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Investigation announced in Argentina over Macri-era IMF bailout

Argentine President Alberto Fernández announced a federal probe into a record, $56 billion credit line entered into by his right-wing predecessor, Mauricio Macri, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2018.

Addressing a Joint Session of Congress on Monday, Fernández announced “a criminal complaint aimed at determining the authors and participants in the greatest fraudulent administration and embezzlement of public funds in memory.”

“To indebt the country in this way - only to enable the most astounding capital flight in our history, and behind the back of this Congress - cannot be seen in any other way,” he affirmed.

The bailout was sought by then-President Mauricio Macri after a carry-trade debt bubble known locally as the “financial bicycle” collapsed in April 2018.

Agreed to on June 8, 2018, $44 billion was ultimately borrowed from the “high access stand-by” facility by July 2019.

Most of the IMF loan was lost to speculative capital flight however - part of an estimated $86 billion lost to offshoring out of $104 billion in net new public foreign debt during Macri's 2015-19 term.

“Article VI of the IMF states that no member may use the Fund's general resources to face capital flight,” Fernández pointed out as an opposition candidate in 2019.

He accused the IMF of “financing Macri's campaign by indebting Argentina.”

The bailout was reportedly backed by then-President Donald Trump, who shares both a political affinity and longstanding friendship with Macri, 62.

Both were later defeated for re-election.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&u=https://www.pagina12.com.ar/326880-el-banco-central-dio-el-primer-paso-para-abrir-la-querella-c

Former IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and then-Argentine President Mauricio Macri smile during an Atlantic Council dinner in New York in 2018.

The $56 billion credit line granted by Lagarde to Macri was the largest in the Fund's history and made up 61% of its loan portfolio at the time - leading Argentine critics to refer to the IMF as the “International Macri Fund.”

The practice of taking on foreign debt to finance capital flight - similar to the debt crisis that bankrupted Argentina during its last dictatorship in the early 1980s - has now prompted a federal probe.

France's Sarkozy convicted of corruption, sentenced to jail

A Paris court on Monday found French former President Nicolas Sarkozy guilty of corruption and influence peddling and sentenced him to one year in prison and a two-year suspended sentence.

The 66-year-old politician, who was president from 2007 to 2012, was convicted for having tried to illegally obtain information from a senior magistrate in 2014 about a legal action in which he was involved.

The court said Sarkozy will be entitled to request to be detained at home with an electronic bracelet.

Sarkozy will face another trial later this month along with 13 other people on charges of illegal financing of his 2012 presidential campaign.

At: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/frances-sarkozy-convicted-of-corruption-sentenced-to-jail/ar-BB1e7i3h

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy leaving a Paris courtroom today at the conclusion of his recent trial for corruption and influence peddling.

He was sentenced to one year in prison - but will likely be granted house arrest.

Argentina's economy contracted 10% in 2020

Argentina's economy shrank by 10% in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to initial estimates published this week by the INDEC statistics bureau.

The economy fell by 2.2% in December, from the same month last year - although GDP was up by 0.9% from November.

December was the eighth straight month of recovery from the lows registered in April - when the economy was badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic and strict lockdown imposed by the government to tackle the spread of the Covid-19.

A year to forget

The 2020 recession was the worst since the country's post-convertibility crisis in 2002.

This also marked the third straight year of recession in Argentina - with GDP falling 14.1% since a debt bubble collapse known as the "Macrisis" began in April 2018.

The worst-hit sectors were tourism (down a staggering 48.6%), and community, social and personal services (down 37.5%).

Construction fell 25.3% - though the sector recorded 6.3% growth in December, from a year earlier.

Manufacturing shrank 7.8% - but was likewise up 4.5% in December. New car and truck sales plunged to the lowest level since 2004: down 25.5%; though only 3.6% in December.

Only two sectors - finance (up 2.1%) and public utilities (up 0.8%) - grew in 2020.

Agriculture slid 6.8% from record harvests in 2019, with exports down 13.2% by volume due mainly to lower global demand.

The country's trade surplus thus slipped to $12.5 billion, from a near-record $16 billion in 2019 - leading to a loss in central bank reserves of $5.4 billion as foreign debt service again outstripped trade surpluses.

Stimulus measures helped push federal budget deficits up 180% (97% in real terms) to 2.3 trillion pesos ($31 billion), though the successful refinance of $66 billion in foreign debt eased interest outlays by 25% (47% in real terms).

Inflation slowed by one third to 36.1% in 2020 - while real wages slid 2.3% (after falling nearly 20% in 2018-19). Unemployment (11.7%) rose to its highest in 15 years.

At: https://www.batimes.com.ar/news/economy/indec-estimates-economy-contracted-10-in-2020.phtml

Construction cranes rise from a work site in Buenos Aires.

