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peppertree's Journal
peppertree's Journal
April 13, 2024

Argentina's Mileise: yearly inflation soars to 288% - the highest in the world

Inflation in Argentina is now running at 287.9%, figures released on Friday afternoon by the government’s INDEC statistics bureau showed.

The number, 9.7 points higher than February’s, indicates that Argentina’s runaway price hikes remain the worst in the world.

Monthly inflation cooled to 11% in March, a two-point drop from February, according to the report. The number marks the third monthly decrease in a row after it hit 25.5% in December, the highest since February 1991.

Cumulative inflation since far-right President Javier Milei was elected in November has surpassed 90%, in four months.

The biggest monthly increase was in education, which was driven up 52.7% by the rise in private school fees - pushing hundreds of thousands of middle-class families into the already-strained public school system.

It was followed by telecommunications, up 15.9% mainly due to phone and internet bills. Then came housing, up 13.3% off the back of rising electricity bills.

The recession, the drop in revenues, and the drop in sales are the reasons behind the lower [monthly] rate,” said Sebastián Menescaldi, associate director of EcoGo consultancy, adding that it was “not good news.”

Argentine consumers and businesses have since been walloped by utility rate hikes averaging 200% for electricity, and 300% for gas - which analysts believe might push April inflation to up to 20% monthly.

At: https://buenosairesherald.com/economics/argentinas-yearly-inflation-soars-to-288

A popular Argentine meme ridicules far-right President Javier Milei after he asserted this week that "prices are falling like a piano" after consulting a Bot account that purportedly measured prices at Jumbo - a Chilean-owned supermarket chain popular in Argentina.

The administrator of the Bot account promptly revealed that it was an unofficial "social experiment that never analyzed prices."

A doubling in annual inflation rates since October - the month before Milei was elected - to 288%, has pushed an estimated 6 million Argentines into poverty just as of January.

And massive utility rate hikes of 200 to 300% in April have triggered a wave of small business closures and layoffs.
March 27, 2024

Seeking Washington's support, Argentina's Milei buys aging F-16s his bankrupt country can't use

Argentine Defense Minister Luis Petri signed an agreement this morning in Buenos Aires with his Danish counterpart, Troels Lund Poulsen, for the purchase of 24 aging F-16 aircraft for the Air Force.

With the agreement, the far-right Javier Milei administration seeks to reaffirm its "alignment" with the United States - at a time when draconian austerity measures at home have paralyzed federal public works, revenue sharing, and even federal aid to the country's burgeoning soup kitchens.

The reequipment of the country's sorely underequipped air force had been suspended since a $2 billion deal with right-wing President Mauricio Macri was scuttled by British pressure in 2017 - prompting the resignation of then-Argentine Ambassador to the U.S. Martín Lousteau.

Macri's center-left successor, Alberto Fernández, later entered into talks with China for the purchase of 15 Chengdu JF-17 combat aircraft - seen as a preferable alternative by many in the Argentine Air Force due not only to the considerable savings; but also to the fact the JF-17s would be new (rather than 1980s-era F-16s), and exempt from U.K. vetoes on British parts and equipment.

But the potential purchase of the JF-17s had been staunchly objected to by Washington - and CIA Director Williams Burns flew to Buenos Aires this week to congratulate Milei for, according to administration sources, "having nothing to do with China."

The deal is the largest between the U.S. and Argentina since a 1994 order of 36 A4M Skyhawk jet attack planes by the similarly "pro-Washington Consensus" Carlos Menem administration.

Britain's effective veto of its military parts or equipment to Argentina, however, rendered the Skyhawks largely useless - a fate many in Argentina's Air Force fear for the $338 million F-16s.

At: https://www-pagina12-com-ar.translate.goog/724479-el-gobierno-no-tiene-plata-para-comedores-pero-le-compra-avi?_x_tr_sl=es&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en-US&_x_tr_pto=wapp

Argentine Defense Minister Luis Petri and his Danish counterpart, Troels Lund Poulsen, sign an agreement this morning for the purchase of 24 aging F-16 aircraft for Argentina's depleted Air Force.

The far-right Javier Milei administration rushed the agreement - bypassing congressional approval - in a bid to secure Washington's support for his increasingly unpopular and draconian 4 month-old administration.

The charm offensive rested less on the purchase of the F-16s - rendered nearly useless by U.K. vetoes on any British-sourced parts or equipment - as by the cancellation of talks to buy Chinese-made JF-17 aircraft, which are less costly and are not subject to British restrictions.

