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Activists mobilize against Argentina's Macri for defunding HIV prevention, treatment programs

Health and LGBT advocacy groups demonstrated in front of the Argentine Health Ministry in Buenos Aires yesterday in order to protest deep cutbacks enacted recently on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatments budgets.

The Health Ministry informed provincial health authorities on January 12, in a letter signed by the head of the Directorate of AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Sergio Maulen, that "due to various difficulties presented in the purchase process, Abacavir/Lamivudine, Darunavir, Zidovudine Syrup, Efavirenz, and Dolutegravir will suffer a delay in their acquisition of approximately one month."

"We ask that the policies of the Ministry of Health and the HIV Directorate be enforced," said Bruno Barletta, of the advocacy group Defense of the Human Rights of AIDS Patients (ADHES). "We are going to seek an answer from the Ministry, where they can reverse the situation so that people can continue with their treatment and sustain their quality of life."

Some 50,000 HIV-positive individuals in Argentina rely on state-subsidized anti-retroviral drugs and medicine, through a National AIDS Program established in 1993 - one of the first in the region.

A 2007 law expanded the program and included the free distribution of condoms, such that by 2015 free condoms were available in 2,900 locations nationwide and 75% of pharmacies reported having a full supply of HIV treatment medicines.

The program's success in curbing the growth of HIV/AIDS led the World Bank to applaud Argentina in 2014 as “the country that stopped AIDS with the word 'free'.”

Progress has slowed under the right-wing Mauricio Macri administration, however. The HIV directorate budget has been cut by approximately 15% a year in real terms since Macri took office two years ago. The Access to Anti-Retroviral Drugs Observatory denounced that the Health Ministry had virtually ceased buying anti-retrovirals as early as 2016.

Activists attribute the policy shift to far-right Health Ministry advisers such as Dr. Abel Albino, whose lucrative Health Ministry consultancy contract was recently renewed.

An abstinence advocate who considers sex "addictive" and homosexuality "a disease," Dr. Albino opposes free distribution of morning-after pills and condoms as "assisted fornication plans," while railing against "the tyranny of masturbation."

This policy shift against prevention and treatment has earned the rebuke of even some of Macri's allies.

Speaking during his popular cable news round table show Intratables, host Santiago del Moro revealed that he had reached out to Health Ministry officials for an explanation. "An administration official told me that it was because of the Church; (prevention programs) bother them," he said.

"It can't believe this! This is 2018!"

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.diarioregistrado.com%2Fsociedad-%2Fmovilizacion-en-reclamo-al-gobierno-por-la-falta-de-medicamentos-para-pacientes-con-vih_a5a6b8f92a4d76178ffbd9441&edit-text=

Demonstrators protest suspension of HIV medication programs. "Health is not a business deal."

Argentina's Macri: "In South America we are all descendants of Europeans"

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier today, Argentine President Mauricio Macri created controversy by declaring that "in South America we are all descendants of Europeans."

The comment was made as part of a conversation regarding a possible alliance between the EU and the Mercosur trade bloc of five South American nations - an alliance Macri staunchly supports but whose negotiations are stalled.

"We are all the children of Europeans in Latin America, mainly, so I think it's natural that we (Europe and Latin America) work together," he added.

Latin America, however, has long been one of the world's most ethnically diverse regions.

A 2005 study by Mexican sociologist Francisco Lizcano Fernández, "Ethnic Composition of the Three Cultural Areas of the American Continent at the Beginning of the 21st Century," estimates that while 36% of Latin Americans are White or "Criollo" (at least half White), some 40% are Indigenous or Mestizo (at least half Indigenous), and 24% are Black or Mulatto (at least half Black). The study is largely based on census data from each nation.

Today's flap at Davos underscores longstanding accusations of racism against Macri himself, as well as his right-wing PRO.