Though the 10% fall in Argentina's GDP was the sharpest since the 2002 crisis, a steady recovery since the depths of the Covid-19 lockdown in April led to signs of growth by December - particularly in construction.

Biden's 36-year-old economist has her eye on an equal recovery

In a one-bedroom apartment above a Washington neighborhood of bars, clubs and brunch spots, Janelle Jones is busy trying to fix the U.S. labor market -- one economic report and one Mario Kart race at a time.

The Biden administration appointed the 36-year-old as the Department of Labor’s chief economist, a little-known position that will influence the futures of millions of people.

In between wading through endless spreadsheets, enduring hours of video meetings and analyzing reams of economic data, she picks up the video-game controller to clear her head.

The first Black woman in the job, Jones is the economist for America’s workers at a time when 10 million are jobless and entire industries are hollowed out by the pandemic recession.

Raised in Ohio’s Rust Belt, graduating from college amid the 2008 financial crisis and now in Washington’s circle of power, she has intimate knowledge of the U.S. economy’s complex strata.

At: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-02-26/biden-economist-janelle-jones-has-her-eye-on-an-equal-recovery

Janelle Jones, chief economist at the Labor Department under President Joe Biden, with John Schmitt, an economist and vice president at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) - a mentor and someone she calls her “work dad.”

The 36 year-old Spelman College graduate is the first Black woman to hold the influential post.

“My role here will be to give a lens to union workers, low-wage workers, different types of workers who aren’t usually centered.”

Joe Biden signs climate directives, announces April summit

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed a series of orders aimed at quelling rising global temperatures and announced that the United States will host a climate summit in April.

The recently inaugurated president said the US had to take a leading role in the fight against climate change.

Biden, who signed an executive order on his first day in office to have the US rejoin the Paris climate agreement, has appointed several environmental experts to key roles within his administration - such as former secretary of state John Kerry as his special climate envoy, a position that now holds a seat on the National Security Council.

At: https://www.dw.com/en/us-joe-biden-signs-climate-directives-announces-april-summit/a-56365062

President Joe Biden signing a series of orders on Wednesday aimed at addressing global climate change. He announced that the United States will host a climate summit with world leaders on Earth Day, April 22.

"Just like we need a unified national response to COVID-19, we desperately need a unified national response to the climate crisis because there is a climate crisis," Biden said.

Fort Monroe named UNESCO Slave Route Project site

Fort Monroe, the site of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English North America in 1619, has been named a UNESCO Slave Route Project site.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the international designation from the United Nations on Friday at Fort Monroe, which came during the middle of Black History Month.

The UNESCO initiative to share the history of slavery launched in 1994 in Ouidah, Benin.

At: https://www.wavy.com/news/local-news/hampton/northam-to-make-announcement-at-fort-monroe-on-friday/

Held to ransom: Pfizer demands governments gamble with state assets to secure vaccine deal

Pfizer has been accused of “bullying” Latin American governments in Covid vaccine negotiations and has asked some countries to put up sovereign assets, such as embassy buildings and military bases, as a guarantee against the cost of any future legal cases, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal.

In the case of one country, demands made by the pharmaceutical giant led to a three-month delay in a vaccine deal being agreed. For Argentina and Brazil, no national deals were agreed at all.

Any hold-up in countries receiving vaccines means more people contracting Covid-19 and potentially dying (over 457,000 Covid-19 deaths have been recoded thus far in South America).

Officials from Argentina and the other Latin American country, which cannot be named as it has signed a confidentiality agreement with Pfizer, said the company’s negotiators demanded additional indemnity against any civil claims citizens might file if they experienced adverse effects after being inoculated.

In Argentina and Brazil, Pfizer asked for sovereign assets to be put up as collateral for any future legal costs.

At: https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2021-02-23/held-to-ransom-pfizer-demands-governments-gamble-with-state-assets-to-secure-vaccine-deal

The first shipment of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine arrive in Argentina on December 29.

The country has originally sought vaccine supplies from Pfizer, and was the first in the region to participate in Phase 3 trials in August.

But authorities from Argentina and Brazil - normally at odds ideologically - revealed that Pfizer later demanded not only legal immunity from any adverse effects; but the placing of government buildings and other assets as guarantees against potential legal liability.

The demands led to an end of negotiations between the two South American countries and Pfizer.

Spain commemorates 40th anniversary of the failed "Tejerazo" coup

Spain commemorates this Tuesday the 40th anniversary of the attempted coup on February 23, 1981 - though without the presence of King Emeritus Juan Carlos I, a key actor in stopping the coup and promoting the democratic transition.

The Congress of Deputies, the scene of this attempt, will hold a solemn ceremony at 1:00 p.m. (12:00 GMT) in which King Felipe VI will take the floor, accompanied by the Socialist head of government Pedro Sánchez.

