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peppertree's Journal
peppertree's Journal
February 4, 2024

Argentine human rights groups file complaint against government in IACHR

Two human rights organizations and two press unions filed a precautionary measure before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), requesting protection after national security forces thwarted pacific protests outside Congress on Wednesday and Thursday while President Javier Milei’s omnibus bill was being discussed inside.

The document demanded protection for 35 media workers and lawyers defending demonstrators, whom the police hurt with rubber bullets and chemical agents during the January 31 and February 1 protests.

The text accused Federal Police officers of using an “illegal and abusive less lethal” weapon, referencing agents who sprayed unregistered chemical hand-held irritants on journalists and demonstrators while also beating them with batons.

The request was filed by the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the Center of Professionals for Human Rights (CeProDH), the Buenos Aires’ Press Union (SiPreBA), and Argentina’s Photojournalist Association (Argra).

Let's make a deal

The omnibus bill, which the Lower House partially approved on Friday (leaving just 224 of its initial 664 clauses), calls for business deregulation and the privatization of more than a dozen state-owned companies — including state media agencies and outlets.

It also grants far-reaching legislative powers to the president for one year, renewable by Congress.

The margin - 144 yeas to 109 nays - was reportedly also reached after numerous private, off-site meetings in upscale hotels and lobbyists' apartments.

The bill heads to the Senate - where opposition, center-left Peronists are better poised to block its passage.

At: https://buenosairesherald.com/human-rights/argentine-human-rights-groups-file-complaint-against-government-in-iachr

Argentine protesters parade an effigy of far-right President Javier Milei in front of Congress yesterday.

Federal militarized police forces violently quashed demonstrators yesterday, as the Lower House reached agreement on passage of Milei's deregulation, privatization, and rule-by-decree bill.

Protesters and journalists alike were assailed by both rubber bullets, and an as-yet unidentified pepper spray which causes severe irritation - a chemical agent not yet approved for use in Argentina, and therefore likely illegal.

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

January 22, 2024

Piedad Cordoba, an outspoken leftist who straddled Colombia's ideological divide, dies at 68

Piedad Córdoba, an outspoken Colombian lawmaker who for decades championed the rights of her fellow Afro-Colombians while undertaking huge risks as a go-between to leftist rebel groups, has died. She was 68.

The senator’s death was confirmed Saturday by President Gustavo Petro, who praised Córdoba as a true liberal who “fought all her mature life for a more democratic society.”

No cause of death was given but Colombian media reported she was found dead Saturday by her bodyguards at her home in Medellín from an apparent heart attack.

Known throughout Colombia for her colorful turbans evoking her African heritage, Córdoba stood out as a leftist stalwart in one of Latin America’s most conservative countries and paid dearly for her vociferous defense of some of the country’s most dispossessed.

Whether kidnapped by right-wing paramilitary groups, or expelled from Congress for promoting the country’s last remaining rebel army, Córdoba never shied away from conflict and frequently bounced back from adversity in remarkable ways.

A trusted ally of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Córdoba played a key behind-the-scenes role in bringing leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to the negotiating table that resulted in a historic 2016 peace deal ending a half century of guerrilla conflict.

At: https://apnews.com/article/cordoba-obit-colombia-leftist-afrocolombian-aa74d5c98f8130e911100a3c4b6c17a1

Colombian senator and peace activist Piedad Córdoba, 1955- 2024.

As tireless as she was controversial, Córdoba was instrumental in bringing peace to Colombia after three decades of civil war.
January 14, 2024

Milei appointee to PAMI (Argentine Medicare) office: "Covid might be a solution to the Argentine pension deficit"

Senior advocates and opposition lawmakers have raised alarms over the recent appointment to an important PAMI (Argentine Medicare) office, of a businessman who in 2020 tweeted that "Covid might be a solution to the deficit in the Argentine pension system."

Guido Orlandi, 38, a restaurant owner with no experience in social security or public health, was appointed to manage PAMI's Local Management Unit IX - which oversees service in Rosario, Argentina's third-largest city.

Rosario is home to some 1.35 million people - of which over 175,000 are senior citizens.

"The coronavirus imported from China may be the solution to the deficit in the Argentine pension system," Orlandi expressed on his Twitter account on March 10, 2020 - in the earliest days of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 took over 130,000 lives in Argentina - the majority of them people over 60.

The tweet was visible until the online journal La Política Online reported it this Friday - after which it, and Orlandi's Twitter (X) account, were deleted.

His restaurant hosted election-night rallies for President Javier Milei's "Forward Liberty" (LLA) far-right party last year. Milei has pledged to privatize both PAMI and the nation's social security agency (ANSES).