One of his caucus' most vocal congressmen, Alfredo Olmedo, has frequently proposed building a wall along Argentina's northern border as a way to slow largely Indigenous immigration from Bolivia and Paraguay, and often quotes U.S. President Donald Trump.

Olmedo has never been rebuked or censured by his PRO caucus, and while the administration has downplayed his comments, President Macri attempted to enact one of the congressman's proposals in August 2016 by decreeing the creation of a migrant detention center in Buenos Aires.

Facing public outcry, as well as injunctions from affected neighborhood residents, the proposed migrant detention center was never opened.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.infonews.com%2Fnota%2F313122%2Fen-sudamerica-todos-somos-descendientes&edit-text=

Record budget, trade deficits for 2017 in Argentina

Data released this week by Argentina's Statistics Institute (INDEC) yielded record budget and trade deficits for the country in 2017.

The nation's merchandise trade deficit reached $8.5 billion - a sharp reversal from the $2 billion surplus registered in 2016. Budget deficits, in turn, rose by 56% to a record 569 billion pesos ($34.4 billion, at the average 2017 exchange rate).

Excluding Central Bank intra-agency interest income, the federal budget deficit reached 629 billion pesos ($38 billion) - over 6% of GDP.

Revenues and primary spending each rose by 22% in peso terms (a 3% reduction after inflation); but debt interest outlays jumped by 71%. Higher interest outlays far outstripped savings from a 22% reduction in subsidies, whose cutbacks have led to utility rate hikes of 700 to 1400% and public transport hikes of over 200%.

Trade woes

The record trade deficit resulted from sharply higher imports, which rose nearly 20% to $66.9 billion. Imports were significantly higher last year in all major categories, with motor vehicle and parts imports in particular up 41%.

A sharp reduction in taxes on new cars, as well as a recovery in consumer credit, led to a 22% rise in new car and truck sales to 884,000 - the highest since 2013. Imports from Brazil, however, accounted for the entire improvement, such that motor vehicle output slipped 0.1% to 472,000 (the lowest since 2006).

Argentina's trade deficit with Brazil, its largest trading partner, rose by 87% to $8.7 billion. Deficits likewise worsened with China (by 33%, to $7.7 billion); with the U.S. (by 25%, to $3.1 billion); and the EU, which doubled to $2.8 billion.

Exports, in turn, grew 1% to $58.4 billion. This comes despite a slight improvement in export prices and despite around $1.5 billion in tax cuts for agricultural and mining exports - the second such tax cut since the right-wing Mauricio Macri administration took office with staunch support from these sectors two years ago.

Argentine export income remains virtually unchanged from 2015 levels, when a sharp fall in commodity prices affected earnings. Farm, agroindustrial, and mining exports - 64% of the nation's total - had risen by 6% in 2016; but fell by 4% last year.

While 4th quarter balance of payments data is still to be released, the current account deficit likely topped $32 billion when tourist outflows, foreign debt payments, profit offshoring, and other net debits are included.

Argentina has thus far financed this record shortfall by attracting short-term portfolio investment, mostly by borrowing through bond purchases by foreign banks - some $122 billion in the last two years.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.diarioregistrado.com%2Feconomia%2Fel-deficit-financiero-asciende-hasta-629-050-millones-de-pesos_a5a5fe674a4d76178ffbd827f

And: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=es&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tiempoar.com.ar%2Farticulo%2Fview%2F74093%2Fel-2017-cerra-con-da-ficit-comercial-ra-cord&edit-text=

Who gets blamed for the shutdown? Here's what the polls say

The last time the government shut down in 2013, polls showed Republicans took the brunt of the blame.

It looks like history might be repeating.

Pre-shutdown polls from last week showed nearly half of respondents said they’d hold President Donald Trump and/or congressional Republicans responsible for a shutdown, compared to less than one-third who said they would blame Democrats in Congress.

