State Department nominees in the pipeline, stalled by the Republican opposition. Meanwhile, back here on Monday AmCham grouping US companies blasted the government’s price freeze as a “time-bomb.”
Yolanda Duran, president of the chamber of Chinese supermarkets, complained that the sector found the strict militant controls under the price freeze spearheaded by the new Domestic Trade Secretary Roberto Feletti to be “scary,” requesting an audience with Domestic Trade Undersecretary Débora Giorgi to voice her concerns. Duran claimed that the militants were entering small shops dozens at a time, also expressing surprise that Chinese supermarkets were subject to the price freeze in the first place since they did not enjoy the commercial advantages of the hypermarkets, as well as being unaccustomed to documenting their costs, profit margins, etc.
The “blue” parallel dollar slowed down the previous week’s surge, closing the week at 197.50 pesos as against 195 pesos the previous Friday with some ups and downs. But the parallel greenback remains close to doubling the official exchange rate, which last week rose to 105 pesos from 104.75 pesos, as quoted by Banco Nación, or 173.63 pesos with the 65 percent surcharges for authorised purchases. The CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) parallel but legal exchange rates also slowed down with the former inching up from 180 to 180.85 pesos (although as high as 205 pesos in the parallel rates to this parallel rate) and the latter from 179.75 to 180.13 pesos. But country risk rose more sharply, from 1,671 points at the close of last week to 1,694 points although as high as 1,706 points late Thursday.
MOVEMENT IN CONGRESS
After eight hours of debate, Congress last Wednesday approved by a 200-22 vote with 16 abstentions a law obliging the food industry to include in their packaging black octagon labels alerting the consumer as to excessive sugar, fat and sodium content during the next six months. The law, already approved by the Senate, also cracks down on advertising for soft drinks. The initiative aims at countering two-thirds of the Argentine population being overweight, including 41 percent of those aged under 17. Uruguay, Chile, Peru and Mexico have similar legislation. In the same session a bill drafted by Speaker Sergio Massa and offering tax relief to co-operatives, civil society associations and the self-employed below a tax floor of 100,000 pesos was approved by all 198 deputies present.
NÉSTOR REMEMBERED WITH RHETORIC
President Alberto Fernández headed a ceremony in Morón paying tribute to the late ex-president Néstor Kirchner on the 11th anniversary of his death last Wednesday as the only speaker, saying that if there was still no agreement with the International Monetary Fund, that was because “we are not going down on our knees.” The next day President Fernández was already off to the G20 summit in Rome where he is due to meet up with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva among others.
HONOUR FOR MUJICA
Former Uruguayan president José “Pepe” Mujica received the Orden del Libertador San Martín decoration in the Casa Rosada last Wednesday at the hands of President Alberto Fernández (whom he described as “a shepherd and lion-tamer at the same time”) after Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero flew over to Montevideo in a helicopter to fetch him. His words to his host nation: “Argentines, please love each other a little more and fight for a we.” Mujica was awarded the decoration last year but the pandemic prevented its receipt until this week on the 11th anniversary of ex-president Néstor Kirchner’s death.