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"Directing the will of the voters": Argentina's Macri ordered to halt vote buying scheme

Argentine Federal Prosecutor Jorge di Lello ordered the suspension of a special unemployment bonus granted by the nation's Ministry of Production and Labor on grounds that it was meant to "direct the will of the voters" ahead of national elections on October 27.

Amid the deepest economic crisis in two decades, President Mauricio Macri is running for re-election but trailing his center-left challenger, Alberto Fernández, by around 20 points in most polls.

The 650 million-peso ($10.7 million) earmark, which would grant 114,000 unemployed adults a one-time bonus of 5,000 pesos ($83), was not authorized by Congress - but was instead created by Resolution 1177 issued by Labor Secretary Fernando Prémoli on October 2.

The bonus is equivalent to the minimum monthly cost of food for an Argentine adult.

Ámbito Financiero, a leading business daily which had first published reports on the scheme on September 23, reported that some 80,000 bonuses have already been distributed - half of them in Buenos Aires Province, where Governor María Vidal (a close Macri ally) is likewise trailing her opponent by around 20 points.

Evidence of the scheme first emerged on October 2 with the publication of audio in which the mayor of the Buenos Aires suburb of Pilar, Nicolás Ducoté, and his staff are heard discussing its potential impact in the polls.

"A same family can access the different program lines?" - asks one of those present.

"Yes," Ducoté's chief of staff, Juan Pablo Martignone, answers.

"Is it worth it?" a precinct captain asks.

"If you have 25 people in the family who vote, yes."

Ducoté, 49, belongs to Macri's right-wing PRO, and had been considered a rising star in party politics. The scheme was halted at the county level by Federal Judge María Servini de Cubría on October 8.

Today's order by di Lello was followed by a complaint filed today by the chief counsel for the opposition Justicialist Party (PJ), Jorge Landau, denouncing Macri for allegedly offering precinct captains belonging to Macri's "Let's Change" coalition bonuses of 5,000 pesos ($83) - plus another 5,000 pesos should his coalition win that precinct.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&tab=wT&sl=es&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ambito.com%2Fclientelismo-m-la-mitad-los-subsidios-irregulares-fue-buenos-aires-n5059885

Macri, Buenos Aires Province Governor María Vidal, and Pilar Mayor Nicolás Ducoté.

Evidence of the vote-buying scheme first emerged on October 2 through audio recordings of Ducoté and his staff discussing the bonuses and its potential electoral impact.

Local political observers believe Macri, through these one-time bonuses, sought to salvage as many local elected officials from his right-wing "Let's Change" coalition as possible for the 2021 mid-terms.

Amid a severe economic crisis, ruling party mayors and governors - including Vidal and Ducoté - have been distancing themselves from the deeply unpopular Macri.

Argentine elections: Presidential candidates debate amid economic crisis

Argentina's six presidential contenders held the first of two debates ahead of the October 27 election tonight.

The two-hour debate, held at the National University of the Littoral Law School in the city of Santa Fe at 9:00 p.m. local time, included four main topics: International Relations; Economy and Finance; Human Rights, Diversity, and Gender; and Health and Education.

The format was extemporaneous, with moderators announcing broad topics which candidates could then briefly expound on.

The worst economic crisis in two decades dominated the debate, however, with discussion on other topics often touching on the economy.

Polite sparring

While the debate remained polite, center-left front-runner Alberto Fernández came out swinging against right-wing incumbent Mauricio Macri.

"Four years ago, one of the two candidates in that debate lied a lot," he said. "That candidate is now the president who wants a second term."

On numerous occasions in tonight's debate, Fernández refuted Macri's assertions with data showing sharp cuts in health and education, and a sharp increase in debt interest outlays - while underscoring points of agreement with centrist candidate Roberto Lavagna.

"Kirchnerism hasn't changed," the president shot back, referring to supporters of former presidents Néstor Kirchner and his widow, Cristina Kirchner - who is now Fernández's running mate. "They're back to finger pointing and showboating."