Both PAMI and ANSES enjoy a surplus - and as of 2023, ANSES had a trust fund of US$76 billion. The two agencies serve over 7 million retired and disabled persons.

Milei has been denounced by opposition lawmakers for sneaking a provision in his first of two "mega-decrees" that would transfer the trust fund to treasury accounts - where it would likely be raided to finance the federal budget.

At: https://www-lapoliticaonline-com.translate.goog/santa-fe/karina-puso-al-frente-del-pami-rosario-a-un-empresario-que-dijo-que-el-covi-era-la-solucion-al-deficit-jubilatorio/?_x_tr_sl=es&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=wapp

Restaurant owner Guido Orlandi - who was given a thumbs up this week from the far-right-Javier Milei administration to manage the Argentine Medicare office in the country's third-largest city.

Orlandi, who lacks any experience in social security or public health, had tweeted in 2020 that "Covid might be a solution to the deficit in the Argentine pension system."

Like President Milei, Orlandi had frequently taken to social media to both attack Covid abatement measures during their height in 2020, as well as to to laud then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
January 14, 2024

Iowa high school principal who was shot while trying to protect students dies from his injuries

Source: ABC News

The Iowa high school principal who was shot and wounded while trying to protect his students during a school shooting earlier this month has died from his injuries, according to the school district.

Perry High School Principal Dan Marburger was among seven people injured in the Jan. 4 shooting. One student, 11-year-old sixth grader Ahmir Jolliff, was killed, authorities said.

The suspected shooter -- a student at the high school -- died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.

Read more: https://abcnews.go.com/US/iowa-perry-high-school-principal-dan-marburger-shot-protecting-students-dies/story?id=106366186

Perry High School Principal Dan Marburger 1967-2024.
January 12, 2024

Argentina's Mileise: Monthly inflation hits 25.5% in December - the highest in the world

Argentina’s monthly inflation rate reached 25.5% in December 2023, according to the National Institute for Statistics and Census (INDEC).

The figure, which more than doubles November’s rate, is the first to reflect part of President Javier Milei’s administration and last month’s 54% devaluation. The monthly rate, published on Thursday, is the highest since February 1991.

Cumulative inflation for 2023 was 211.4%, the country’s highest annual price hike since 1990. It was also the highest 2023 inflation rate in Latin America, surpassing Venezuela’s 193%.

The economic sector that saw the biggest increase was “other goods and services” which includes toiletries and personal care services (32.7%).

It was closely followed by a 32.6% increase in health, driven by price hikes in medicines and health insurance - prompting many middle-class households to drop private insurance, and seek care in already overburdened public hospitals.

Transportation went up by 31.7% due to increases in gasoline - which jumped 80% after Milei's decree deregulating the fuel market.

The end of price agreements also contributed to higher food prices.

Food and non-alcoholic beverages jumped 29.7%, driven by increases in meat and derivatives, lemons, bread, flour, vegetable oil, rice and cereals - all subject to price and supply pressures from the agro-export sector.

A report by the Center of Argentine Economic Politics (CEPA) said that the 118% exchange rate jump was the main reason behind December’s inflation rate. The report added that some prices had, moreover, been adjusted to the parallel dollar exchange rate (currently 34% above the official rate).

At: https://buenosairesherald.com/economics/mileis-first-inflation-rate-hits-25-5

A Buenos Aires senior citizen leaves a typical neighborhood greengrocer recently.

Produce prices per kilo reflect an affordability crisis for even basic food items - considering that minimum wages were left unchanged at 156,000 pesos, and basic pensions were actually slashed by 22,000 pesos to 160,000.

Buoyed by a record devaluation and price deregulation, December's inflation rate in Argentina (25.5%) was the highest on earth for that month - dwarfing the 4.7% registered in Zimbabwe.
January 10, 2024

Argentina's Mileise: Argentines bought a fifth less at food and drink stores in December, report finds

Sales of basic goods such as food, medicine and gasoline dropped significantly in December compared with the previous year, reports have found. This came in a month during which newly-inaugurated President Javier Milei’s administration devalued the peso by a record 54%.

Retail sales dropped by an average of 13.7% year-on-year in December, according to the Argentine Confederation of Medium-Sized Companies (CAME); for all of 2023 real sales fell 3.4%.

Sales at food and drinks stores were down by a fifth (19.8%) in what is normally a strong month as households stock up for Christmas and New Year. That sector was followed by pharmacies (-19%) and hardware and construction materials stores (-14.2%).

Retail sales were impacted by both a spike in inflation - which doubled to 21.1% monthly in Buenos Aires alone - as well as a sudden labor market downturn: Unemployment - which reached a 36-year low of 5.7% in the third quarter - is now expected to reach double digits as reports of layoffs mount.

