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ARGENTINA | 14-12-2019 12:06

Dec 9th-15th: What We Learned This Week

What were the highlights of the past week?

AN INAUGURATION SWAMPED WITH SYMBOLISM

President Alberto Fernández was sworn-in Tuesday in a ceremony that, on the whole, was testament to the strength of the nation’s democracy. Mauricio Macri won plaudits by turning up and handing over the trimmings of office, and was rewarded by having the Peronist March blurted out at him at full volume. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner also gave the outgoing leader her own very ‘warm’ welcome, complete with a number of faces that will soon, no doubt, find new digital lives online as memes. Meanwhile, President Fernández kept on his same path of declaring a lot of priorities without giving details, preferring to insist in his inaugural speech that he would prioritise the people and poverty over debt repayments. The Peronist leader, however, gave off a lot of signals through his behaviour, helping outgoing veep Gabriela Michetti with her wheelchair, putting on classic academic’s glasses to read his speech and best of all, driving himself to his inauguration in his own car. After all the fun and games in Congress, there was even more fun and games at the Plaza de Mayo, where huge crowds flooded the streets for a concert with speeches, videos and a number of muscial acts, including one band whose lead singer asked for more energy from a crowd that had spent multiple hours under sweltering heat, and another who sung about scissoring onstage (I’ll let you look that one up yourself). Those, however, were just the support acts, as the two Fernándezes emerged onstage, triumphant, at the end of the night. Cristina, draped in all-white, did her best Evita and took her moment to shine in the spotlight, before Alberto reminded everyone of poverty, possibilities and problems ahead. In short, a good day for all: the Peronists had their party and got to rub it in Macri’s face, Alberto got across his messages (perhaps by doing rather than saying) and Mauricio got to finish his term, look responsible and best of all, he doesn’t have to think about the economy anymore.

 

NEW VOICE, NOT MUCH INFO

And talking of the economy, newly minted Economy Minister Martín Guzmán gave a press conference Thursday that was light on details, much to the chagrin of investors and analysts. He affirmed capital controls would remain in place until the crisis abated, said discussions with the IMF had begun and assured journalists that Argentina intends to pay its debts back.

 

INFLATION REASSERTS RISE

And keeping with all things economy, prices in Argentina rose 4.3 percent in November, the INDEC national statistics bureau reported on Thursday, as inflation accelerated. That jump means inflation over the last 12 months totals 52.1 percent, with prices up 48.3 percent since the start of this calendar year, according to official data. Inflation had been expected to accelerate this month. After September’s peak of 5.9 percent, October’s rate slowed a little to 3.3 percent. However, experts predicted the respite would be short-lived, largely due to greater anticipated movement in the food and beverage sector. That proved to be accurate – food and beverage prices rose by 5.3 percent, according to INDEC. Experts also expected the government’s unfreezing of fuel prices to have an impact, hitting every part of the chain of production, pushing costs up and then passing them down to the consumer. INDEC’s report suggests that occurred.

 

EVO MORALES ARRIVES AT EZEIZA SEEKING ASYLUM

Former Bolivian leader Evo Morales landed at Ezeiza on Thursday, where – thanks to phoning ahead and avoiding the long lines at passport control – he requested asylum. The government, making good on Fernández’s promise delivered while campaigning, immediately granted him status as a refugee. It also politely asked him to avoid talking politics, but that didn’t last long. It is unknown as to where he will stay for now, but on Friday reports suggested he will reside in Buenos Aires Province, most likely with his two children, who arrived here from Bolivia two weeks ago. Bolivia’s interim leaders are not best pleased.

 

FRANCE ARRESTS ALLEGED DICTATORSHIP TORTURER

French police said Wednesday they had arrested Mario Sandoval, a former police officer wanted here for alleged involvement in the torture and disappearance of a student who had been detained at the ex-ESMA Navy Mechanics School clandestine detention centre. French officers tracing suspects wanted for crimes against humanity arrested Sandoval, accused over the offence which happened during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, in an eastern Parisian suburb.He now faces extradition after French authorities in May rejected an appeal made against his return on the grounds the statute of limitations had expired. Sandoval, 66, is wanted over the alleged kidnapping in October 1976 of Hernan Abriata, an architecture student whose body has never been found, as well as a slew of other disappearances. Authorities say investigators have several witness accounts specifically alleging a link between Sandoval and the killing of Abriata. He fled the country after the junta fell and obtained French nationality in 1997, prompting his home country to seek an international arrest warrant in 2012 on charges of torture, kidnappings and murder.

 

ABORTION SHIFT

Less than 48 hours into his tenure as Health Minister, Ginés González García followed through on his pre-inauguration promise to make abortion more accessible. Women whose pregnancy poses a life-threatening risk to their health or arose as a product of rape can now access abortion without worry. All they need to do is sign an affidavit confirming the circumstances of their pregnancy and give her “informed consent.” The change also protects doctors from punishment or intimidation, and says institutions can’t use “conscientious objection” as an excuse for not providing abortion. Adolfo Rubinstein, the former health secretary under Macri ,who implemented a similar protocol just three weeks ago that was then revoked and cause for his being run out of office, praised the move, saying he was “very content.”

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