What we learned this week
THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
There were 103,359 deaths and 4,827,973 confirmed cases of coronavirus by press time yesterday as against 101,158 deaths and 4,737,213 cases the previous Friday. On Monday City Hall announced a complete return to classroom education after the winter holidays while Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof upped the intake for bars and restaurants from 30 to 50 percent of capacity but requiring all those exceeding the previous cap to exhibit a vaccination passport. Friends’ Day on Tuesday was marked without any immediate reversal of the downward trend of Covid-19 data but health workers began to act up over delayed pay increases. On Wednesday the government relaxed restrictions nationwide, permitting social meetings up to 50 people, indoor seating up to 50 percent of capacity in cultural, social, recreational and religious premises and opening hours up to midnight in bars and restaurants. A letter by presidential advisor Cecilia Nicolini to Russian authorities complaining of Sputnik V vaccine delays created controversy when divulged in midweek by reinforcing doubts about the government’s vaccination policies. Yesterday the Health Ministry announced that it could start vaccinating those aged between 12 and 17 in risk groups thanks to the European Union giving the green light to Moderna vaccine, of which Argentina received 3.5 million doses last weekend (of which around a half will be needed for this group).
The “blue” dollar closed the week at 185 pesos yesterday after eight straight days of advance, as against 179 pesos the previous Friday and 17 pesos up from the start of this month. The gap with the official exchange rate of 101.75 pesos (for which purchasers must pay 65 percent surcharges) is now 92 percent but yesterday’s peak still falls shy of last October’s record of 195 pesos. Only three months ago the “blue” was trading at around 135 pesos but negative real interest rates for peso deposits, persistent inflation and tightened capital controls have all combined to push it up while economic experts expect the upward trend to continue as the elections approach with devaluation widely expected thereafter. The parallel but legal exchange rates, CCL and MEP, were 169 and 168 pesos respectively. The Central Bank added US$45 million to reserves with dollar purchases. Country risk closed yesterday at 1,597 points as against 1,581 points the previous week.
Bolivian Government (Interior) Minister Carlos del Castillo last Monday exhibited the munitions despatched by the Mauricio Macri government during the 2019 disturbances in Bolivia, accusing it of “gun-running” – a crime carrying prison sentences of 10 to 15 years or even 30 years (Bolivian ex-president Evo Morales has called for Macri to be tried in Bolivia). The minister, who insisted that the despatch of anti-riot armaments was part of a plan to oust Morales from the presidency, was accompanied by Argentine Ambassador to Bolivia, Ariel Basteiro. Other Bolivian officials accused Macri of violating Bolivian sovereignty in order to back an illegal government and “introducing armaments in order to annihilate the population.”
The deadline for the registration of candidates for the September 12 PASO primaries prior to the November 14 midterm elections expires today with some candidacies already launched (e.g. City Deputy Mayor Diego Santilli and Radical neurosurgeon Facundo Manes for the Juntos por el Cambio opposition in Buenos Aires Province) and others (e.g. government social policies official Victoria Tolosa Paz for the ruling Frente de Todos coalition in Buenos Aires Province) yet to be confirmed at press time yesterday.
BOUDOU GETS PAROLE
Former vice-president Amado Boudou regained his freedom on Thursday after prison authorities confirmed that the classes he had taken while serving his 70-month sentence for corruption (preparing him to be a philosopher, wedding planner and electrician) sufficed to permit him a conditional release. Boudou has enjoyed house arrest for the last 15 months.
At least two million Argentines have dropped out of the middle class during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving this country in fifth place in Latin America and the Caribbean for percentage of middle-class population, according to a new World Bank report. Despite a self-image of being the most middle-class country of the region, Argentina now ranks behind Uruguay, Chile, Panama and Costa Rica while only slightly ahead of Brazil. Basing itself on the definition of “middle class” as anybody earning US$13-70 daily, the World Bank reported that 1.7 million people had dropped out within the 32 urban conglomerates covered by the INDEC national statistics bureau’s survey but since the latter only comprises two-thirds of the Argentine population, the complete total would extrapolate to well over two million. Before the pandemic a majority of Argentines (51 percent) were still middle-class but last year’s economic plunge took the percentage down to 41.4-46.6 percent. In 2019 Argentina ranked fourth behind Uruguay (68.3 percent), Chile (62.8-63.3%) and Panama (56.9 percent). The World Bank fears that the pandemic crisis will reverse much of the progress in the previous two decades, during which poverty had been almost halved. On Thursday INDEC estimated the monthly income required for a household of four to escape poverty at 66,488 pesos.
P resident Alberto Fernández personally headed a ceremony in Government House to introduce an “X” non-binary category into identity documents as an alternative to “male” or “female,” marking a
Latin American first on top of his inclusive language initiatives. The president was accompanied by Women, Gender and Diversity Minister Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta and Interior Minister Eduardo de Pedro.
ARGENTINA GETS OLYMPIC PARTY STARTED
The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo held their opening ceremony yesterday with a boisterous presence by the Argentine delegation in the parade of the 205 participating nations. Argentina’s Paula Pareto (judo) was given the honour of representing the Americas among the six athletes bearing the Olympic flag.
SOURROUILLE DIES AT 80
Juan Vital Sourrouille, Economy minister between 1985 and 1989 and author of the Austral Plan, died last Wednesday three weeks before turning 81.
BAHIA BLANCA COUNCIL WRONGFOOTED
The Bahía Blanca City Council has moved to rename the local “Campaña del Desierto” park as offensive to Argentina’s indigenous population, only for “Julio Argentino Roca” (the general and later president commanding that 1878-1885 clearance campaign) to be the new name favoured by the citizenry via the social networks for the “sustainable and ecological park” – an unexpected conflict between being democratic and politically correct. The civic consultation had excluded the name of any living person or alive in the last decade.
DHL Express, the world’s leading company in the sector, announced last Thursday that it would be expanding its operations in Argentina with an investment of 500 million pesos, opening up five new points of sale (Nordelta, Recoleta, Caballito, Mar del Plata and Tucumán) complete with delivery to online customers. The company said these investments, signifying a 70 percent expansion of their Argentine operations by the end of next year and taking the DHL payroll here up from 606 to 696, were prompted by the exponential growth of ecommerce in the region with three-digit percentages due to the pandemic.