A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, conducted Thursday and Friday also found more voters would blame Republicans in Congress for the government shutdown (41%), than would blame Democrats (36%). Democratic and Republican voters, by wide margins, held the other side responsible. But more independents said they would blame Republicans (34%), than Democrats (27%).

Yet the shutdown is no clean political win for Democrats. Americans don’t necessarily approve of the party's strategy to insist on a legislative solution for undocumented immigrants brought here as children before voting to reopen the government.

In fact, both parties’ immigration stances — Democrats’ efforts to protect the so-called Dreamers and Trump’s insistence on funding a border wall with Mexico — are viewed by voters as less important than keeping the government open.

As of late Saturday, Democrats led by 8 points on the generic ballot according to the RealClearPolitics average.

At: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/21/government-shutdown-2018-polls-blame-353728

Collapse of U.K. construction giant rattles the government

The British government scrambled Monday to contain the damage as the country’s second largest construction firm was forced into liquidation after losing money on a series of contracts and racking up around $1.35 billion in debt.

The bankruptcy of the firm, Carillion, one of the government’s biggest contractors, threatens more than 19,000 jobs in Britain as well as the solvency of hundreds of subcontractors and smaller businesses.

A government-backed pension protection plan is taking over the company’s pension fund, which has an $800 million deficit that analysts say is likely to expand.

The spectacular collapse of what some call a “parastatal” company that has essentially helped the government run day-to-day operations — even managing school lunches and prisons — is raising questions about prominent contracts that continued to be awarded despite obvious red flags and warnings of lower-than-expected profits that began in earnest last summer.

More broadly, the company’s failure encapsulates a long-brewing debate in Britain over whether outsourcing public services to private enterprises is as effective as it has often been touted, and whether some contractors, like certain banks, have become too big to fail. After all, the government has had to step back in to keep public services that had been managed by Carillion running.

At: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/15/world/europe/carillion-bankruptcy-outsourcing-britain.html

Jeremy Corbyn: 'The collapse of Carillion is a watershed moment. It is time to put an end to the rip-off privatisation policies that have done serious damage to our public services and fleeced taxpayers of billions of pounds.'

Chile's regulator orders permanent closure of Barrick's Pascua-Lama mine

Chile’s environmental authority — SMA — has ordered the definitive closure of Barrick Gold’s (TSX, NYSE:ABX) already halted Pascua-Lama project, but lowered the fine for violations to 7 billion pesos ($11.5 million) from the previous $16 million it had charged the company.

"Given the nature and the size of the breaches that the company committed, there is the conviction that total and definitive closure, plus an economic fine, is the most proportional sanction in this case," SMA head Cristián Franz said in a statement (in Spanish).

The environmental authority analyzed 33 charges and issued total closure sanctions for five of them, which include Barrick’s incomplete monitoring of glaciers and discharge of 'acidic fluids' into a river.

The world’s No.1 gold producer was quick to clarify in a statement that the SMA did not revoke Pascua-Lama’s environmental permit (RCA). Instead, it ordered the closure of existing surface facilities on the Chilean side of the project, in addition to certain monitoring activities.

The measure doesn't affect Argentine side of the project.

If it ever comes into production, Pascua-Lama, which has been shuttered since 2013, would generate about 800,000 to 850,000 ounces of gold and 35 million ounces of silver per year in the first full five years of its 25-year life.

At: http://www.mining.com/chiles-regulator-orders-permanent-closure-barricks-pascua-lama-mine/

The Andes mountains, surrounding the Pascua-Lama mine on the Chilean-Argentine border.

Despite rate hikes of 1400%, Argentines suffer 66% more power outages

A report published by Argentina's Energy, Technology, and Infrastructure for Development Observatory (OETEC) revealed that power outages affected 66% more Buenos Aires metro area users last December compared to the same month last year.

The average daily number of affected metro area users, despite slightly milder temperatures, rose from 82,891 in December 2016 to 137,266 last month - equivalent to roughly 400,000 people. The Buenos Aires metro area is served by two private power companies, Edenor and Edesur, with a total of 5.3 million household and non-residential customers.