A record devaluation, and deep cuts to social programs, public works and other domestic needs, have meanwhile pushed an estimated 6 million into poverty just as of January - to a record 57.4%.
March 21, 2024

Armed men assault Argentine human rights activist in 'political' attack

An activist with the human rights group H.I.J.O.S. was tied, beaten and sexually assaulted in a “political” attack at her home, the organization has reported.

Two men allegedly broke into the activist’s home in Buenos Aires and waited to attack her when she returned, holding her at gunpoint and threatening to kill her.

“We haven’t come to rob you, we’ve come to kill you,” they reportedly told her. “They’re paying us for this.

“This attempt on her life is a political attack, motivated by her human rights and feminist activism. Nothing of value was taken, they only took folders with information about our group,” the organization wrote in a statement.

The organization added that the assailants painted “VLLC” on the wall, the acronym for far-right President Javier Milei’s libertarian slogan viva la libertad, carajo ("long live freedom, dammit" ).

Milei, Vice President Victoria Villarruel, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, and Defense Minister Luis Petri have all downplayed and/or rationalized the crimes of Argentina’s last dictatorship (1976-83).

Petri yesterday met with relatives of some of those convicted, and lauded the atrocities outright.

At: https://buenosairesherald.com/human-rights/armed-men-assault-activist-in-political-attack-rights-group-reports

Members of the Argentine human rights group H.I.J.O.S. joins a demonstration commemorating the 40th anniversary of the fascist, 1976 coup in 2016.

An H.I.J.O.S. activist was brutally attacked in her home in Buenos Aires recently - an attack which comes on the heels on a mounting social media campaign on the part of the far-right Javier Milei administration to demonize opponents in general and activists in particular.

The attack comes day before the March 24th anniversary of the coup - which in Argentina is commemorated as the Day Memory, Truth, and Justice.

The group (Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice Against Forgetfulness and Silence) has spearheaded efforts to locate and prosecute dictatorship-era torturers and other perpetrators of the country's 1970s-era Dirty War.

Over 1,100 have been convicted since former President Néstor Kirchner - widely hated by the Argentine right - lifted their immunity from prosecution in 2003.
March 19, 2024

As Argentina's Milei marks 100 days in office, economic "Mileise" pushes down approval

A report published by Argentine pollster Zuban Córdoba shows a collapse of economic expectations, an accelerated deterioration of personal and family finances - and of both job and personal approval for President Javier Milei just three months into his far-right presidency.

The study, “The Economy in the Milei Era,” was carried out between March 7 and 9, based on 1,500 polled nationwide, with a margin of error of 2.5%, with Computer Assisted Web Interviewing (CAWI) methodology.

Milei's job approval has plummeted to 42%, with a 57% disapproval according to the study.

This marks a record low figure this early in any administration since democracy returned in 1983: center-left President Alberto Fernández (2019-23) enjoyed an 80% approval three months in, and right-wing President Mauricio Macri (2015-19), 60% - about average for all Argentine presidents at the 90-100 day point.

Milei's "personal" approval is down to similar levels - another difference with his predecessors, who often enjoyed higher personal than job approval.

Confidence man

Some 55.4% now believe the country is going in the wrong direction, compared to 42.4% who think the opposite. The figure is a reversal from last December: then, 54.3% believed in the course set by the self-styled libertarian while only 43.5% disbelieved.

Consumer confidence, published monthly by the right-leaning Torcuato di Tella University, likewise plunged from 47.5 in November, to 36 in February.

71.6% say there now worse off since Milei took office, with only 5.4% saying they are better off - figures which underscore the effects of a 114% devaluation in December that has triggered a near-doubling in consumer prices and a jump in poverty rates from already-high 44.7% to 57.4% just as of January.

69% also say they no longer know what expenses to cut to make ends meet and 53% fear losing their job - a fear that was statistically minor under Fernández.

And perhaps most worrisome for the irascible Milei, 51.7% now blame his administration for the current crisis with 46% still blaming Fernández, 41% believing it to be a “worthwhile sacrifice,” and only 24% agreeing that “politicians are now paying the price of austerity” - undercutting three key administration talking points.

This is a dramatic reversal from December, when only 32% blamed the (then-new) Milei administration, and 49% blamed Fernández - with the country then evenly split (47% each) as to whether politicians or society at large was “now paying the price.”