Bleak outlook

The Argentine Dealerships Association (ACARA) reported a 10.2% growth in new vehicle registrations for all of 2023 - but a 6.2% drop in December.

“We now see a market of 340,000 by 2024 (a 25% plunge), although we may also have to adjust that number downwards again in the coming months,” ACARA president Sebastián Beato lamented.

Construction materials sales likewise fell 17.4% year-on-year in December, according to the latest report by the construction association Construya. Most of that decline took place in December, with their “Construya” Index showing a 14.8% drop compared to November.

“This is a consequence of the uncertainty associated with the change in government, and is likely to go on during the summer,” the Construya report noted.

Shop owners surveyed by CAME said the drop in sales was unexpected, linking it with price increases and shortages of certain products. “[Sales] were restricted to the bare minimum,” a hardware store owner from the northern city of Santiago del Estero told CAME.

If they don’t revive, we won’t be able to keep going.”

At: https://buenosairesherald.com/economics/argentines-bought-a-fifth-less-at-food-and-drink-stores-in-december-report-finds

Argentines protest high prices - as well as far-right President Javier Milei's high-handed decrees - in the city of La Plata recently.

Milei's record one-day devaluation of 118% just after taking office a month ago has sent already-high inflation soaring to 200% and rising - while a barrage of austerity and deregulation decrees has prompted a deep recession and a wave of layoffs.

Social aid organizations are bracing for what they believe could be a repeat of the country's well-publicized 2002 debacle - when unemployment exceeded 20% and income poverty, 54%.
December 21, 2023

Bypassing congress, Argentina's Milei decrees sweeping economic deregulation and privatization measures

Argentine President Javier Milei announced a barrage of legal and economic deregulation measures that will, if passed by congress, fundamentally alter the Argentine state’s role in society and the economy.

Among the announcements were the abolishment of laws regulating the rental market, supermarket supplies and state purchases. He also announced moves that pave the way to privatizing Argentina’s state-owned companies.

The measures will be implemented via decree - and are effective immediately, despite constitutional provisions barring decrees over fiscal or penal law.

The chief of staff then has 10 days to send it to Congress, where it will be debated in commissions before it is sent for debate by lawmakers.

Argentina's inflation crisis, which had reached 160% in November (the last full month of the center-left Alberto Fernández administration), has tipped into hyperinflation since Milei devalued the peso by a record 51% overnight shortly after taking office - with inflation now projected to reach 30% in December alone.

The announcement touched off a massive, left-wing demonstration in downtown Buenos Aires - with pot-banging cacerolazo protests later heard in middle-class, right-leaning neighborhoods in the capital and elsewhere.

Middle-class support had proven decisive for Milei's runoff election victory a month ago.

At: https://buenosairesherald.com/politics/milei-decrees-sweeping-economic-deregulation-and-privatization-measures

Buenos Aires residents respond to today's far-reaching price deregulation and privatization decree by far-right President Javier Milei with pot-banging cacerolazo protests - historically associated with right-wing, middle-class voters (a key Milei constituency).

The decree - which opposition lawmakers have slammed as unconstitutional - follows Milei's record, 54% overnight devaluation last week that has quickly tipped Argentina's inflation crisis into a hyperinflation crisis.
December 13, 2023

Argentine economy minister - who profited from last major devaluation - announces deep cuts, record devaluation

Argentina’s Economy Minister Luis Caputo announced a package of ten austerity measures Tuesday evening - chief among them a devaluation of the peso by a record 54%, taking the official wholesale dollar exchange rate from 366 pesos to 800 pesos.

The decision was part of a package mostly consisting of government cuts the minister said were to “neutralize the crisis and stabilize economic variables.”

The "shock" package also included deep cuts to provincial and social aid transfers, transport and energy subsidies, public works, pensions, and other cuts totaling 2.9% of GDP.

The program also included tax hikes of 2.2% of GDP - mainly through import and export tax increases (which Milei had loudly campaigned against), as well as a steep income tax increase by way of reduced standard deductions.

The cuts and tax hikes - which in a statistical table released by Caputo purports to eliminate the nation's budget deficit - fails to take into account the deep recession similar shock devaluations have inflicted on Argentina in the past.

Caputo said the devaluation — a 118% exchange rate jump — was to provide the agribusiness and industrial sectors “the appropriate incentives to increase production.”

Black and blue

It is the steepest devaluation of the peso since early 2002, when the Argentine peso plummeted after the 2001 foreign debt crisis - during which Caputo served as an adviser to then-Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo.

Cavallo - who endorsed newly-elected far-right President Javier Milei - became reviled for using US$13 billion in IMF loans to finance capital flight - only to then impose deep cuts and a bank withdrawal freeze that plunged the nation into riots and depression.

