Saturday, September 26, 2020

ARGENTINA | 16-02-2019 12:15

Feb 11th-17th: What We Learned This Week

What has happened the last seven days?


Just like the previous Friday (funny that...), the corruption news climaxed right at the end of the week with yesterday’s arrest of Marcelo D’Alessio (the lawyer whom journalist Horacio Verbitsky had accused of extortion on behalf of “cuadernos” megatrial prosecutor Carlos Stornelli). Most of the first half of the week was absorbed by the fallout from the two bombshells from the previous Friday – Verbitsky’s accusations against Stornelli and the confession of Carolina Pochetti (the widow of Daniel Muñoz, presidential secretary under the Kirchners) that she had bribed Federal Judge Luis Rodríguez to the tune of US$10 million with the Magistrates Council commencing its investigations of the latter charge. There was a new twist yesterday to the charges against Rodríguez when Attorney-General Eduardo Casal asked the Supreme Court to overturn that judge’s acquittal of Pochetti on money-laundering charges (the presumed aim of that alleged multi-million bribe). Meanwhile the Kirchner family’s former accountant Víctor Manzanares (whose conversion to whistle-blower reached us too late for last Saturday’s edition) entered the witness protection programme as he continued to supply details of illicit financial operations. (See also Page 16)


The body of Emiliano Sala (victim of an English Channel air crash last month) arrived in Argentina yesterday prior to his funeral today in his hometown of Progreso, Santa Fe. (See story on Page 13)


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) monitoring mission in town under Italian economist Roberto Cardarelli kicked off its inspection last week with a focus on consulting opposition alternatives as well as the economic authorities, meeting with Salta Peronist Governor Juan Manuel Urtubey on Wednesday and former Kirchnerite economy minister Axel Kicillof on Thursday (a key meeting with electoral dark horse and former economy minister Roberto Lavagna is scheduled for next week). The 100-minute meeting with Urtubey centred on the possibility of achieving political consensus towards accelerating pension, labour and tax reforms. Urtubey approved the goals of a balanced budget and macro-economic stability, also urging evolution towards semi-parliamentary democracy. With Kicillof consensus was not so much on the table as a book entitled Why Austerity Kills, which the Victory Front deputy tastefully gave to his visitors, Cardarelli and local IMF representative Trevor Alleyne. In a meeting also lasting 100 minutes, Kicillof criticised the Mauricio Macri administration’s US$56-billion loan agreement for not being consulted with the opposition and for tying the government’s hands, insisting that debt payment was impossible without growth. But the IMF mission also met with Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio yesterday, as well as AFIP tax authorities earlier in the week.


The protest year began in earnest last Wednesday when an anti-austerity march staged by social and picket organisations drew up to 200,000 people, paralysing the downtown Nueve de Julio thoroughfare including Metrobus. The marchers were demanding that social plans be brought up to parity with the minimum wage. A million people joined the protest nationwide, according to a claim from its organisers. (See story on Page 6.)


The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has forecast higher unemployment for Argentina this year due to recessive trends in its annual report on global job prospects. While the outlook for Latin America is generally bullish with an average growth rate of two percent, the ILO omits Argentina, Nicaragua and Venezuela from this positive trend. The report expresses concern not only about the nine percent unemployed but also the 21.4 percent self-employed and the estimated 34.3 percent informally employed while even those with a proper job cannot always make ends meet. Meanwhile companies exploiting the Vaca Muerta shale deposits in Patagonia pledged that they would not be firing workers despite their ongoing tussle with the government over what levels of production to subsidise.


After a string of negative headlines of late regarding the outlook for smalland medium-sized businesses in Argentina, President Mauricio Macri showed them some Valentine’s Day love on Thursday, unveiling a round of tax breaks in regional economies. The benefits would reach over 25,000 companies in 44 sectors, according to reports. (Did he read our editorial last week?) For more detail, shuffle on over to Page 4.


Last month’s inflation was close to the worst fears at 2.9 percent, INDEC statistics bureau announced on Thursday, thus causing the year-onyear figure to rise from the 2018 total of 47.6 percent to 49.3 percent. While transport fares and public services were obvious culprits, food prices also rose well above average at 3.4 percent while core inflation was three percent. Meanwhile, City Hall statisticians posted 3.8 percent for this capital. President Mauricio Macri nevertheless commented that inflation was falling, which would only be true if compared with last September’s peak of 6.5 percent. Economists expect inflation to stay in the 2.5-3 percent range until at least next May with the Central Bank now forecasting 29.9 percent for this year. Except for transport and communications, food posts the highest yearon-year increase at 53 percent, topping the largely regulated prices of housing, water, electricity and gas (48.7 percent). See Page 6 for more.

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