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peppertree's Journal
peppertree's Journal
March 24, 2018

Argentine foreign debt rose by a record $52 billion in 2017

Data released this week by Argentina's Economy Ministry show that the country's foreign debt rose by a record $52 billion in 2017 to $233 billion, a 28.6% increase and a new high.

Most of the rise resulted from higher government foreign debt, which grew by nearly $40 billion to $161 billion - a one-third increase.

Much of the new debt went to finance a record $30.8 billion current account deficit - the product of an $8.5 billion merchandise trade deficit, as well as $22.3 billion lost by way of invisibles such as foreign travel, shipping and other business expenses, and mounting debt service charges themselves.

The trend was fueled by record trade and budget deficits for Argentina in 2017.

The record trade deficit came despite steep tax cuts worth $4 billion granted by decree to the agricultural and mining sectors by President Mauricio Macri within days of taking office in December 2015.

Despite Macri's own assurances that the costly tax cuts would be an "incentive," export levels remain at their 2015 levels, while imports have surged by 20%. Foreign debt mas meanwhile risen by $80 billion since then.

LEBACs and bicyles

The budget shortfall - $38 billion - was in turn largely financed domestically though short-term, high-interest treasury bills known as LEBACs.

The cost of servicing LEBACs pushed federal interest charges up by 71% last year to $13.6 billion - a figure similar to spending on utility and fare subsidies for consumers, which the Macri officials deem a "distortion" and "wasteful."

The policy of paying outsized yields to speculators, and then taking on debt to finance the transfer of profits overseas - known in Argentina as the "financial bicycle" - has drawn comparisons to the last dictatorship's 1979-81 bubble, which led to a collapse after insiders "bicycled" some $20 billion in profits overseas.

Macri officials and the IMF nevertheless remain optimistic.

Visiting Buenos Aires this week for the G-20 Summit of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Presidents, IMF head Christine Lagarde dismissed concerns that Argentina's foreign debt was rising too quickly.

"Foreign debt reached 35% of GDP," Largarde noted. "It's a level that frankly does not imply too heavy a burden for the economy."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=es&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.infonews.com%2Fnota%2F314260%2Feterna-por-la-constante-toma-del-gobierno&edit-text=

March 21, 2018

Argentina's Macri linked to Cambridge Analytica

Documentation has emerged linking Argentine President Mauricio Macri and Cambridge Analytica, the London-based consultancy firm recently revealed by Britain's Channel 4 to have illegally influenced over 200 elections worldwide.

Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), interfered in recent federal elections in Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India, Argentina, and the U.S. - where they allegedly obtained data from 50 million Facebook accounts used to influence the 2016 elections.

Similar tactics were reportedly used in Argentina, which, with over 13 million users, is Facebook's third-largest market in the region and the 13th in the world.

The firm's links with Macri were reportedly established by its head, Alexander Nix, through Argentine businessman Juan Pepa, with whom he shared ownership in a London-based firm Rubirosa Ltd. as well as an interest in polo.

Nix became a patron of the Pro Alvear Foundation, created by the Pepa family for the promotion of Intendente Alvear and other towns in largely rural La Pampa Province. Documents show that in 2008 the NGO thanked Nix for "helping us organize the annual fundraising event" in London.

Among the other patrons listed by the non-profit as of 2009 is the current Argentine president, Mauricio Macri.

Macri, who was mayor of Buenos Aires at the time, had already begun enlisting support for a presidential run. SCL opened an office in Buenos Aires (since closed) in 2013 - the year Macri launched his 2015 presidential bid.

