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Despite devaluation touted as a reserve booster, Argentine reserves down $1.7 billion in February.

Lower than expected deposits from an agro-export sector flush with President Macri's sharp devaluation and tax cut decrees, as well as ongoing pressure by speculators seeking to accelerate the pace of devaluation, resulted in a decline of $1.686 billion in Argentina's Central Bank reserves in February.

Excluding a $5 billion, high-interest credit line extended to the right-wing Macri administration in January by a consortium of U.S. banks, the Central Bank's international reserves thus ended the month at $23.385 billion - the lowest figure since May 2006.

The Central Bank was forced to shed $171 million in reserves on February 29 alone, as it struggled to contain a run on the peso. The Macri administration had expected Friday's announcement of an agreement in principle with vulture funds for a $4.65 billion payout to shore up confidence.

Instead, the Central Bank was forced to intervene in the exchange market with $200 million on Monday - but failed to contain the escalating exchange rate. The dollar rose another 23 cents to a record 15.86 pesos yesterday, up 62.5% since President Macri took office on December 10 (when it was 9.76).

Reserves also came under pressure from sputtering deposits from Argentina's cereal and oilseed exporters, which in 2015 earned around a third of the country's foreign exchange. Daily export revenues declined steadily from $110 million during the first week of February, to $70 million by the week ending February 26 - a 13% decline from the same time a year ago.

A vicious circle thus emerged in February between devaluation expectations on one hand, and the slowdown in agro-export income on the other. Dollar Rofex futures for December 2016 jumped from 17 to 19 pesos in the last four weeks alone, and this trend in turn prompted the country's agricultural export sector to increase stockpiles of cereals and soy for speculative purposes.

Campaign promises and sticker shock

The practice of grain stockpiling was made into a hot-button issue by the Macri campaign last year, and Macri repeatedly promised that a sharp devaluation would encourage exports and boost reserves with no effect on Argentines' purchasing power. The rising dollar, however, has led to a sharp increase in the country's already high inflation rate. Food prices have been particularly impacted, with the retail price of many basic staples rising by over 30% and beef rising by over 100% since November.

The sharp increase in the price of beef was dramatized recently by an incident in which former Vice President Julio Cobos, who endorsed Macri, took to Twitter on February 21 to express outrage at finding that eye of round had jumped to 180 pesos a kilo ($5.30 a pound) and skirt steak, to 220 pesos ($6.50 a pound). These cuts typically sold for 70 and 85 pesos, respectively, in November.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/economia/2-293529-2016-03-01.html&prev=search

Argentine consumer confidence plunges 15.6% in February; down almost 25% since November.

The Torcuato Di Tella University Business School's Financial Research Center (CIF) reported that the Index of Consumer Confidence fell in February to 45.6, a 15.6% decline from January and a 24.5% plunge from 60.4 in November.

The report pointed to the sharp run-up in prices since President Mauricio Macri ordered a 40% devaluation on December 17 as the principal cause for the decline in consumer confidence. Macri refuses to publish inflation data; but private estimates projects that inflation will reach 40% this year, up from 25% in 2015.

The drop in confidence was especially severe for purchasing durable goods or real estate, the index for which fell 33.1% last month. Sizable declines were also registered for the other two components in the index: 12.4% less confidence in respondents' personal financial situation, and 9.7% less confidence in macroeconomic conditions.

The index also registered noticeable regional disparities, with respondents outside the Buenos Aires metro area registering a 7.9% decline in confidence; those in Buenos Aires, by 12.4%; and those in predominantly working class Greater Buenos Aires, 20.8%. Indeed, those earning below the median income suffered a decline in confidence of 17.1%; while those earning more income saw confidence fall by 13.3%.

The CIF consumer confidence index, published monthly since March 2001, has averaged 47.3 over the last 15 years, reaching an all time high of 61.0 in January 2007 and a record low of 28.4 in September 2002.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.politicargentina.com/notas/201602/11972-fuerte-caida-del-ndice-de-confianza-al-consumidor.html&prev=search

Investigation launched into five 1976 disappearances linked to Argentine Finance Minister's family

The Tucumán Province Public Prosecutor's office, led by Pablo Camuña, has initiated a formal inquest into the 1976 disappearance of five labor activists who were detained by security forces in the early days of Argentina's last dictatorship.

