STILL NO SIGN OF SANTIAGO. The lack of any substantial advances in the highprofile investigation of Santiago Maldonado’s disappearance did not prevent the wall-to-wall media coverage of the case entering a seventh week, with even the Border Guard’s expert report defining AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s 2015 death as murder failing to draw fire from that force. The Esquel judge in charge of the case, Guido Otranto, had a difficult week, eventually being removed from overseeing the case yesterday after the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) complained over the magistrate’s alleged lack of impartiality. Rawson judge Gustavo Lleral is now in charge. The latest move came just days after members of the Vuelta del Río Mapuche community had occupied Otranto’s courtroom and Maldonado’s elder brother Sergio had insulted the judge to his face. The Mapuche community produced new witnesses to testify that Border Guard officers had abducted Maldonado on August 1. While the case centres on Chubut, incidents in neighbouring Neuquén earlier in the week highlighted the economic stakes underlying the dispute. There, provincial police dislodged a protest (three arrests) at Tratayen, on the fringes of the Vaca Muerta zone, which has some of the world’s biggest shale deposits.
CASO CANDELA: A FAMILY FINDS JUSTICE. The mother and father of Candela Rodríguez, whose brutal murder six years ago bulked extremely large in the 2011 election campaign, embrace after conclusion of the trial on Thursday. Hugo Bermúdez and Leonardo Jara were given life sentences and an accomplice four years in this high-profile case which was a saga of a vendetta between criminals with police complicity.
‘THE POLITICAL JUGGERNAUT’: VIDAL CATCHES THE EYE OF THE INTERNATIONAL PRESS. Buenos Aires Province’s governor, Maria Eugenia Vidal, earned herself a new nickname this weekend: “the political juggernaut.” The new moniker, which comes courtesy of journalist Hugo Bronstein, came off the back of a story by Reuters, which drew attention to the Mauricio Macri administration’s attempts to see off former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s bid to become a senator in the country’s largest provincial battleground.
The Reuters story looked at Macri’s decision to deploy Vidal on the campaign trail and quoted opinion polls that showed the 44-year-old governor was more popular than both the former and the current president, scoring a positive image of 49.8 percent.
While the deployment of Vidal on the Let’s Change (Cambiemos) campaign trail is notable, considering she herself is not the electoral ticket, it’s not new for local observers of the current political scheme who saw the same tactic used during last month’s primaries. Still, it seems the international press is starting to take note.
Julio Burdman, a former contributor to the Buenos Aires Herald and the head of the Observatorio Electoral, summed up Vidal’s appeal in quotes, offering Reuters a colourful analogy. “Vidal is like Captain America. She was created as a super-soldier for Macri to win his war against Cristina,” Burdman told Reuters.
Perhaps that’s another nickname right there? Either way, the governor’s international profile will receive a boost from the article, which was soon published by outlets across the world.
STUDENTS’ OCCUPATION OF CITY SCHOOLS CONTINUES. Over 30 City schools were still occupied by their students as the week closed with various others poised to join the protest. The dispute centres on City Hall’s “Secondary School of the Future” reform which factors on-the-job training into the curriculum alongside the traditional classes. The students reject the reform and have made proposals of their own, including sex education, classes against femicide and greater emphasis on human rights in general. They are also seeking to make their return to the classroom dependent on the reappearance of Santiago Maldonado, a leading national concern for over six weeks now. The two sides met midweek but little dialogue emerged with neither side budging beyond the offer by City Education Minister Soledad Acuña of sex education at monthly intervals.
NAVARRO AND C5N’S MESSY BREAK-UP. High-profile journalist Roberto Navarro and C5N parted ways this week, with the news prompting a war of words between the outspoken reporter and the news channel’s parent company. Navarro took to Twitter to denounce Federico Maya, a content manager at the station, accusing him of censorship. Grupo Indalo, which owns C5N, refuted the claims, telling Perfil that “there was no internal or political pressures” and suggesting Navarro had commited “serious misconduct” and was guilty of “indiscipline” and showing a “lack to respect” to his peers and bosses.
ODEBRECHT CONFIRMS SARMIENTO PULL-OUT. Brazil’s giant construction conglomerate Odebrecht decided last weekend to pull out entirely of the massive Sarmiento rail underpass project, company sources have told the press, with corruption cases investigating alleged bribery related to the scheme progressing. The company held a 33-percent stake in the rail project and said it had sold its stake. The deal is being investigated by prosecutors, who are exploring allegations of bribery and kickbacks. In July, the firm was banned from bidding on new projects in Argentina for a period of one year.
“(Having been) present for 30 continuous years, Odebrecht plans to continue contributing to the development of Argentina in an ethical, integral and transparent manner,” the firm told the Reuters news agency. Odebrecht has been wracked by the sprawling Operation “Car Wash” (Lava Jato) corruption investigation in its home country, which exposed a massive web of graft, bribery and kickbacks. Hundreds of politicians in Brazil, including President Michel Temer and former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff – have been accused of wrongdoing and to date, Odebrecht has paid out more than US$3.5 billion in settlements in the United States, Brazil and Switzerland. Several other high-profile politicians across Latin America are also facing allegations of wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, Marcelo Martínez de Giorgi, the federal judge in charge of investigating alleged bribes paid by the Brazilian firm to win the tunnelling contract for the Sarmiento line, this week asked for records from his colleagues Daniel Rafecas and Sebastián Casanello, as he seeks to unify related probes and potentially prosecute the cases together, judicial sources told the Télam news agency.