Fernández, 60, and Lavagna, 77, were in the late President Néstor Kirchner's cabinet - whose 2003-07 term is widely credited with raising Argentina from its 2001-02 collapse.

Fernández won the first presidential round on August 11 by an unexpectedly wide 16 points, and most recent polling has him up by 20 points or more.

Narrowly elected four years ago, Macri lost popularity amid discontent over massive utility hikes, a record, $57 billion IMF bailout, a deep recession - and, amid 55% inflation, an estimated 20% loss in average real wages.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.eldestapeweb.com%2Fnota%2Fdebate-2019-en-su-presentacion-alberto-fernandez-trato-de-mentiroso-a-mauricio-macri-201910132190

Argentine presidential candidates in tonight's debate stage included (from left):

Incumbent President Mauricio Macri, 60, of the right-wing Together for Change - led by his hard-right PRO, with voters mainly from the centrist UCR.

Economist José Luis Espert, 57, of the libertarian Unite Front.

Retired Army Major Juan José Gómez Centurión, 61, of the far-right Us Front - backed mainly by disaffected Macri voters, including hard-line pro-life voters and apologists of the last dictatorship.

Former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna, 77, of the centrist Federal Commitment - supported mainly by anti-Kirchner Justicialist voters and UCR voters disaffected by its Macri-era turn to the right.

Former Chief of Staff Alberto Fernández, 60, of the center-left Front for Everyone - led by the populist Justicialist Party, including former President Cristina Kirchner (his running mate).

Congressman Nicolás del Caño, 39, of the Leftist Workers' Front.

"Systematic" espionage against judges leads to federal probe against Argentina's Macri

A federal court in Argentina today authorized an investigation of President Mauricio Macri after documents emerged showing wide-reaching surveillance carried out against the nation's federal judiciary.

The probe, authorized on Thursday by Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, involves espionage carried out over the last two years against at least 20 federal judges and Supreme Court Justice Juan Carlos Maqueda.

Documents first obtained by El Destape show that the alleged espionage involves the Ministry of Security, the Federal Police, the Federal Revenue Agency (AFIP), the Financial Information Unit (UIF), the Attorney General's office, Naval Prefecture, the City Police, Gendarmerie (which monitors movements in and out of the country), and the Supreme Court itself.

"This type of behavior seriously violates the right to privacy to which judges also have rights, while violating the rule of law that must prevail in a civilized society," the Association of Magistrates and National Judiciary Officials declared today in a statement.

"If verified, we must determine who and what motivated public institutions to turn to these illegalities - which were to some degree systematic."

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich and Justice Minister Germán Garavano have resisted growing calls to resign, and reportedly spent the day calling judges to "offer reassurances."

UIF head Mariano Federici meanwhile refuses to comply with Judge Canicoba Corral's subpoena for documents.

Federici - like numerous other federal officials - is reportedly planning to leave the country following Macri's expected drubbing in upcoming elections on October 27.

I spy

This is the latest in a series of scandals for Macri involving alleged espionage.

A case of warrantless wiretapping against both public figures and relatives had already landed Macri an indictment in 2009 while mayor of Buenos Aires - and the practice only intensified once he took office as president in late 2015.

The first prominent target was his predecessor and rival, former President Cristina Kirchner, who had a number of private phone calls with her close adviser and friend Oscar Parrilli leaked to right-wing media outlets during her 2017 senate campaign.

Carlos Pagni, lead columnist for the typically pro-government La Nación, revealed at the time that the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) is influenced by the president's confidants and business partners - and that prominent political figures and private citizens alike are being wiretapped.

These allegations were lent further credence this February by the 'd'Alessiogate' scandal - evidence of a massive extortion scheme run by AFI agent Marcelo d'Alessio involving at least $12 million in ransom payments and false testimony coerced against political opponents.

D'Alessiogate has resulted in several indictments against AFI agents and assets, as well as a district attorney and the chief judicial affairs writer for the right-wing daily Clarín, Daniel Santoro.