Amid a massive social media campaign, including extensive use of fake news, the right-wing Macri was elected president by a 2.7% margin - the narrowest runoff victory in Argentine presidential history.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=es&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.eldestapeweb.com%2Fescandalo-sale-la-luz-el-vinculo-macri-la-filtracion-facebook-n41156&edit-text=

Macri and fellow right-wing figures celebrate his narrow runoff victory in 2015; Alexander Nix was not on stage.
March 21, 2018

Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigns

Source: Wall Street Journal

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a market-friendly leader and one of Washington’s allies in Latin America, resigned Wednesday after a secretly recorded video appeared to show his allies trying to buy off an opposition lawmaker to sway a coming impeachment vote, two officials said.

Kuczynski, 79, is stepping down just 19 months after taking office in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing over his past business ties with Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. He was expected to be impeached and thrown out of office on Thursday by lawmakers.

The scandal leading up to his resignation has rocked Peru, which for years has been one of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies and a darling of Wall Street.

Vice President Martín Vizcarra, currently serving also as Peru’s ambassador to Canada, is expected to take over the government.

Read more: https://www.wsj.com/articles/perus-president-pedro-pablo-kuczynski-resigns-1521661203

Outgoing President Pedro Kuczynski (right) and his successor, Vice President Martín Vizcarra.
March 21, 2018

Report shows missing Argentine sub had been sent on a Falklands patrol mission

Documents subpoenaed by Argentina's Congress revealed that the submarine ARA San Juan, which disappeared on November 15, had been sent on a mission to monitor ships and aircraft in and around the disputed Falkland Islands.

The confidential Argentine Navy report, dated one month before the San Juan's disappearance, was submitted by Marcos Peña, Chief of Staff to President Mauricio Macri.

The report details the complete mission of ARA San Juan with handwritten coordinates - including two locations just miles off the eastern coast of the Falklands.

One of the specified operations coordinates (52° 00'S 57° 57'W) is 20 miles south of the capital, Stanley. The other (52° 20'S 57° 57' W) is around 23 miles further south, and within 30 miles of East Falkland.

The objective of the mission was stated as "the location, identification, photographic/film registration of ships, oil tankers, research vessels of other flags, etc., that were unloading with a fishing vessel."

Secondary objectives included "verifying the compliance of agreements signed by both countries, regarding the obligation to report movements of ships and aircraft in particular areas."

The Falkland Islands, disputed by Argentina and the U.K. since 1833, have for decades been alleged to serve as a base for seafood poaching off Argentine waters - extended to 350 miles by a 2016 UN ruling.

The relation of the ARA San Juan with the Falklands had been denied in repeated opportunities by the Navy and Defense Minister Oscar Aguad. Family members of the victims have repeatedly called on Aguad to resign.

Forty-four crew members died in still-undetermined circumstances.

"This document was not seen by the relatives," a parent of one of the victims said. "They told us in writing what the OP was, and the briefing they gave us coincided with what my son told me - but not with this corrected data."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.infonews.com%2Fnota%2F314158%2Fsegun-un-informe-confidencial-el-san-juan

The ARA San Juan in Buenos Aires last May. Both Navy officers shown were among the 44 killed.
March 20, 2018

Amnesty International denounces Macri administration for cyberattacks against opponents

A report released today by Amnesty International concluded that journalists and human rights advocates critical of the right-wing Mauricio Macri administration have been the target of coordinated cyberattacks by government-sponsored trolls.

The conclusions are based on a survey of Twitter activity in Argentina between October 22 and November 14, at the height of political controversies ranging from mid-term election results, to Macri's labor law deregulation and pension cutback proposals, to the contentious autopsy results of slain artist and activist Santiago Maldonado.

"The modus operandi of cyber attacks against journalists and human rights advocates reveals coordination between government officials and figures authorized by said officials to act as enablers," the report stated.

"In the first stages the future attack is framed. Government officials are not initially exposed - with exceptions - but trolls and bots are deployed that combine content generated by genuine users, with retweeting and Faveo activities aimed at magnifying the attack though automated and semi-automated means."

Fake news, the report noted, is used most at the peak of the attacks.

