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ARGENTINA | 08-02-2020 13:18

Feb 2nd-9th: What We Learned This Week

Stories that caught our eye in the last seven days,,

ALBERTO DOES EUROPE

Starting last weekend in Rome, President Alberto Fernández concluded his European swing on Thursday in Paris where he arrived via Berlin and Madrid, meeting the heads of government in all three capitals. Apart from the two central issues of renegotiating Argentina’s foreign debt and the European Union-Mercosur free trade agreement, Fernández confirmed his plans to legalise abortion this year. (see pages 4 and 5)

 

KICILLOF SOFT ON BONDHOLDERS, TOUGH ON TEACHERS

After over three weeks of default brinkmanship, Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof backed down on the eve of last Wednesday’s final deadline, agreeing to pay BP21 bondholders both capital (US$ 250 million) and interest (US$ 27 million) via the issue of new provincial peso bonds without recourse to national funding (see page 6) Although Kicillof did not explicitly relate the two moves, the next day he postponed an 11.7 percent January increase due to the province’s teachers under an index-linking clause in last year’s collective bargaining agreement reached with his predecessor María Eugenia Vidal last year. Instead the pay of teachers and provincial employees in general will be defined in collective bargaining set to begin on Monday.

 

G&G IN ROME

A Vatican debt seminar last Wednesday gave Economy Minister Martín Guzmán an early opportunity to compare notes with International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva ahead of future negotiations concerning the US$44 billion borrowed from the IMF in 2018-19. (See page 5) WHEN I´M 64 Federal judge Claudio Bonadio, an emblematic figure in the investigation of Kirchnerite corruption, died of a brain tumour early Tuesday at the age of 64 (see full story on page 6)

 

CRISTINA IN CUBA YET AGAIN

Always the head of the Senate as vicepresident and Acting President since Alberto Fernández headed to Rome late last month, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner ducked both positions last week in favour of presenting her book Sinceramente at the Havana Book Fair. First, she skipped heading Wednesday’s Senate session to approve the debt restructuring bill, a cornerstone of government legislation, relinquishing the position to Senator Claudia Ledesma Abdala de Zamora, and the next day she flew out to Cuba ahead of the return of President Fernández with the Santiago del Estero senator again replacing her as Acting President.

 

SENATE RUBBERSTAMPS DEBT BILL

The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved the government’s debt restructuring bill (already passed by the Lower House the previous week) with the votes of the 65 of the 72 senators present. Partisan crossfire was at a minimum with Senate Minority Leader Luis Naidenoff (Radical-Formosa) underlining the responsible and constructive opposition on display and Senate Majority Leader José Mayans (Frente de Todos-Formosa) saying: “We are in an emergency, we’re in default” although former Economy minister Martín Lousteau asked why the bill only covered debt under foreign jurisdiction and Oscar Parrilli (Frente de Todos-Neuquén) accused the Mauricio Macri administration of being worse than the 1976-83 military dictatorship.

 

A TRUMP CARD FOR ALBERTO?

When presenting his credentials in Washington, Jorge Argüello was given the following message by United States President Donald Trump: “Tell President Fernández that he can count on this president.” Argüello is no newcomer to the post, having been Argentine Ambassador to Washington from 2011 to 2013 (and at the United Nations in New York from 2007 to 2011).

 

AN ALFONSIN JOINS ALBERTO

Ricardo AIfonsín, 68, son of 1983-89 Radical president Raúl Alfonsín and himself the Radical presidential candidate in 2011 as well as national deputy for that party (2009-17), is the new Argentine ambassador to Madrid, President Alberto Fernández confirmed while in the Spanish capital last week. Most Radical leaders criticised the move although Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales was supportive. The centre-left Alfonsín never expressed enthusiasm for his party’s alliance with the 2015-19 Mauricio Macri administration although he was not openly disloyal either.

 

ECHEGARAY BOUNCES BACK

Ricardo Echegaray, who headed AFIP tax bureau between 2008 and 2015, was reinstated in his former workplace after the new AFIP chief Mercedes Marcó del Pont lifted the preventive suspensions against him (based on charges of assisting the tax evasion of Kirchnerite tycoon Cristóbal López) on the grounds of “innocent until proven guilty.” Echegaray will work in Customs for now and return to drawing a salary.

 

ANOTHER COASTAL ROUTE TRAGEDY

A double-decker bus travelling from the minor Atlantic resort of Miramar to General Pacheco overturned early on Tuesday near Samborombón on the main highway between Mar del Plata and the capital (Ruta 2), killing two elderly passengers – the second such tragedy and third such accident in the last 10 weeks. The driver, Walter Falcón, 24, immediately vanished from the scene and had not been located at press time. Over half of the 56 passengers were hurt with 36 taken to nearby Chascomús hospital, of whom five were so seriously injured that they were taken to bigger hospitals for more advanced treatment. Most of the passengers were sleeping at the time since it was a night journey starting at midnight but some insisted that the bus was speeding. The tragedy led to a renewed outcry to ban double-deckers.

 

PAIS TAX KEEPS TOURISTS IN THIS COUNTRY

The new “País” 30 percent tax on dollar purchases and spending abroad (which netted 3.18 billion pesos in its first month) is doing the trick at least as far as the Atlantic coast is concerned – coastal road accidents aside, resorts like Mar de Plata and Pinamar are reporting their best summer in the last five years with over 75 percent occupancy in the former last month and almost 90 percent in the latter (100 percent in upmarket Cariló).

 

FIRST ARGENTINE CORONAVIRUS PATIENT

The first Argentine to be infected by the global epidemic of coronavirus was reported yesterday – a passenger aboard the cruiser Diamond Princess off the coast of Yokohama, Japan.

 

SLOW START FOR CAR SALES

January car sales slumped 14.4 percent as compared to the first month of 2019 even though production rose by almost 40 percent.

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