At: https://www-pagina12-com-ar.translate.goog/721641-milei-desaprobado-sobre-todo-por-la-economia?_x_tr_sl=es&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=wapp

Left-wing demonstrators protest yesterday against deep cuts to social program under the far-right Javier Milei administration, as well as against sharply lower living standards generally since Milei was elected in November.

The latter crisis is gaining resonance even among Argentina's traditionally right-leaning middle class - with 71.6% saying they are now worse off, and that society - not politicians, as Milei often claims - are bearing the brunt of the current crisis.
March 14, 2024

Argentina downgraded to Selective Default by S&P on Milei debt swap

Argentina’s local debt was slapped with a downgrade to selective default by S&P Global Ratings Wednesday after the government pushed investors into exchanging bonds for new notes with later maturities.

The ratings company cut the local credit rating to SD from CCC-, citing what it called a distressed debt swap “tantamount to default” in a statement.

President Javier Milei’s government launched an exchange of around $65 billion of peso-denominated securities due in 2024 for new bonds maturing next year through 2028.

Creditors holding about 77% of the instruments agreed to the deal.

At: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-03-13/argentina-downgraded-to-selective-default-by-s-p-on-debt-swap?embedded-checkout=true

IMF Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath and Argentine Economy Minister Luis Caputo shake hands in Buenos Aires last month.

Far-right President Javier Milei made slashing Argentina's $27 billion budget deficit last year to "zero" a central campaign promise to both voters and the IMF - but has largely resorted to gimmicks such as budget sequester decrees (mainly at the expense of provinces) and deferring interest payments.

The latter move cost Argentina a downgrade to "Selective Default" by S&P yesterday.
March 14, 2024

Argentina's Milei likes tweet calling for vice president's hanging

Political wrangling in Argentina over far-right President Javier Milei's far-reaching deregulation "mega decree" took a troubling turn today after Milei liked a tweet by a supporter calling for the "hanging" of Vice President Victoria Villarruel.

The tweet, published earlier today, stated that "Villarruel went all in at the casino. She took took it upon herself to let them vote on the decree" - in reference to news of the failure of Villarruel's push to further defer debate in the Senate over Milei's Decree 70/2023, after 10 weeks of procedural delays on her part.

"It won't pass," the tweet concluded, "and she should be hanged in the Plaza" (the square facing the Casa Rosada presidential offices).

The tweet was posted by "TDM" - one of a small army of social media trolls known to regularly post inflammatory and often bigoted messages in favor of Milei and against his critics. The account and all its activity were taken down later today - though screenshots of the "hanging" post, and Milei's like, are widely available.

Argentina's constitution requires that presidential decrees be debated in congress within 10 days of their issuance - a deadline now exceeded by over two months.

The decree is likely to be rejected in the Senate - much as the "Omnibus bill" was rejected in the Lower House on February 6.

Consumer prices have jumped 72% since Milei took office three months ago and devalued the currency by half overnight - triggering a sharp fall in retail sales, a deep recession, and a wave of layoffs.

At: https://www-pagina12-com-ar.translate.goog/720733-la-furia-de-milei-con-villarruel-el-ataque-de-los-trolls-y-e?_x_tr_sl=es&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=wapp

Argentine President Javier Milei and Vice President Victoria Villarruel during Milei's address to Congress on its opening session (akin to a State of the Union address) on March 1st.

Milei's liking of a tweet today calling for her "hanging" has dramatized their increasingly fraught relationship - as well as the growing amounts of time he devotes to social media.

Besides being to the right of Milei on issues such as the role of the armed forces, Villarruel is said to be close to former President Mauricio Macri - who was instrumental is sealing an alliance between his right-wing coalition and Milei's far-right party, and who reportedly prefers she take over the reins from the increasingly erratic Milei.
February 23, 2024

Amid record drought, Argentina's GDP slips 1.6% in 2023

Argentina's INDEC statistics bureau reported that the nation's economy declined by 1.6% in 2023, after two years of strong growth averaging 7.8%.

The Argentine economy, the third-largest in Latin America, fell 4.5% in December however - as shock policies decreed by newly-elected far-right President Javier Milei began to take effect.

High inflation - a fixture of the Argentine economy for most of the past 80 years - was pushed up sharply by a massive, 118% devaluation enacted by Milei within days of taking office, with consumer prices up 211% (by far the highest since 1990).

Prices jumped by 25.5% in December alone - tripling the average 8.3% pace in the 12 months to November.