Among the journalists most targeted or this work were María O'Donnell, Edi Zunino, and Reynaldo Sietecase - as well as Hugo Alconada Mon, who though a senior writer at the typically pro-government La Nación, has been critical of the Macri administration over its numerous corruption and tax evasion scandals.

Others targeted include the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, and Amnesty International's own director, Mariela Belski, who was the target of a fake news campaign after inviting Sergio Maldonado, Santiago's brother, to give a lecture at Amnesty's Buenos Aires offices.

"Attacks on criticism," Belski noted, "threaten the free flow of information, ideas and opinions, and violates freedom of expression."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pagina12.com.ar%2F102613-ciberataques-a-los-que-critican-a-cambiemos&edit-text=

Mariela Belski, executive director of Amnesty International's Argentina office
March 16, 2018

House arrest revoked for convicted Argentine Dirty War torturer Miguel Etchecolatz

Former police inspector Miguel Etchecolatz, sentenced to life in prison in 2006 for crimes against humanity during Argentina's Dirty War in the 1970s, was returned to prison by a federal court ruling issued today.

Etchecolatz, 88, had been granted a transfer to house arrest on December 27 over the objections of prosecutors, human rights groups, as well as penitentiary service doctors, who determined the convict to be in excellent health.

His lawyers had alleged that Etchecolatz found prison "detrimental to his health." Federal Appeals Judge Mariano Borinsky determined however that the December ruling contradicted medical reports, was "based on contrived assertions lacking in evidence," and therefore "violated due process."

Granting Etchecolatz house arrest, Judge Borinsky ruled, was a "judicial scandal."

Etchecolatz oversaw 21 detention camps in the southern suburbs of Buenos Aires and the city of La Plata. He was responsible, among many other atrocities, for the infamous "Night of the Pencils" raid in 1976, involving the disappearance of 11 high schoolers.

He was convicted of 91 charges of torture, and in 2006 was sentenced to life in prison. The star witness in his trial, 76 year-old Jorge Julio López, was himself abducted days after testifying against Etchecolatz, and remains missing.

Human rights groups have noted that since the right-wing Mauricio Macri administration took office in late 2015, 164 convicted Dirty War perpetrators (one in six) have been granted house arrest. Some have reportedly violated the terms of the arrest - most recently Julio Méndez, who was spotted on March 14 traveling to scenic Tandíl, some 200 mi south of Buenos Aires.

Macri's Justice Minister, Germán Garavano, was revealed to have held secret talks with Argentina's most prominent Dirty War apologist, Cecilia Pando, in April 2016 to discuss the feasibility of granting Dirty War convicts the benefit of house arrest.

"We're used to this from this administration," Julio López's son, Rubén, said. "But for those of us who survived, this is an obligation."

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%2F314120%2Fla-justicia-le-revoco-la-prision-domiciliaria&edit-text=

Etchecolatz threatens human rights advocates during a 2014 trial. Today's ruling returns him to prison.
March 16, 2018

Peruvian Congress approves impeachment trial against president

Peru's Congress has voted by a wide margin to allow impeachment proceedings to begin against President Pedro Kuczynski over his ties to the Brazilian construction giant implicated in Latin America's biggest corruption scandal.

It's the second time lawmakers are threatening the former Wall Street investor with removal.

Opposition leaders attempted to impeach Kuczynski last year after an investigation revealed Odebrecht had made $782,000 in payments to his private consulting firm more than a decade earlier.

Kuczynski narrowly avoided being voted out after a small opposition faction including the son of then-jailed former President Alberto Fujimori abstained.

Days later, Kuczynski pardoned Fujimori from a 25-year jail sentence for human rights abuses committed during his decade-long rule.

At: http://www.batimes.com.ar/news/latin-america/peruvian-congress-approves-impeachment-trial-against-president.phtml

Peru's Congress, legislative chamber.
March 13, 2018

US scientists rescued in Antarctica by Argentina icebreaker

Source: Buenos Aires Times

A group of U.S. scientists who were stranded in an ice-bound island off the northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula were rescued Sunday by an Argentine icebreaker, US and Argentine authorities announced Monday.