The inquest was made possible by recent testimony by former Tucumán Sugar Workers' Union (FOTIA) organizer Hugo Santillán, whose research uncovered this cold case involving the five missing sugar mill workers. Santillán, 64, is the younger brother of the renowned late FOTIA leader Atilio Santillán, who was also murdered by security forces in 1976.

The five abducted mill workers, which included union shop stewards Jesús Ortega and Pedro Silva, all worked in the Northern Sugar Company in rural Leales. The firm was owned at the time by the Prat-Gay family, and was managed by Jorge Prat-Gay - the father of current right-wing Argentine Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay.

The case has thus uncovered hitherto unknown connections between the Prat-Gay family and Argentina's last military dictatorship, whose Dirty War resulted in up to 30,000 deaths.

The family's ties to the Tucumán Province sugar industry began in 1936, when Fernando Prat-Gay, grandfather of the current Finance Minister, established the firm. Their Leales mill was one of the smallest in Tucumán until, in 1966, the newly installed dictatorship of Gen. Juan Carlos Onganía shuttered eleven rival sugar mills in the province by eliminating their federal subsidies. Over 50,000 direct layoffs resulted, and an estimated 200,000 Tucumán residents emigrated in the next few years - many of them swelling the ranks of slum inhabitants in Buenos Aires.

"What I never understood at the time," said Hugo Santillán in a Página/12 interview, "is why the Leales mill, one of the smallest and most recently-established in the province, was left out of the plant closure list when much larger and more modern plants were closed. Once Jorge Prat-Gay was appointed Chairman of the National Bank shortly after the 1976 coup, I realized why."

The Prat-Gays had joined the influential Argentine Sugar Commission (CAA) shortly before President Onganía's sugar mill closures in 1966. It was the CAA itself, controlled by the most powerful family in northwest Argentina, the Blaquiers, which submitted the plant closure list to Onganía. These closures became the principal motivation behind the wave of social unrest in Tucumán Province in the early 1970s - unrest which, in turn, prompted the brutal Operation Independence counterinsurgency campaign in 1975.

The military leader of Operation Independence, Gen. Antonio Bussi, was convicted in 2008 for his role in the estimated 2,000 disappearances (including these five). He created a slush fund at the time, the "Patriotic Sugar Fund," which collected nearly $5 million from the province's sugar barons - including $240,000 from the Prat-Gays.

Like their fellow sugar barons, the Prat-Gays also hosted a military encampment on their plantation during Operation Independence, which lasted until September 1977. In the case of the Northern Sugar Company, company housing was vacated to house the encampment, while field workers were forced to sleep in a large tent.

"I lost my job at the sugar mill when the dictatorship took power and was forced into hiding," Santillán recalls. "I couldn't go home, or to my parents' house, because military officers were constantly searching for me and harassing my family."

"That was Jorge Prat-Gay's doing - the man whose son is now Finance Minister. They are the same elitists today that they were then."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.politicargentina.com/notas/201602/12029-investigan-cinco-casos-de-desaparecidos-en-el-ingenio-de-la-familia-prat-gay.html&prev=search

After six nominations, renowned film score composer Ennio Morricone wins his first Academy Award.

Source: Telegraph

Bravo, Commendatore!

Read more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/oscars/12176726/oscars-2016-academy-awards-live.html

Co-founder of Argentina's Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Juanita Meller de Pargament, dies at 101.

Juana Meller de Pargament, an iconic member of the Association of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, passed away yesterday at 101.

Known as “Juanita” to friends and family, she was one of the small group of women who joined the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in their first protest on November 10, 1976 - a few months before the group's official establishment. Meller de Pargament lost her son, Alberto, when a dictatorship death squad abducted that morning. His girlfriend was pregnant and later fled to Brazil, where she gave birth to a baby boy.

Twenty years later, Juanita met her grandson, Javier, by chance. The boy pointed to Alberto Pargament's photo displayed on a placard being carried by Juanita and said that he was his father. “He is my son,” Juanita responded. A test at the National Genetic Database (BNDG) confirmed their kinship.

Pargament last demonstrated in Plaza de Mayo on January 14, shortly after the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo resumed their silent marches after a ten-year hiatus in protest against President Mauricio Macri's dismissive stance on human rights. “As we always say, she did not leave us,” the group's longtime leader Hebe de Bonafini said in a press release yesterday. “She just moved and although her ashes will not be scattered in the square, she will be there every Thursday.”

