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ARGENTINA | 04-04-2020 10:17

Mar 30th-Apr 5th: What We Learned This Week

Stories that caught our eye in the last seven days.

CORONAVIRUS ROUND-UP

At press time, 1,353 cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed, along with 42 deaths, as compared to 690 cases and 17 deaths the previous Friday – a fact that underlines the acceleration of the pandemic. Below a day-by-day summary of the main developments:

LAST WEEKEND. President Alberto Fernández announces that the quarantine will extend beyond March to Easter Sunday (April 12). He also finds time to aim a swipe at “miserable” Techint CEO Paolo Rocca for terminating nearly 1,500 job contracts. The Official Gazette keeps churning out emergency decrees through the weekend with 320/2020 on Sunday to freeze rents and mortgage payments for the next six months.

MONDAY. A relatively quiet day ends with an evening cacerolazo outburst of saucepan-bashing for an opposition drive to cut the salaries of all three branches of government by 30 percent. President Fernández finds time to blast his Brazilian colleague Jair Bolsonaro for his statements against restrictions as potentially leading to a spiral like Italy and Spain but praises Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador (also a denialist).

TUESDAY. A government decree bans all dismissals and layoffs for the next two months. Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa reacts to the cacerolazos by proposing that deputies cut their earnings by 40 percent for the next five months. The death toll climbs to 27 but two of the day’s three fatalities, thus causing alarm among a key profession. Frontier closure is extended to April 12 like the quarantine.

WEDNESDAY. Five more deaths but not much new action with presidential praise of the notorious trade unionist Hugo Moyano perhaps drawing the most media attention.

THURSDAY. The 38th anniversary of the 1982 South Atlantic war and the 61st birthday of President Fernández sees no new front in the war against coronavirus as the worldwide total of confirmed cases enters seven digits.

FRIDAY. Talk of a “gradual” exit from the crisis steps to the fore, as the president huddles with CGT union leaders to discuss re-starting economic activity. Confirmed cases soar past the 1,300 as five more fatalities are recorded. More diagnoses are coming, however, likely from the long queues that form outside banks as they’re reopened for retirees and those receiving social security payments.

 

PAY-CUT PROTEST

A drive by the Juntos por el Cambio opposition to trim political and judicial salaries by 30 percent was backed by evening saucepan-bashing cacerolazo protests during the week, especially in the city’s more upmarket neighbourhoods. The proposal (saving some 200 million pesos) marks more of a symbolic than substantial contribution to the battle against coronavirus.

 

REPATRIATIONS RESTART

The plight of almost 15,000 Argentines stranded abroad in various corners of the world continued throughout the week with frontiers closed until April 12 but on Wednesday President Alberto Fernández announced that up to two daily flights would be authorised as from next week to bring them home a few hundred at a time with Madrid and Miami as the immediate priorities. East Asia and Oceania are still considered beyond reach. All returnees will be immediately quarantined. The top limit is 500 returning a day (counting all borders), the government says.

 

HEIGHT OF IRRESPONSIBILITY

The western Greater Buenos Aires district of Moreno has been catapulted into first place in Buenos Aires Province (ahead of populous La Matanza or such districts as San Isidro or Vicente López where thousands of residents have travelled abroad since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic) with 26 confirmed cases of Covid-19 – mostly the result of one act of irresponsibility at a girl’s “15 primaveras” birthday party (the equivalent of “Sweet Sixteen” in traditional Latin American cultures). The girl’s cousin, a 24-year-old accountant who returned from the United States three weeks ago, ended up infecting 20 of the 108 guests at the March 14 party and now faces not only a prison sentence of three to 15 years for spreading a contagious disease but also possible homicide charges since his grandfather Luis Suárez, 71, died last Wednesday, thus becoming the pandemic’s 28th victim in Argentina. Another woman of 70 is in intensive care while a further four party guests remain in hospital but out of danger.

 

POVERTY AT 35.5%

Last year ended with 35.5 percent of the population below the poverty line, or over 16 out of 45 million Argentines, the INDEC national statistics bureau reported on Wednesday, with the worst yet to come this year due to the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic and expected stagflation. Poverty topped 40 percent (40.3 percent) in Greater Buenos Aires with overcrowding a significant factor since the poorest third of the population (35.5 percent) are housed in only a quarter of homes (25.9 percent) while over half of Argentines aged below 14 (52.3 percent) are also below the poverty line. The final figure for 2018 was 32 percent.

 

BENEFITS SIGN-UP

Almost 11 million people have already signed up for the IFE Emergency Family Income benefit of 10,000 pesos devised to blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic with the government extending the deadline until yesterday. The government had initially estimated beneficiaries – the jobless, those lacking registered employment, the self-employed in the two lowest categories, domestic service and recipients of AUH and AUE family and maternity benefits – at around 3.6 million households but 10.5 million had already signed up in the first three days of the scheme although slowing down to almost 418,000 on Wednesday.

 

MARKETS WOBBLE

The various parallel exchange rates hovered around 83.50 pesos per dollar as the markets closed for the week yesterday, more than 25 percent higher than the official exchange rate of 66 pesos (Banco Nacion). Country risk lost steam last week thanks in part to Tuesday’s statements by Economy Minister Martín Guzmán that debt talks would continue (although no offer to creditors for the next fortnight) but also to a global pickup in oil prices, falling 160 points yesterday alone to close the week at 3,708 points as against 4,166 points the previous Friday.

 

MALVINAS DAY

President Alberto Fernández this week became perhaps the first government leader in history to have his birthday (his 61st) coincide with a public holiday and move that holiday – Veterans Day marking last Thursday’s anniversary of the outbreak of the 1982 South Atlantic war was moved ahead to Tuesday to take one more working day off the national quarantine originally announced to end that day. The lockdown obviously prevented any military parade but patriotic messages were posted on the social networks reaffirming Argentine sovereignty over the Malvinas. For their part, the islanders took pride in having no confirmed case of Covid-19 on the archipelago. As it happened, Roberto Alemann, Argentina’s economy minister during the war, died at 97 just six days before the anniversary. For several decades the trilingual Alemann was the brains behind the Argentinisches Tageblatt, the German-language newspaper founded by his Swiss grandfather in 1874.

 

FEMICIDE SURGE

With at least six femicides and counting since the beginning of quarantine on March 20, there was a noisy “ruidazo” protest on Thursday afternoon. There has been a huge increase in hotline calls in the last fortnight and this seems logical enough considering that battered wives are now confined with their assailant partners in the lockdown. The slaying of Cristina Iglesias on March 28 was accompanied by that of her seven-yearold daughter Ada, both with their throats cut. Posters reading “Cuarentena, sí; violencia, no” and “La violencia machista es pandemia” frequently accompanied Thursday’s noisy demonstration. There was a similar protest by thousands of women last Sunday. Victims of gender violence are advised to request red face-masks at pharmacies and ring 144 or WhatsApp numbers 11-2771- 6463 and 11-2775-9047/8 or email linea144@mingeneros.gob.ar.

 

INTER-AMERICAN COURT RULING

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has condemned the Argentine state for violating the right of indigenous communities to their cultural identity, a healthy environment and adequate food and water, that tribunal reported on Thursday

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