March 11, 2014
THIS YEARSunday, December 29, 2013
W10 TO W19 - Pope Francis completely changes the news focus from judicial reform, as planned
W10 — CFK starts the month with a 218-minute state-of-the-nation address to Congress featuring a drastic judicial reform package as almost the only announcement for the future — the audience includes Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti with a “deer in the headlights” expression. The package proposes six reforms with popular election of the Magistrates Council to “democratize” (and also politicize) it, limits on injunctions against the state and the creation of three new cassation courts as the most important — CFK nevertheless stops short of constitutional reform. The lengthy speech is mostly a celebration of the “won decade” two months early with a defence of the Iran agreement — “vulture fund” holdouts are also offered the same haircut terms as other creditors. Just four days later Chávez dies — a hugely important figure for Kirchnerism for ideology, sentiment and massive fuel imports alike. CFK immediately flies off to Venezuela but somehow manages to miss the Friday funeral itself by returning early — perhaps to avoid contact with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. In other news, there are insistent rumours that YPF will be compensating Repsol for last year’s confiscation in the form of Vaca Muerta shale shares; the “A” City underground line is re-opened in a fairly cordial ceremony shared by Macri and national Interior and Transport Minister Florencio Randazzo and ex-president Carlos Menem is convicted for gun-running.
W11 — The newly elected Pope Francis becomes the first Jesuit ever to head the Catholic Church — and rather more to the point the first Argentine because he is Flores-born Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio from “the end of the world,” a San Lorenzo fan. In his own country he immediately runs into “friendly fire” over his record during the 1976-83 military dictatorship although ultra-Kirchnerite Buenos Aires province Lieutenant-Governor Gabriel Mariotto is an early defender — Bergoglio’s rise is politically charged in a polarized country with a “sword and cross” history. If Latin America is considered long overdue for a pontiff as today’s Catholic heartland more than Europe, the choice of Bergoglio surprises many global observers because the image of the conservative archbishop (even reportedly close to the rightwing Peronist Iron Guard grouping in his youth) is far better known than the patron of slum priests but Francis rapidly begins re-inventing himself with his “Church for the poor.” The surprise news certainly interrupts the judicial reform drive — will Argentine politics ever be the same again? In other news, 1,513 of the 1,517 voting in a Malvinas referendum opt to stay British, Brazilian mining giant Vale pulls out of Mendoza because of exchange rate imbalance and there are severe riots in Junín.
W12 — A complete U-turn in the initially chilly reaction to Francis as CFK (consistently pro-life even amid a leftwing progressive image) lunches in Rome with the new global superstar, who preaches: “Power is service.” On her side CFK made an absurd request for Malvinas mediation (Britain has been out of the Vatican orbit for 479 years now). Back home La Cámpora ultra-Kirchnerite youth grouping are significant converts to the new celebrity and 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel clears his military dictatorship record but some criticisms and questions (for example, concerning Father Julio Grassi, the priest accused of child abuse), still rumble. In the UN Argentina joins the condemnation of Iran’s human rights record. The “blue” dollar shoots 71 percent ahead of the official exchange rate and a 20-percent surcharge is slapped on credit card purchases abroad and package holidays. Former dictatorship economy minister (1976-81) José Martínez de Hoz dies at 87.
W13 — Easter week. A third CFK term is very much in the air but seems on a collision course with papal humility and pacifism — with the opposition still splintered, Scoli remains the man to beat in opposition eyes. Moreno’s price freeze (and supermarket ad ban) is extended until June while he launches his Supercard for supermarkets — the freeze is to tame wage bargaining with even UOM metal worker’s union headed by the top pro-government trade unionist Antonio Caló pushing for 35 percent. Mario Poli replaces Bergoglio as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
W14 — Floods in the La Plata area (the worst in a century) cause at least 51 deaths — as bad as the Once rail tragedy and another example of infrastructural deficiencies in the “won decade.” Politics recedes in importance but there are political consequences and the usual blame game. Macri (in whose jurisdiction the floods strike first, killing six and causing him to be mocked for turning his city into “Venice” until far worse news comes from Kirchnerite turf) and La Plata Mayor Pablo Bruera are both on holiday at the worst time but Scioli and Social Welfare Minister Alicia Kirchner (her prospects as a midterm candidate in the province effectively destroyed) are heckled with saucepan-bashing against Macri. Unlike with the Once disaster, CFK displays much prompter solidarity in her Tolosa childhood home, announcing tax breaks on nationwide broadcast, In the wake of the disaster teacher strikes in the province are cancelled and the 31st anniversary of the South Atlantic war is washed out. Uruguayan President José Mujica is inadvertently quoted as calling CFK an “old bag.”