Macri has openly called for the removal of the federal judge overseeing the case, Alejo Ramos Padilla.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.eldestapeweb.com%2Fnota%2Fespionaje-a-jueces-german-garavano-intenta-calmar-a-los-magistrados-y-admite-la-situacion--2019101021320

Macri, Justice Minister Germán Garavano, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, and Bullrich's chief adviser Pablo Noceti.

Documents showing that at least 20 federal judges and a Supreme Court justice have been under surveillance by an array of state agencies over the past two years, have created the latest in a series of espionage scandals for Macri.

All face possible charges once Macri, who trails his opponent by 20 points in most polls amid the worst economy in two decades, leaves office in December.

Portugal Prime Minister re-elected as Socialists solidify position

Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal won Sunday’s national election, as voters rewarded his Socialist party for returning the country to robust growth and budgetary health.

The Socialists appeared likely to fall short of a majority of the 230 seats in Parliament, with a projected 106 seats - a net gain of 20.

But their margin of victory gave Mr. Costa plenty of leeway to negotiate an alliance with smaller parties, like the “geringonça,” or “contraption,” that brought him unexpectedly into office four years ago.

The Socialists won about 37% of the vote, according to preliminary results, with about two-thirds of the votes counted.

Costa, 58, has become a rare thing in Europe — not only a Socialist head of government, but one who has overseen a solid economy, helped by tourism and foreign investors, and proved wrong the critics who had long caricatured the left as incapable of fiscal discipline.

At: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/06/world/europe/portugal-election-costa.html

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa votes in today's elections.

Costa, who took office in 2015 as head of a weak coalition government most critics predicted would fall apart, inherited an economy that had not grown in 13 years and 13% unemployment.

His abandoning IMF austerity policies - substituting these for an unorthodox mix of pension raises, increased public credit, and investor incentives - have led to growth averaging 2.5%, lower deficits, and an unemployment rate of 6.3%.

Intelligence agent-turned-pimp, linked to Argentina's Macri, arrested in Mexico

Raúl Martins, a former Argentine intelligence agent and owner of numerous brothels in Argentina and Mexico, was arrested at the Cancún Airport pursuant to an international arrest warrant.

Martins, 71, had been convicted in July by Argentine Federal Judge María Servini de Cubría on prostitution, illicit association, and money laundering charges - charges upheld by an appellate court on September 3.

The current investigation began after his estranged daughter, Lorena Martins, filed a criminal complaint against him in 2012.

She alleged that her father, who served in the then-State Intelligence Service (SIDE) from 1985 to 2000 and who fled to Mexico in 2002, was a supporter and contributor to the 2015 campaign of current President Mauricio Macri - an allegation she corroborated with a copy of an e-mail.

"I was surprised by the arrest warrant against my father," she said last month. "I think they will kill him before he goes to prison. My father has tapes of judges and politicians inside his brothels. Many are very worried."

Mixing it up

Macri had been photographed during his 2010 honeymoon with his third wife, First Lady Juliana Awada, in Martins' Mix Sky Lounge in Cancún, Mexico - closed by Mexican authorities for prostitution in 2012 but reopened shortly afterward.

They are seen in the photo with Gabriel Conde, who likewise fled Argentina in 1998 on prostitution charges - and who became a business partner of Raúl Martins.

Macri denied any links to Martins or Conde when the photo emerged in January 2012. But Conde's father, Luis Conde, was vice president of the Boca Juniors football club when Macri served as club president from 1995 to 2007.

Macri launched his campaign for club president in 'Shampoo' - the club owned by Gabriel Conde, whose 1998 police raid led to his becoming a fugitive.

According to Daniel Schnitman, head of the anti-human trafficking NGO Alerta Vida, "Macri and Martins have known each other for 20 years."

"People voted for a president with 6 police files for sexual exploitation. It's shameful; they don't know he is."

Records show Martins was last in Argentina between June 2017 and February 2018 despite an arrest warrant against him.