At: http://buenosairesherald.com/article/209620/farewell-to-juanita

A tribute to Juanita Meller de Pargament on what would be her last birthday, on July 20 last year.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri gets icy reception from his fellow countryman, Pope Francis.

What was Saturday’s meeting between President Mauricio Macri and Pope Francis at the Vatican like? According to Spain’s largest newspaper El País, a “clear distance" that not even Macri's key adviser Jaime Durán Barba can deny.

“Macri traveled to Rome to soften a relation with the Pope that seemed complex already before he arrived in the government. But gestures show things resulted even worst than what it was expected,” the article published today in El País said. “The meeting lasted only 22 minutes, Francis’ face was very serious, cold and the president later admitted that the Pope had confirmed he won't be travelling to Argentina in 2016.”

“There are two factors that weigh the cordiality index during the meetings Pope Francis holds with foreign leaders. One of them is his face during the traditional exchange of gifts. The other one, the duration of the private meeting. And this time both factors refer to a cold meeting, too cold especially for an Argentine pope greeting the president of his country,” the article points out.

Pope Francis, moreover, showed a “serious, calculated” expression, without the “camaraderie or the jokes that have typified Pope Francis (the first Latin American pope) when speaking to someone who, from a religious, cultural or political point of view, differs from his own convictions.”

“The Argentine president insisted the meeting had been ‘very good’; but he and his key adviser, Ecuadorian spinmeister Jaime Durán Barba, know better than anybody that modern politics are about images - and the one that will remain is Francis’ gesture.”

At: http://buenosairesherald.com/article/209636/international-media-highlight-icy-popemacri-encounter

It's a wonder Pope Francis even bothered to greet Macri, who always seems to forget that respect is a two-way street. http://www.democraticunderground.com/110847557

[center]Macri, Pope Francis, and Macri's sweatshop-owning wife, Juliana.[/center]

Argentine Teachers' Union wins major collective bargaining victory against Macri gov't: a 40% raise.

Argentine Education Minister Esteban Bullrich and the country's five major teachers' unions reached an agreement today after two months of collective bargaining negotiations. The unions thus obtained a 40% cost-of-living raise for their members, which between the five unions account for most of Argentina's 700,000 non-university teaching staff.

The head of the National Teachers' Union (CTERA), Sonia Alesso, announced that the minimum monthly starting salary for grade school teachers was raised from 6,060 pesos for the 2015 school year ($650 at the time) to 7,800 pesos ($505), effective immediately, and to 8,500 ($550) by July. The Education Ministry also pledged to increase outlays for the National Teacher Incentive Fund (FONID), a program established in 1999 to reward improved school districts.

The breakthrough was achieved despite the Macri administration's explicit opposition to collective bargaining raises in excess of 25%. It also comes at a time when most provinces and the City of Buenos Aires are still negotiating their own public sector worker contracts, which will inevitably be impacted by these news. Indeed, in the Province of Buenos Aires (the nation's largest) Roberto Baradel, head of the Provincial Teacher's Union (SUTEBA), recently announced that, while negotiations are ongoing, his union will obtain raises of no less than 34%. A similar amount (33-37%) is being negotiated with the City of Buenos Aires Teachers' Union (CEA).

These figures are all the more notable because both districts are governed by the right-wing PRO, the party led by President Mauricio Macri.

CTERA Secretary General Sonia Alesso pointed out, however, that sharp budget cuts enacted (by decree) by the Macri administration have forced most other provinces to limit their teacher raises to 25% - the figure preferred by Macri. Consequently, the start of the school year - scheduled nationwide for Monday, February 29 - may be delayed by strike action in at least four of these provinces. The same, according to SADOP head María Lazzaro, applies to private schools - which educate 29% of Argentina's 11 million non-university students.

The Macri administration, meanwhile, still refuses to begin collective bargaining talks with the National Federation of University Faculty (CONADU).

Labor disputes, far from being limited to teachers' or other public sector unions, have increased sharply since President Mauricio Macri took office in December because inflation, which was already around 25% during former President Cristina Kirchner's second term, rose sharply following Macri's decision to devalue the peso by 40% on December 17.