W15 — The floods delay the judicial reform drive by only a week. These reforms (with any amendments ruled out) are widely criticized for threatening the independence of justice (via the Magistrates Council firing judges by simple majority and the curbs on litigation against the state) although some pundits suspect that the tail of Clarín’s media law case is wagging this dog while even more suspicious minds think that CFK might want these reforms to be blocked in order to have a pretext for constitutional reform (including her third term), thus making this drive a win-win situation. Even the court clerks union oppose these “megalomaniac” reforms as the government image for respecting justice is completely transformed from the 2003 Supreme Court overhaul — could this reform drive be a catalyst to unite the opposition? In economic news, Moreno caps petrol and fuel prices for six months, Central Bank reserves still top 40 billion dollars and Chilean courts suspend the Pascua-Lama gold mine project on environmental grounds. Margaret Thatcher dies at the age of 87.
W16 — The “18A” saucepan-bashing protest on the same night the Senate passes the three most important judicial reform bills, draws as many as a million people, certainly hundreds of thousands — Jorge Lanata had launched his first exposé of the pro-Kirchner tycoon Lázaro Báez on his Sunday night television show the previous weekend. At the same time CELS (the Centre for Legal and Social Studies) human rights groups objects to limiting injunctions against the state, forcing their amendment to protect “vulnerable” minorities and trade unions. But alongside corruption and judicial reform, inflation, currency curbs, press freedom and (perhaps above all crime) are prominent on the “18A” agenda (with a dysfunctional opposition perhaps also an implicit target). CFK misses the protest since she is is in Lima for a regional summit over Venezuela’s controversial election — perhaps the “18A” saucepan-bashers are looking for a Henrique Capriles. In other news, an appeals court rules the 2009 Media Law partly unconstitutional and former railway union leader José Pedraza is sentenced to 15 years for the 2010 Mariano Ferreyra slaying.
W17 — The key judicial reforms now clear the Lower House (the elected Magistrates Council 130-123, whereupon the opposition walk out) and the breakneck speed even worries some supporters. But Lorenzetti succeeds in introducing some new amendments amid charges from deputy Elisa Carrió (who wants Congress physically blocked but only a few thousand respond) of a pact in return for Supreme Court control of the judicial budget — these amendments oblige the bills to return to the Senate. An elected Magistrates Council threatens to nationalize the October midterm elections and force the opposition into unity by requiring a nationwide slate — also the danger of mob justice from a popular vote. In other news, Economy Minister Hernán Lorenzino “wants to go” seven months before he actually does when asked about inflation and the Metropolitan Police bruisingly repress demonstrators near the Borda Hospital. Máxima is crowned in the Netherlands on the last day of the month.
W18 — With money-laundering accusations against Báez all the buzz, the parallel dollar closes in on 10 pesos — a transaction involving only 0.5 percent of the population or decisive for expectations, according to political loyalties. CFK’s approval ratings are still around 40 percent. Macri’s talks with dissident Peronists break down around May Day, thus reviving memories of the Unión-PRO split soon after their 2009 success and fears that they could be yesterday’s men. UN rapporteuse Gabriela Knaul criticizes the Media Law, which has been praised by other UN sources. April revenues are announced to be up 37 percent.
W19 — As a “blue” dollar of 10.45 pesos doubles the official exchange rate of 5.20, the government decides to tackle the real economic issues as a “distraction” from Báez sleaze allegations (claiming ENARSA state fuel firm chief Ezequiel Espinosa among the victims). With CFK thundering that a devaluation will have to await another government, a quintet of top economic policy-makers hold a press conference to announce a dollar whitewash offering Cedin and Baades bonds to revive the housing market and kickstart Vaca Muerta shale respectively (an implicit end of the bid to pesofy the real estate market, down 41 percent thus far in the year thanks to the currency curbs). Kicillof estimates the dollars stashed abroad at 240 billion but the amnesty excludes tax evaders. The judicial reform clears the Senate by a 38-30 vote. The dates of the PASO primaries and midterm elections are confirmed — August 11 and October 27. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro visits in the first week in which the efforts of key political pundits to groom Massa as a local Capriles start becoming evident. In other news, there is a five-day long-distance bus strike, wheat export duties are to be returned in future (but still collected) and a backbencher bill to nationalize Papel Prensa newsprint is introduced.