Another prominent Macri backer, Ismael "Peque" García, was likewise arrested this January on prostitution charges stemming from the 2016 death of a minor.

García was a major bundler for Macri's right-wing "Let's Change" coalition, and was on stage during his 2015 victory celebration.

Macri is currently running for re-election amid the most serious economic crisis in the country in two decades; he trails his opponent, Alberto Fernández, by around 20 points in most polls.

At; https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&tab=wT&sl=auto&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.infobae.com%2Fsociedad%2Fpoliciales%2F2019%2F10%2F04%2Fdetuvieron-en-mexico-a-raul-martins-un-famoso-espia-que-regenteaba-prostibulos%2F

Macri and First Lady Juliana Awada (middle) during their 2010 Cancún honeymoon in Raúl Martins' Mix Sky Lounge. Martins' business partner and fellow Argentine fugitive on prostitution charges, Gabriel Conde, is beside Macri.

Martins is the figure at left; his former State Intelligence colleague and, according to Martins' daughter, silent partner, Antonio Stuisso, at right.

Martins' arrest, and his likely extradition to Argentina, has become an unexpected political headache for Macri, who is running for re-election amid the worst recession in two decades.

Argentina's second-largest labor federation votes to reunify with larger rival

Argentina's second-largest labor federation, the Argentine Workers' Center (CTA), approved a plan to rejoin their larger rival, the General Labor Confederation (CGT), after 28 years.

If approved by the CGT, the addition of the CTA's 1.5 million members (mainly teachers and public employees) to the former's 2.5 million would again make the CGT one of Latin America's largest labor federations.

"The sense of what we unanimously approved was to reunify the labor movement," CTA founder and leader Hugo Yasky explained. "We want the labor movement to have a stronger voice, because we're entering a different political time."

Elections this October in Argentina are expected to sweep out right-wing President Mauricio Macri, who, according to critics, has overseen the largest transfer of wealth from the country's working and middle-class majority to its elites since the 1976-83 dictatorship.

The share of wages and salaries in the national income fell from 54% to 48% since 2015, while real wages have plummeted nearly 20%. Corporations and wealthy Argentines have meanwhile offshored up to $107 billion in four years - a figure matched by the increase in the nation's public foreign debt.

The CGT and CTA have endorsed Macri's center-left opponent, Alberto Fernández - the keynote speaker at today's CTA congress.

"They want to make us believe that we have too many rights," Fernández said in reference to Macri's domestic policies. "But the best societies are those who distribute rights, not those which take them away. Rescinded rights mean worse societies, and worse men and women."

Crisis makes unity

CGT leaders have largely expressed approval for Yasky's announcement - though the CTA's independent streak remains a sticking point for some.

"There are still internal discussions about the possible reincorporation of the CTA," CGT Deputy Secretary General Andrés Rodríguez admitted. "What will define the CTA's admittance is that they recognize the CGT as the federation's authority."

"If they do, there will be no inconvenience."

Both the CGT and CTA have themselves reunified over the last three years in response to the ongoing 'Macrisis' - a debt crisis combined with the deepest recession in two decades.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&tab=wT&sl=auto&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pagina12.com.ar%2F223378-la-cta-aprobo-avanzar-en-la-unidad-con-la-cgt

Opposition candidate Alberto Fernández greets attendees at the CTA's annual congress this evening.

CTA founder and leader Hugo Yasky (fourth from left) advanced rejoining the larger CGT to strengthen labor's role in a likely Fernández administration - which, while pro-labor, will also inherit the most serious debt crisis in two decades.

The CGT supports reunification in principle - though concerns over the CTA's independent streak remains a hurdle for some.

Language expert says Melania Trump's claim she speaks 6 languages is not true

People in conservative circles have often said that Melania Trump has a higher IQ than any other First Lady. She herself boasts of being multi-lingual.

It’s claimed that she speaks Slovenian (her native language), Serbo-Croatian, Italian, German, and English - also, according to some sources, French.