Macri then ordered the National Census Bureau (INDEC) to stop publishing inflation data - a decision most labor leaders linked to the collective bargaining negotiations that were about to begin nationwide. Private consulting firms, however, have made inflation projections for 2016 averaging 38% - the highest since the 2002 crisis. The CGT, Argentina's largest labor federation, projects that inflation will reach 42% (the highest since 1991).

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-293315-2016-02-26.html&prev=search

A hard pill to swallow for the intensely anti-union Macri, whose advisors have referred to collective bargaining as "fascism" (sound familiar?).

Charles Dutoit returns from 14-year hiatus to conduct Montréal Symphony Orchestra concert.

As part of the 17th edition of the Montréal en Lumière (Montreal in Lights) festival, an exceptional concert of the Montréal Symphony Orchestra was presented on February 18. The event brought together two giants of the classical music world: conductor Charles Dutoit and Argentine pianist Martha Argerich. Dutoit returned as a guest conductor after a 14 year absence.

Above all, this concert offered the opportunity to bring together the OSM and its former Musical Director Charles Dutoit. "I have spent half of my life here in Montréal," recalls Dutoit, who was the Musical Director of the orchestra from 1977 to 2002. During his tenure, the OSM expanded internationally, making more than 30 musical tours and recording 80 albums. This concert was also the conductor's premiere appearance at the Maison Symphonique de Montréal, the OSM's new residence inaugurated in 2011.

For this long awaited return, Charles Dutoit offered a superb selection of works which represent his first successes at the head of the OSM. The concert opened with Berlioz's Roman Carnival, Op. 9. Afterwards, pianist Martha Argerich (who accompanied the OSM's first international tour with Charles Dutoit) joined the orchestra to perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major. Dutoit concluded the event by conducting Stravinsky's Petrushka and Ravel's La Valse.


French President François Hollande joins Estela Carlotto in tribute to Argentine Dirty War victims.

President François Hollande today took part in a memorial ceremony at the former Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) memorial, the site of 5,000 Dirty War era deaths and the most infamous clandestine detention center operated during Argentina’s 1976-83 civil-military dictatorship. The French leader was joined by the President of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Estela Barnes de Carlotto, and the Mayor of Buenos Aires Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.

President Hollande made some brief statements to the press highlighting the efforts made by “men and women who have looked for their sons and grandchildren for so many years,” referring to role played by the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo in the search of their sons and grandchildren who were kidnapped (and in many cases killed) by the military forces during the country’s darkest period.

Hollande concluded the memorial by throwing flowers onto the Río de la Plata from the Memorial Park; an estimated 8,000 victims were thrown alive from military aircraft over the bay from 1976 to 1978. He recalled that “France was also affected” by the brutal dictatorship as 22 victims were French nationals. He said that France “was aware that in Argentina a mass crime had been committed.”

Hollande warned that “barbarity never ends,” praising the significance of the ESMA memorial so that “the whole world knows what a dictatorship has been.”

At: http://buenosairesherald.com/article/209493/hollande-at-esma-memorial-france-aware-mass-crime-committed-in-argentina-


President Hollande at Buenos Aires' Memorial Park with mothers and grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Argentine President Mauricio Macri, a sympathizer of the dictatorship, did not attend.[/center]

Hillary Clinton reviewed Henry Kissinger’s latest book — and loved it.

A former secretary of state had a star turn in the PBS Newshour Democratic debate on Thursday night. No, I don’t mean Hillary Clinton – rather, it was Henry Kissinger, who served as America’s top diplomat under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) took Clinton to task for being close to her predecessor. “In her book and in this last debate, she talked about getting the approval or the support or the mentoring of Henry Kissinger,” the senator said. “Now I find it rather amazing, because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country. I am proud to say Henry Kissinger is not my friend.”

Clinton defended her ties to Kissinger. “I listen to a wide variety of voices who have expertise in various areas,” Clinton responded, and went on to praise Kissinger’s efforts in Asia.

In the fall of 2014, Clinton also reviewed Henry Kissinger’s latest book, “World Order,” for The Washington Post, offering a largely sympathetic view. She hailed the book as “vintage Kissinger.” She also seems comfortable with his overall vision of the challenges facing the United States.

At: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2016/02/12/hillary-clinton-reviewed-henry-kissingers-latest-book-and-loved-it/

Of course she did. Hillary always liked good stories.
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