But annual GDP was still up 3.1% from 2019 levels - after a foreign debt bubble under former President Mauricio Macri collapsed in April 2018, leading to a two-year “Macrisis.“

Mining boom, farming woes

Sectors reporting growth in 2023 were led by mining and extraction (7.3%), as long-declining oil output rose for a third year running by 9% to its highest level since 2007 and gas output rose 6.9%.

Lithium - which in 2022 became Argentina's top mineral export - enjoyed a record US$882 million in exports (up 26.7%) despite a 32.5% drop in prices last year.

Tourism continued its recovery from the 2020 pandemic lows, growing 5.6% for the year. The number of foreign visitors rose 86.7% to a record 6.77 million (excluding day trips) - more than compensating for a 2.6% lull in domestic tourism.

Retail and wholesale were flat - with the sector falling 8.5% in December. Argentina's Medium Business Federation (CAME) reported a 13.7% real decline for reporting small and medium retailers that month.

Inflation impacted real wages, which fell 4.9% in 2023 - but 18.9% in December.

Job growth nevertheless remained strong until October, with 421,000 net registered new jobs created over the previous 12 months (equivalent to 3 million in the U.S.) and unemployment, at 5.4%, the lowest since 1986.

Manufacturing slowed by 2% - though auto and light truck output rose 13.7% to 611,000 on strong domestic sales (which, like most sectors, entered a recession in December).

Fixed investment likewise slid 2% according to Orlando Ferreres, a top local macroeconomy consultant - mostly due to a 16.7% plunge in December, with machinery and equipment outlays crashing by 26%.

Agriculture fell 20.4% amid the worst drought in over a century - though beef output rose 4.3% on strong domestic demand.

Grain and oilseed harvests plunged by 34% to their lowest level since the 2012 drought, depriving central bank coffers of at least US$20 billion in foreign exchange.

As a result, exports - which had reached records in 2022 - fell 24.5% to $66.8 billion last year. Imports fell 9.6%, to $73.7 billion - reversing the nation's critical trade surplus to a $6.9 billion deficit.

The trade deficit might have been wider - but for tighter import restrictions imposed by then-Economy Minister Sergio Massa in 2022; Massa was the runner-up in elections last November.

The Argentine Catholic University’s respected Social Debt Observatory reported that income poverty jumped from 44.7% in the third quarter, to a shocking 57.4% by January - leading Massa's running mate, Agustín Rossi, to lament Wednesday that “Milei has more poor than votes” (55.7%).

At: https://www-baenegocios-com.translate.goog/economia/La-economia-crecio-52-en-2022-pero-cerro-con-tendencia-negativa-20230223-0046.html?_x_tr_sl=es&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=wapp

Argentina's state oil firm YPF opens a “station of the future” in Buenos Aires in January.

Growth in oil and gas output, as well as lithium, made mining and extraction one of the few bright spots in Argentina's economy last year.

The nation's recession - which until Javier Milei's election in November had been largely limited to the drought-stricken agricultural sector - pivoted to a widespread collapse in December and January after Milei's shock devaluation, with little hope for a recovery in the near term.

Milei has been largely ruling by decree, despite having most of his deregulatory proposals already rejected by congress and the courts.
February 18, 2024

Argentina's Mileise: Poverty hits 57%, highest number in 20 years

Argentina’s poverty rate reached 57.4% in January according to a new report by the Argentine Catholic University’s respected Social Debt Observatory.

It’s the highest poverty number since 2004, when the observatory began publishing reports, amid widespread economic deregulation and price hikes.

“Our perspective is that this will keep getting worse in February,” the observatory’s Director Agustín Salvia told the Herald. “The crisis is about to explode in systemic terms.”

According to the report, which analyzed the inflationary effects of the 54% Argentine peso devaluation in December, poverty rose from 44.7% in the third quarter of 2023 to 49.5% in December, then 57.4% in January.

Salvia said there is “a generalized impoverishment of Argentine society” as a result of “a decrease in real salaries” as well as “a high risk of losing jobs” and the devaluation of the peso. “Households can’t compensate the effects of inflation on the food basket with working more hours, like they did in 2023.”

“The working class and middle class who don’t receive any welfare suffered the biggest increase [in poverty levels],” the report said.

The observatory also found that 15% of Argentines are destitute (unable to afford a basic food budget) — the highest since 2004. Destitution afflicted 9.6% in the third quarter of 2023 and 14.2% in December, and went up even more in January “due to the increase in the cost of the basic food basket.”