But there is no actual proof that she speaks any language other than Slovenian and English with any actual degree of fluency.

There are no recordings of Melania Trump speaking any of the languages she claims to be fluent in except English. It is very possible that she studied it but does she or has she used it regularly - and what does she consider “fluent”?

Let’s look at her claims more deeply.

Melania says she speaks Italian, though when meeting the Pope - who is speaking Italian - in May 2017, Melania looks over to the translator to understand what he said.

Media reports likewise mentioned her speaking Italian in a Rome children's hospital - but it turns out she merely said “ciao” (“hi”).

When visiting a children’s hospital in France that July, the media reported she spoke French - but all she said was “Bonjour, je m’appelle Melania” (“Hello, my name is Melania”). And this August during the G-7, Melania was also spotted wearing translation headphones during the speech of French President Emanuel Macron.

At: https://www.politicalflare.com/2019/10/language-expert-says-melania-trumps-claim-she-speaks-6-languages-is-not-true/

Be best, dahlink: First Lady and alleged polyglot Melania Trump pretends to speak to Pope Francis in tourist Italian during Trump's May 2017 Vatican visit.

When Francis spoke, she was seen relying on an interpreter.

Uruguay: Presidential candidates debate economy, development

The presidential frontrunners for Uruguay’s upcoming elections - Daniel Martínez for the ruling, center-left Broad Front, and Luis Lacalle Pou for the right-wing National Party - debated Tuesday on national TV prior to the October 27 polls.

The event itself was historic as the first time presidential candidates debated on live television since 1994. The frontrunners debated for an hour on four main topics: economy, security, human development, and productivity.

Martínez, 62, urged Uruguayans to not to go back to the past - referring to the five decades of stagnation that afflicted Uruguay until the election of President Tabaré Vázquez in 2004.

Vázquez, 79, is retiring after serving two non-consecutive five-year terms. Uruguay's economy has grown by 4% annually during the Broad Front era that began in 2005, compared to 1.5% in the previous 50 years.

Martínez highlighted the reduction of poverty from 40% in 2004 to 8.1% currently, as well as improvements in health and education.

“Many older voters remember a different Uruguay - one with high poverty and soup kitchens, where hospitals lacked bedsheets and where the police bought their own uniforms and bullets,” he noted.

“52% of those who now enter university are the first generation of their family. That was not wasteful. It is because there was a commitment to education.”

Lacalle, 46, focused on law-and-order issues, noting that crime increased by 48% and homicides by 54%. Polling in March put crime as the second-most important issue facing the country, after unemployment but ahead of other social issues.

Cautionary tale

Martínez concluded by comparing Lacalle to neighboring Argentina's right-wing President Mauricio Macri - himself running a distant second for re-election amid a severe economic crisis that has in turn pushed Uruguay into recession.

“Listening to Mr. Lacalle reminds me of what happened in Argentina four years ago with Macri - but sadly, we all know what happened: distaster and catastrophe.”

Most polls have Martínez winning in the first round - but potentially losing in a November 24 runoff.

At: https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Uruguay-Presidential-Candidates-Debate-Economy-Development-20191001-0026.html

Nominees Luis Lacalle Pou of the right-wing National Party, and Daniel Martínez of the center-left Broad Front, greet supporters after last night's debate.

Martínez touted the record of economic growth and reduced inequality during the last 15 years under the Broad Front, while Lacalle hammered at rising crime rates.

“A few powerful people seem to dislike the way the country is heading,” Martínez noted, warning that Lacalle might push Uruguay into the same crisis afflicting neighboring Argentina since the hard-right Macri was narrowly elected in 2015.

Argentine Supreme Court orders Macri to reimburse provinces for $570 million in lost revenue

Argentina's Supreme Court rebuked President Mauricio Macri today in a ruling ordering his administration to reimburse the nation's 23 provinces and the City of Buenos Aires for lost revenues stemming from a campaign-season tax cut decree.

