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ARGENTINA | 22-02-2020 12:08

Feb 17th-23rd:What We Learned This Week

Stories that caught our eye in the last seven days.

IMF’LL BE THERE FOR YOU

The International Monetary Fund concluded its weeklong inspection mission on Wednesday with a statement exuberantly hailed by the Alberto Fernández administration since it admitted that Argentina’s foreign debt was “unsustainable;” also calling for a “meaningful contribution from private creditors” towards a solution, which most analysts interpreted as longhand for a haircut (which, however, the IMF is not prepared to extend to the US$ 44 billion owed them by Argentina).

 

2019 SHRINKAGE

The economy contracted by 2.1 percent last year, INDEC statistics bureau announced close to press time yesterday.

 

CENTRAL BANK RATE CUT

The Central Bank has sharply lowered interest rates for all credit cards in a bid to boost consumer spending, justifying the move with the general relaxation of monetary policy and last month’s lower inflation. The interest rates are now to peak at 55 percent, as against as high as 224 percent in some recent cases. Credit cards issued beyond the banking sector are now to have a ceiling of 25 percent. Commissions are also to be frozen for 180 days.

 

EX-INDEC CHIEF JORGE TODESCA DIES AGED 73

Veteran Peronist economist Jorge Todesca, who headed INDEC statistics throughout the 2015-19 Mauricio Macri administration, died yesterday at the age of 73, finally succumbing to the cancer which had stalked him since his first weeks at INDEC. The statistician’s work in restoring credibility to INDEC data was recognised by even President Alberto Fernández, whom Todesca’s daughter Cecilia now serves as Deputy Cabinet Chief, describing it as the one redeeming feature of the Macri presidency.

 

TARIFA RISE ON THE HORIZON

The Argentine government plans to lift the freeze on public service billing as from June, although the increases will only apply “to the sectors which can afford them,” said Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero, while continuing and strengthening the “social tariff” to protect the most vulnerable families. The announcement came in the same week as the economic team’s talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission.

 

SHELL COURTCASE QUASHED

The Federal Appeals Court on Thursday quashed the trials of former Energy Minister Juan José Aranguren and the former Anti-Corruption Office head Laura Alonso. Aranguren had been accused of a conflict of interest in retaining shares in the Royal Dutch Shell PLC oil company he previously headed before entering the Cabinet while Alonso is charged with turning a blind eye to that conflict of interests in a case lodged by the Victory Front deputies Rodolfo Tailhade and Martín Doñate in 2016. The judges concluded that Aranguren had been imprudent not to sell his shares rather than guilty of any crime but also recommended a more thorough investigation of both ex-officials.

 

DNU ON WITNESS PROTECTION BINNED

The government revoked on Wednesday an emergency decree from the embers of the Mauricio Macri presidency to create a presidential agency for witness protection. Decree 168/2020 (appearing in the Official Gazette last Thursday) restores witness protection programmes to the Justice Ministry where they had belonged for over 16 years until Macri’s emergency decree ( DNU 795/19) just a dozen days before leaving office. Macri’s decree had been prompted by the expressed fears of whistleblowers in Kirchnerite graft trials for their safety with the change of government but this week’s decree ruled out any “exceptional circumstances.”

 

ONCE AGAIN: POLITICAL PRISONERS?

President Alberto Fernández has received support from a previous Peronist president for his denial of political prisoners in Argentina – on Wednesday 2002-3 caretaker president Eduardo Duhalde said that there were no political prisoners in Argentina but only politicians on trial. But the pressure from some sectors of the Frente de Todos coalition continues – this week both former Supreme Court justice Eugenio Zaffaroni and Jujuy Peronist Senator Guillermo Snopek proposed that the entire Jujuy judiciary be placed under trusteeship due to its prosecution (or persecution in their eyes) of local indigenous activist Milagro Sala.

 

MACRI’S QUIET RETURN

Ex-president Mauricio Macri made his first return to politics last Thursday since vacating office, ending a prolonged summer vacation to head a national committee of his centre-right PRO party including party chair Patricia Bullrich, last year’s presidential runningmate Miguel Angel Pichetto and former Buenos Aires Province governor María Eugenia Vidal among others.

 

ANÍBAL, THE (JOB) CANNIBAL

Veteran politician Aníbal Fernández, the brand-new trustee of Río Turbio coal mine in Santa Cruz, on Thursday fired 419 workers by quashing their contracts, a move causing tension in the zone. The contracts granting permanent employment to the now jobless workers were signed in the last dozen days of the 2015-19 Mauricio Macri administration by the previous trustee Omar Zeidán, against whom Fernández lodged criminal charges in consequence.

 

EVACUATED (AND DON’T SHARE YOUR MATE)

A group of 72 evacuees from the coronavirus-stricken Chinese city of Wuhan (including eight Argentines) was stoned by locals on Thursday while being bussed from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv to a military hospital. Meanwhile on the previous day Argentina’s Supreme Court made its own contribution to preventive measures against the worldwide epidemic – warning citizens against sharing mate gourds or mobile telephones.

 

BÁEZ SOSA REMEMBERED

Over a month after teenager Fernando Báez Sosa was brutally battered to death in the coastal resort of Villa Gesell, the case continues to command massive media coverage with thousands marching on Congress on Tuesday to protest the crime. Eight of the 10 rugby players indicted for the crime remain behind bars.

 

ABORTION BACK ON THE AGENDA

Thousands upon thousands of green scarves were in evidence in a nationwide protest centred on Congress last Wednesday as mostly young demonstrators including many feminists and leftist groupings called for the legalisation of abortion as from the resumption of ordinary sessions of Congress next weekend. Health Minister Ginés González García, said yesterday that President Alberto Fernández will “soon” send to the National Congress the bill to legalise abortion, and clarified that “the times of the presentation are decided by the president.” (See Pages 8 and 9)

 

PRÓVOLO ABUSE VICTIMS APPLY PAPAL PRESSURE

Three victims of sexual abuse at the Próvolo school for deaf-mutes in Mendoza have travelled to Rome to demand justice from Pope Francis, who had yet to grant them an audience at press time. “There have been abuses in many places but this has to stop,” said Ezequiel Villalonga. Two priests were convicted for the abuses in Mendoza last November.

 

SHOCKING ATTACK IN PUERTO DESEADO

News emerged yesterday of a shocking attack on a 45-year-old woman and her four-year-old son, who were attacked on Thursday by two men while walking near the beach in the Santa Cruz provincial city of Puerto Deseado. The woman was sexually abused and her son was killed. Reports suggested the murder was an attempt to cover up the crime and that the attackers believed the woman was dead, hence why she eventually managed to escape. There was also another brutal crime in Misiones on Tuesday when a man slashed his estranged partner’s throat in front of their two small daughters, one of whom tried to defend her mother.

 

HOLOCAUST MUSEUM RE-OPENS

The Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires (featured in last week’s edition of the Times) in Recoleta re-opened to the public on Monday after a US$4.5- million refurbishment. For more information, visit www.museodelholocausto.org.ar.

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