The four scientists and a support staff member, who were conducting research at Joinville Island, were airlifted by helicopter to the Almirante Irizar icebreaker.

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said that the U.S. icebreaker Laurence M. Gould was unable to carry out the evacuation because the ice barrier was too dense on the Weddell Sea in front of the island that is south of the Argentine mainland. The US Antarctic Program then requested assistance from Argentina.

Argentina’s Armed Forces said that the five are in good health and will be transferred to the US vessel when weather conditions improve.

Read more: http://www.batimes.com.ar/news/argentina/us-scientists-rescued-in-antarctica-by-argentina-icebreaker.phtml

The icebreaker Almirante Irizar
March 12, 2018

With over 29,000 homicides, 2017 was Mexico's most violent year on record

Mexico has recorded its highest homicide rate in years, with the government’s interior ministry reporting there were 29,168 murders in 2017, more than in 2011 at the peak of Mexico’s drug cartel-stoked violence.

The death toll is Mexico’s highest since the government began keeping records in 1997, and shot past 2011’s tally of 27,213 homicides, the Associated Press reports. According to the Interior Department, Mexico’s homicide rate this past year equated with 20.5 murders per 100,000 residents.

The homicide rate is still significantly below those of Brazil and Colombia (both 27), Honduras (42.8), Venezuela (57), or El Salvador (60.8), AP reports.

The figure, however, is based on the number of police investigations, rather than individual deaths, Mexico security analyst Alejandro Hope noted - meaning the total real rate is likely far higher.

“The violence in Mexico has many causes. Drug trafficking is one of them, of course, but it is not the only one,” Hope told AP.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had campaigned pledging to end the epidemic of drug cartel violence that plagued the country between 2006 and 2012; but his administration saw only a temporary dip in homicides between 2012 and 2014.

At: http://time.com/5111972/mexico-murder-rate-record-2017/

March 8, 2018

Oscar for 'A Fantastic Woman' highlights Chile's long battle for LGBTI rights

The Oscars success of Sebastián Lelio’s film, 'A Fantastic Woman', couldn’t be more opportune in its timing.

Released in February 2017, the movie’s impact has been gradually gathering pace. Since being awarded the Silver Bear for best screenplay at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2017, the film has won a dozen awards and been nominated for plenty more, including for best picture in a foreign language at the Golden Globes.

But it is the Academy Award that brings with it the most international recognition – and this may be critical for gender politics in Chile, where the outgoing president, Michelle Bachelet, has vowed to pass a Gender Identity Bill before she leaves office on March 11 this year.

The incoming president elect, Sebastián Piñera, meanwhile, has already pledged to block the bill’s passage through Congress when he takes office.

"My ID has a name on it that's not my name," trans actress Daniela Vega, the star of the Academy Award-winning film, said. "Because the country I was born in doesn't allow me that."

A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantástica) trails Marina, a trans woman – played by Daniela Vega – in the days following her partner’s sudden death.

It places particular emphasis on her exclusion from the funeral and wake; but also presents some of the brutality she faces at the hands of her lover’s family members and the police. As such, the film gives some insight into the violence that trans people face in their daily lives in socially conservative countries such as Chile.

Prior to Chile's passing its anti-discrimination law in 2012 and a law recognising same-sex unions in 2015, the country had been considered a laggard in relation to advancing LGBTQ rights, in comparison to its more progressive neighbours. Argentina had passed similar legislation in 1987 and 2010, respectively.

At: http://theconversation.com/oscar-for-a-fantastic-woman-highlights-chiles-long-battle-for-lgbti-rights-92956

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, with the director and cast of 'A Fantastic Woman'. Her incoming successor, Sebastián Piñera, has pledged to block the Gender Identity Bill when he takes office next week.

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