The court found that the August 15 decree unconstitutionally deprived provinces of 34.4 billion pesos ($570 million) of federal revenue sharing proceeds without congressional approval.

The decree, issued four days after Macri's 16-point loss in the first electoral round against center-left challenger Alberto Fernández, raised income tax exemptions by 20% for the remainder of the year and eliminated value-added taxes on around 20 basic food items.

Estimated to cost nearly $1 billion, these tax cuts sunset on December 31 - just three weeks after Macri is likely to leave office.

The ruling also represents a setback to Macri's policy of reaching a balanced budget as part of a commitment to the IMF in exchange for a record, $57 billion bailout.

But despite deep cuts in subsidies - leading to utility hikes of 3000% since 2016 - ballooning interest payments have kept the federal budget in the red by $8.6 billion in the first eight months of this year, or 2.9% of prorated GDP.

While the court-ordered restitution represents just over 1% of combined provincial outlays, governors argued the shortfall would have been a blow to local finances amid the worst recession in two decades.

The April 2018 collapse of a debt bubble known locally as the "financial bicycle" has led to a 6.9% decrease in GDP, a two-thirds loss in the value of the peso, and a consequent rise in inflation to 55% - the world's third-highest.

At: https://www.baenegocios.com/economia-finanzas/La-compensacion-a-provincias-por-baja-de-IVA-y-Ganancias-superara-los-30.000-millones-20191001-0065.html

Taking a second look, Argentina's Supreme Court has been more assertive over the past year in checking Macri's frequent "necessity and urgency" decrees - many of which have nullified even congressional legislation.

The court today sided with 15 provincial governors in striking down a number of campaign season tax cut decrees, which would have further strained local finances amid the worst recession in two decades.

Argentina's Macrisis: Income poverty rises to 35.4%, highest in 14 years

Argentina's Statistics and Census Institute (INDEC) reported today that income poverty rose to 35.4% in the first half of 2019.

The rate increased 3.4% from the second half of 2018, rising to its highest level since the first half of 2005.

A family of four needed to spend 28,957 pesos ($679 at the time) a month to remain above the poverty line in the first half of 2019.

Extreme poverty - those earning less than 40% of the poverty line - rose by 1% to 7.7%, the highest since 2007.

Income poverty was highest in the Northeast (42.4%), and lowest in the City of Buenos Aires (14.3%); poverty was highest among children (52.6%), and lowest among seniors (10.4%).

The nation's income poverty rate has jumped 9.7% since late 2017 - before the April 2018 collapse of a carry-trade debt bubble known in Argentina as the "financial bicycle" plunged the country into its deepest recession since the 2001-02 convertibility crisis.

The 'bicycle' collapse forced President Mauricio Macri to turn to the IMF for a record, $57 billion bailout; but of the $45 billion lent so far, an estimated $36 billion were ultimately used to finance capital flight.

GDP has since fallen 6.9%, with unemployment rising from 7.2% to 10.6% - the highest since 2006. Those with jobs have seen real wages erode 13.8% as inflation rose from 25% in 2017 to 55% this year.

Income poverty now affects 15.9 million of the country's 45 million people. Since Macri took office in late 2015, some 4.3 million Argentines have joined the ranks of the poor.

The crisis has also affected Argentina's sizable middle class: So far this year, real retail sales are down 12.5% and new auto sales are down 44.7%.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&tab=wT&sl=auto&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ambito.com%2Fgrave-la-pobreza-salto-al-354-y-ya-afecta-casi-16-millones-argentinos-n5057391

A cartonero, or recycler, combs the streets of Buenos Aires' financial district with his children.

In a bid to downplay his elitist image, President Mauricio Macri promised voters "zero poverty" during his 2015 campaign; "I want my administration to be judged by the poverty rate," he reiterated in 2016.

One in ten Argentines has instead fallen into poverty since 2015 - a sharp reversal from the 114% growth in the middle class reported by the Inter-American Development Bank in 2015, over the previous 12 years.
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