The great absentee will be the father of the current monarch, Juan Carlos I, 83, who abdicated in 2014 and went into exile in the United Arab Emirates in August due to growing suspicions about the opaque origin of his fortune.

The situation highlights the deterioration of the image of the monarch since, 40 years ago, Lieutenant Colonel of the Civil Guard Antonio Tejero assaulted the Congress of Deputies, commanding about 200 men, in an image recorded for the history.

At that time, six years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, Spain was on a democratic course that a group of right-wing soldiers wanted to stop.

From the Zarzuela palace, King Juan Carlos, only 43 years old at the time, played a decisive role in stopping the attempt.

Tejero and his men finally agreed to surrender on February 24 at noon, freeing the deputies and ministers who had been held for 18 hours.

At: https://www.explica.co/spain-remembers-the-40-years-of-the-failed-coup-without-juan-carlos-i/

Re-enactment of the 1981 Spanish coup attempt known as the "Tejerazo" - in reference to fascist Colonel of the Civil Guard Antonio Tejero.

The failed putsch was followed by another plot ahead of the 1982 election, won by the Socialist Party.

The exact extent of conspiracy, which included influential right-wing media and other civilians, is still not fully understood.

Anti-Bolsonaro protests held in several cities in Brazil

Protests against President Jair Bolsonaro were reported in several Brazilian cities on Sunday, February 21st.

The rallies were coordinated by the Brasil Popular and Povo Sem Medo (A People Without Fear) organizations and supported by social groups, political parties and labor unions.

Demands included a guarantee of the Covid-19 vaccine for the whole population and the reinstatement of emergency aid, in addition to Bolsonaro's impeachment.

In Brasília, the motorcade began around 11 AM and took up three lanes of the Ministries Esplanade. In Recife, drivers took off from Macaxeira Square towards the Boa Viagem neighborhood.

Brazil has so far recorded over 10 million Covid-19 cases, and nearly 250,000 deaths. Bolsonaro, 65, a Covid-19 survivor, periodically visits crowded beaches, engaging with supporters without masks and without social distancing.

A recent poll by CNT shows Bolsonaro's job approval down sharply since October to 32.9%.

At: https://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/politics-and-societysocietybrazillife/anti-bolsonaro-protests-sweep-across-several-cities-in-brazil/

Protesters inflate an effigy of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia during Sunday's nationwide protests against the right-wing leader.

Bolsonaro's handling of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, as well as his open disregard despite having been a survivor himself, have sparked outrage in the South American giant of 214 million.

Alberto Fernandez, an unlikely leader in Latin America

Presiding over a country in distress in the third year of a severe recession and struggling to renegotiate catastrophic international debt will usually eliminate the desire for a larger international role.

But these are not usual times for Argentina’s practical centre-left leaders.

Alberto Fernández, 61, has established itself as a natural leader in Latin America, devastated by the coronavirus, plagued by serious social and economic problems, and lacking international tycoons.

The president spelled out his message last month virtually at Davos World Economic Forum. He said the pandemic was “a wake-up call to build a common home on different foundations.”

Fernández visited the conservative leaders of Chile and Uruguay, bridging left and right, while celebrating the recent victory by socialists in elections in Bolivia - whose return to democracy after a year of dictatorship Fernández was given substantial credit for by both deposed President Evo Morales and Bolivia's new leader, Luis Arce.

This week, Fernández will visit Mexico as the only Latin American leader invited by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to commemorate Mexico's Bicentennial.

This diplomatic effort is timely. The Biden administration has provided Latin America with a new agenda, leaving Trump-era pressure on Cuban and Venezuelan immigrants and regime change, embracing the fight for human rights, environmental protection and against corruption.

But Fernández needs a partner.

“Looking at the region, we lack leadership,” said Tom Long, an associate professor at the University of Warwick’s new global force.

At: https://eminetra.co.uk/alberto-fernandez-an-unlikely-leader-in-latin-america/306872/ (originally published in the Financial Times)

Argentine President Alberto Fernández (center) strolls with part of his cabinet outside the Casa Rosada on Friday.

Beset by a “Macrisis” inherited from his Trump-backed predecessor, Fernández's 14 months in office have largely been preoccupied with economic recovery, debt refinance, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Fernández has meanwhile sought good relations with both left and right-wing neighboring leaders, and enjoys a good rapport with President Joe Biden.

Michael Shifter, president Inter-American Dialogue, believes Buenos Aires can play a role in mediating diplomatic solutions to the Venezuelan crisis. The United States may also be interested in renewable energy partnerships.

But he said, “As long as Argentina is in economic crisis, its effectiveness as a US partner on Venezuela, climate and other issues will be limited.”
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