Later named Finance Secretary when Trump ally Mauricio Macri took office in late 2015, Caputo, 58, was among numerous Macri officials and relatives found to have purchased millions in dollar futures contracts ahead of Macri's 40% devaluation that December.

Caputo's Axis fund made US$50 million from betting on the move - a devaluation he himself arranged.

The country's perennial "blue" (black) dollar - which Milei had pledged to make redundant by lifting currency regulations - jumped 12% today to a record 1,115 pesos.

Retailers have meanwhile reported a dramatic 100% jump in wholesale prices - on top of 40% increases the week before Milei took office last Sunday, leading to hoarding and shortages.

At: https://buenosairesherald.com/economics/argentina-chainsaw-plan-revealed-deep-cuts-record-devaluation

Argentine Economy Minister Luis Caputo winces as he announces yesterday's "shock" measures - including deep budget cuts, steep tax hikes, and a record daily devaluation of 118%.

Caputo pledged that the measures would balance the budget and stabilize the nation's economy - already battered by a foreign debt crisis inherited from his former boss Mauricio Macri in 2019, as well as by a record drought last year and 150% inflation.

Similar shock measures in Argentina in the past have invariably resulted in deep recessions however, as well as a massive wealth transfer from working and middle classes to the country's notoriously tax-averse elite.
December 6, 2023

Argentina's Mileise: Retailers report wholesale price hikes averaging 40%, ahead of shock devaluation

Retailers in Argentina have reported wholesale price hikes averaging 40% since the November 19th election of far-right candidate Javier Milei to the presidency.

The jump in wholesale prices comes amid fears that the incoming Milei administration - which takes office this Sunday - would enact a shock devaluation of the already battered peso, which has already lost over half its value so far this year.

Among the sharpest reported increases, have been those for dairy and personal hygiene (50%), packaged bread (65%), and vegetable oil (200%).

Cities across the country have meanwhile announced imminent bus fare hikes averaging around 30% (with some, such as as Mar del Plata and Posadas, more than doubling fares), and health insurance premiums - which Milei has announced will be deregulated - are expected to jump 35% in January.

Consumer prices - which in Argentina are now reported weekly - rose 3.1% in the week after the runoff election, and 10.8% over the past month. But December inflation is expected to approach 20%.

Milei had repeatedly stated during his campaign that he would have the peso devalued "to the blue level" - a reference to the black ("blue" ) currency market currently representing a 160% hike in the official dollar/peso exchange rate (from 379, to 955 pesos).

Incoming Interior Minister Guillermo Francos said recently that an official rate of "between 600 and 650 pesos" would be "reasonable" - which still equals a 58 to 71% devaluation at current rates.

The consensus among economists is that this sharp devaluation will be largely transferred to prices.

"The impact on inflation will be quite large. It's only worth remembering how after the post-(August 13th) primary devaluation of 22%, the (monthly) CPI jumped from 6 or 7% to more than 12% for two consecutive months," economist Federico Zirulnik with the center-left CESO think tank noted.

"Imagine what can happen with a devaluation of almost 80%."

At: https://www-eldestapeweb-com.translate.goog/economia/inflacion/dolar-a-650-pesos-anticipan-un-traslado-a-precios-y-una-retraccion-del-consumo-2023126052?_x_tr_sl=es&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=wapp

Sticker shock: A consumer inspects hastily marked new prices in a Buenos Aires grocery store four days after far-right candidate Javier Milei's victory in November 19th runoff elections.

Wholesalers issued have price hikes averaging 40% since then, amid what's expected to be a devaluation of anywhere from 58 to 160% from the incoming Milei administration.

Consumer prices in Argentina have already risen nearly 150% over the past twelve months.
December 3, 2023

Bolivia gets green light for full Mercosur membership

Bolivia is set to become a full member of the South American Mercosur trade bloc following a decision on Tuesday by the Brazilian Senate to approve the country's admission.

The vote on the accession of Bolivia to Mercosur is expected to be formally concluded during a regional summit on Dec. 7 in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who holds the temporary presidency of the trade alliance that also includes Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, welcomed the expansion.

Bolivia's full membership has been eight years in the making. Concerns over the solidity of the country's democratic institutions had long delayed its admission.

At: https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/bolivia-gets-green-light-full-mercosur-membership-2023-11-29/

Bolivian President Luis Arce (left) joins close allies Lula da Silva (brazil) and Alberto Fernández (Argentina) during a South American unity at summit in Brazil last May.

The South American nation of 12 million cleared the last procedural hurdle to join Mercosur - a common market of 273 million people and a combined GDP of $2.9 trillion (excluding Venezuela, which was suspended in 2016).

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