The outages, which so far in January have affected an average of 120,000 users daily, have renewed calls for Energy Minister Juan José Araguren, a longtime Shell executive listed in November's Paradise Papers scandal, to resign.

OETEC notes that December 2017 temperatures were an average of 2 °F cooler than the same time last year. Daytime highs in Buenos Aires exceeded 82 °F during 17 days last month, compared to 24 days the previous December.

While power outages are common in Argentine cities during the Southern Hemisphere summer months, their much higher incidence this summer has become especially contentious in light of massive rate increases authorized by the right-wing Mauricio Macri administration.

Residential rates since December 2015, when Macri took office, have risen by an average of 1400% from .08 to 1.28 pesos (6.8 U.S. cents) per Kwh - and will have risen by 1700% by February. Electricity consumption has fallen by 4.6% over the last two years as households and industries have reduced usage.

The Macri administration defends sharp rate hikes for power and other utilities as cost-saving measures designed to incentivize investment by utility firms.

But while revenues at Edenor and Edesur have ballooned in 2017 to $1.5 billion and $1.2 billion respectively from around $420 million each in 2015, rate deregulation has also brought about much higher power supply and distribution costs.

This - plus the loss of $1 billion in federal subsidies between them - has led to a two-thirds decline in profits at Edenor, and an outright reversal from a $146 million gain in 2015 to a $54 million loss at Edesur in the first 9 months - a $200 million difference.

The resulting decline in investment led to what the OETEC report calls a "marked deterioration in the quality of service at Edenor and Edesur."

Maurizio Bezzeccheri, president of Edesur (run by Italy's Enel) acknowledged the problem in an interview with the conservative news daily La Nación. Marcelo Mindlin, whose Pampa Energía conglomerate controls Edenor and who's a close business associate of President Macri, declined to comment.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.oetec.org%2Fnota.php%3Fid%3D3024%26area%3D1&edit-text=

A pragmatist in partisan times: Ralph Northam becomes Virginias 73rd governor

Ralph Shearer Northam took the oath of office Saturday as Virginia’s 73rd governor, invoking the state’s “complex” history of both slavery and patriotic leadership to call for a new “Virginia way” forward.

“This unique heritage endows us with a responsibility to shape the future, to leave this place better than we found it,” said Northam, a 58-year-old Democrat.

A former state senator and lieutenant governor, Northam succeeds his friend and benefactor, Terry McAuliffe, after leading a wave election last fall in which Democrats made dramatic gains in the state legislature.

Although his win was powered by Democratic resistance to President Trump, Northam issued a call for civility before some 4,000 guests gathered in the cold outside the state’s historic Capitol building.

Calling on lawmakers to refer to their “moral compass,” Northam noted the disparities of Virginia’s past and present. Just across the city, he said, Patrick Henry — a Founding Father and former Virginia governor — had called for liberty or death atop a hill while human beings were sold as property at its foot.

Today, residents of low-income neighborhoods on one side of the Capitol might expect to live only 63 years, he said, while affluent people in the other direction enjoy life spans 20 years longer.

At: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/a-pragmatist-in-partisan-times-ralph-northam-becomes-virginias-73-governor/2018/01/13/86982592-f7d4-11e7-a9e3-ab18ce41436a_story.html?utm_term=.bd0d6e6ad533

The doctor is in the house: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and his wife, Pam, dance at their inaugural ball.

Sen. Patrick Leahy urges State Dept. to grant former Argentine Foreign Minister Timerman a visa

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy issued a statement urging the State Department to reverse its decision to deny former Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman a visa.

Timerman, 64, had scheduled a flight to New York on January 9 to seek treatment for liver cancer. He was, however, informed upon boarding that the United States Government had denied him entry.