At: https://buenosairesherald.com/society/poverty-in-argentina-hits-57-highest-number-in-20-years-report-says

Children enjoy a meal in a soup kitchen in Villa Fiorito, an impoverished Buenos Aires suburb, recently.

As real wages plummet and unemployment rises, demand in the nation's 41,000 soup kitchens has jumped 30% since far-right President Javier Milei was elected in November.

Milei, however, has effectively ended federal assistance to these centers - which now rely solely on provincial subsidies and private contributions.

The rise in income poverty from 44.7% in the third quarter 2023, to a shocking 57.4% in January, has only been seen twice in Argentine history - during collapses in 1989 and 2002.
February 10, 2024

As Argentina's favorite vacation spot celebrates 150 years, gloomy times for vacationers in Mar del Plata

The seaside city of Mar del Plata celebrated 150 years from its founding by a beef jerky maker seeking to diversify into real estate - having since grown into Argentina's favorite vacation spot with a record 9 million arrivals in 2023.

But this summer they are few, tight-fisted and downcast. This year's trickle of vacationers to Mar del Plata is a dreary reflection of the country's economic woes.

With monthly inflation having tripled to 25% since far-right President Javier Milei was elected in November, few can afford to let their hair down.

In a normal year, this would be impossible between the tens of thousands of bathers gathered over vast stretches of beach in the town, some 250 miles south of the capital Buenos Aires.

Most years, in the high season between Christmas and February, the seaside resort receives six times more tourists than its 680,000 permanent residents.

This summer, the city is half-empty. Occupancy was only at 60% in the first half of January, according to Mar Del Plata's hotel association.

At the bus terminal, out of 42 platforms, only three are occupied by long-distance transport. Outside, the line of cabs waiting for passengers continues out into the street.

"Last summer, I did at least 30 trips a day. Now I'm happy if I get to 15," sighs taxi-driver Daniel Molina, one in a long line of idle cars awaiting customers near a bus stop.

"It's a lost season. Look at how it is,” he says, pointing to the quiet streets. “It's dead!"

At: https://batimes.com.ar/news/argentina/it-makes-me-sad-gloomy-times-for-vacationers-in-mar-del-plata.phtml

Aerial view of Mar del Plata, which celebrated its sesquicentennial today.

The city - long Argentina's top vacation spot - has been hard-hit by the recent "Mileise."

The country's already-struggling economy has collapsed since Javier Milei was elected two months ago, as businesses began taking advantage of price deregulation bills well before their (now unlikely) passage - raising retail prices by 25.5% in December alone and wholesale prices by an astonishing 54%, while wages rose only 8.3%.
February 7, 2024

Crisis for Argentina's Milei: omnibus bill sent back to commissions over lack of support

Argentina’s Lower House unexpectedly cut short what was expected to be a marathon debate on President Javier Milei’s Omnibus Bill, sending the entire bill back to commissions.

The move means that prior progress — including being approved as a whole on Friday on a 144 to 109 vote — has been voided after weeks of intense negotiations.

When they reached the privatization chapter, Mileist Congressman Deputy Gabriel Bornoroni asked for a 15-minute recess which lasted more than 45 minutes. The session resumed and Oscar Zago, head of Milei's LLA caucus, asked that the whole project be sent back to the commission - a motion that was approved immediately.

Earlier on Tuesday, deputies had approved articles that would have given certain legislative powers to the president if the bill were approved by the Senate.

However, since it’s getting booted back to commissions those votes are now void per Article 155 of Argentina's Lower House protocol.

The country's already-struggling economy has collapsed since Milei was elected two months ago, as businesses began taking advantage of price deregulation clauses well before their (as-yet uncertain) passage - raising retail prices by 25.5% and wholesale prices by an astonishing 54% in December alone, while wages rose only 8.3%.

At: https://buenosairesherald.com/politics/back-to-square-one-mileis-omnibus-bill-returned-to-commissions

Far-right Argentine President Javier Milei cries at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall during his state visit today.

While the Lower House had voted to advance Milei's wide-reaching deregulation and privatization bill, lawmakers today balked at giving the increasingly erratic Milei "emergency" powers.

The voting down of any of the provisions in the behemoth "omnibus" bill automatically sends the package to square one.

The setback is unprecedented in the country's 40-year modern democratic history, exposing what congressional opposition leader Gerardo Martínez called "a lack of understanding of congressional procedure" - by Milei, as well as by his cabinet and advisers.

Milei himself appeared to confirm this haplessness by pledging to submit the bill to a "plebiscite" - while apparently ignorant of the fact that it would be non-binding.

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