Leahy noted Timerman's efforts “to create an international commission of jurists with powers to review evidence against Iranians accused by the Argentine judiciary of responsibility for the bombing, and to interrogate some suspects,” as well as his delicate health.

Timerman has been under house arrest since December 14 on the orders of Argentine Federal Judge Claudio Bonadío on “treason” charges. The treason charges were overturned on appeal, though a separate charge of concealment was upheld.

The charges stem from the Memorandum of Understanding Timerman signed with Iran in 2013 for a joint investigation of the AMIA bombing, a still-unsolved 1994 incident in which 85 died in a Buenos Aires Jewish community center.

Timerman noted, however, that before the agreement “the investigation into the attack was so flawed and corrupt that in 2004 the entire trial was annulled and the judge who led it was put under investigation. Judge Bonadío — who now accuses me of treason — led the investigation into that cover-up but was removed from it in 2005.”

Bonadío's charges rest on allegations that Timerman petitioned Interpol to lift Red Notices against Iranian officials implicated in the AMIA attack - a claim rejected by the former Secretary General of Interpol, Ronald Noble.

The three year-old claim, dismissed by Argentine courts in seven instances - including two appeals - was revived on December 6 by the judge.

“A biased Judge Bonadío report cannot change the truth,” Noble tweeted. “INTERPOL was never asked by Argentina or Timerman to remove the AMIA Red Notices!” He offered to testify in Argentina to that effect.

CELS, a prominent Argentine human rights organization, condemned the “use of the penal system to persecute political opponents” by the right-wing Mauricio Macri administration.

“Sadly, it is not the first time my family has been a victim of political persecution,” he said. “Forty years ago, my father, the journalist Jacobo Timerman, was kidnapped and tortured in clandestine centers run by my country’s last dictatorship.”

Senator Leahy was instrumental in securing the elder Timerman's release in 1979.

At: https://www.leahy.senate.gov/press/statement-on-hector-timerman

Former Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman

Former Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou freed after appeals court slams "unfounded" ruling

Former Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou was freed yesterday following 70 days in prison after a federal appeals court overturned his detention as "utterly unfounded."

Boudou was detained at his home on November 3 but was not under formal investigation by the courts. Judge Ariel Lijo reportedly explained to him that he "was given no choice" - in reference to the right-wing Mauricio Macri administration.

Boudou, 55, had served as social security agency director, economy minister, and vice president in the center-left administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Macri's predecessor and chief political rival.

His nationalization of bankrupt private pension funds during the 2008 global crisis was widely credited with saving the nation's pension system; but his 2011-15 tenure as vice president was dogged by influence peddling allegations over the 2010 federal bailout of a printing contractor.

His recent arrest was on no specific charges, but instead on a presumption of “possible future obstruction of justice” - a concept so novel in Argentine jurisprudence, Judge Lijo could only cite the arrest of Congressman Julio de Vido, a another prominent former Kirchner official, on the same grounds a week earlier as precedent.

"The detention was utterly unfounded," the court stated in its ruling, noting that the defendant has complied with all court orders.

"The judge (Lijo), in 70 days, has not so much as issued a clear indictment - such that he either had no probable cause with which to link the accused to the alleged crimes, or had no real urgency to act as the judge claims."

Both Boudou and Congressman de Vido, who's 67 and diabetic, were denied the customary benefit of house arrest - a benefit Macri and close allies like Congresswoman Elisa Carrió, who spearheaded de Vido's expulsion from the House, have been actively seeking for the 733 officers convicted of human rights atrocities during the 1976-83 dictatorship.

"What matters is what's at stake for the country," Boudou said. "We are dealing with a system that is overturning the presumption of innocence and has more to do with denigration than with justice. The judiciary is committing abuses."

Boudou joined his fiancée, Mexican-born Mónica García de la Fuente, at their Buenos Aires home, where she's expecting twins.


Former Vice President Amado Boudou leaves jail. The presumption of innocence, he said, is being overturned.
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