Author Archives | marc

VIDEO: Proyecto Persiana

VIDEO: Proyecto Persiana

A collective of artists is giving commercial areas of Buenos Aires a colourful makeover by painting over shop shutters. They aim to promote the work of street artists, challenge negative stereotypes of street art, and add a splash of colour to inner-city areas.

Find out more about Proyecto Persiana here.

Camera & editing: Maria Deane

Posted in The City, TOP STORY, Underground BA, Video0 Comments

Tucumán: Woman Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for Miscarriage

A 27-year-old woman has been sentenced to eight years in prison after suffering a miscarriage in a hospital in San Miguel de Tucumán.

The woman, known as Belén to protect her identity, was convicted of ‘intentional homicide’ on 19th April after already spending more than two years in prison. Judges ruled she had deliberately provoked an abortion, which is illegal in Argentina except in certain circumstances.

'Legal abortion now!' is scrawled in front of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires (photo: Thiago Skárnio, via flickr)

‘Legal abortion now!’ is scrawled in front of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires (photo: Thiago Skárnio, via flickr)

Belén went to hospital with stomach pains in March 2014. She was transferred to the gynecology ward, where a doctor discovered she was having a miscarriage due to heavy bleeding.

Belén said she did not know that she was pregnant, a claim she repeated in later testimonies, but says she was interrogated by hospital staff, who accused her of deliberately inducing an abortion and reported the case to the police. Belén was arrested and taken to prison after being released from hospital a few days later.

Soledad Deza, the lawyer now representing Belén since the verdict was released, says she was convicted without any scientific proof that she had induced an abortion.

Deza says the police and doctors identified a foetus found in one of the hospital bathrooms as belonging to Belén without conducting any DNA tests. In her court defence, Belén described how: “a nurse brought me the foetus in a box and insulted me for what I had done. I told him it wasn’t mine and he said ‘look, this is your son’.”

“They connected her to a 32-week foetus without any proof of a link to Belén,” Deza told regional paper La Gaceta Tucumán. “Moreover, there are contradictions between the gestational age of this foetus with that of the abortion that doctors registered on Belén’s hospital file.” According to the hospital records, says Deza, Belén’s miscarriage had occurred at 20-22 weeks of her pregnancy.

Deza also claims Belén was subjected to degrading physical tests by police and had her rights to medical privacy violated.

“We’re talking about a woman with limited material and symbolic resources, who has been in prison for two years for the sole reason that she is a woman and because of a special acrimony towards her from the medical personnel who mistreated her instead of helping her and due to an aggressive penal system that makes examples of women,” said Deza.

The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free abortion called for Belén’s immediate release, saying she had been unfairly condemned by “a criminal alliance” between the Avellaneda Hospital staff, the police officials involved, and members of the local courts.

The NGO demanded the provincial Supreme Court annul the verdict as the case against Belén was also founded on a violation of patient-doctor confidentiality. It also called on National Congress to legalise abortion across all of Argentina.

Tucumán is among several Argentine provinces that has not adapted local laws to comply with the 2012 Supreme Court ruling on non-punishable abortion.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Senate Approves Bill to Prohibit Job Layoffs for 180 Days

Argentina’s Senate last night approved a bill to declare a ‘Labour Emergency’ and prohibit further layoffs for a six-month period.

The bill, presented by the opposition Frente para la Victoria (FpV) as a response to a wave of job cuts in the first months of 2016, received the backing of 48 Senators. There were 16 votes against the bill – including senators from the ruling Cambiemos alliance – and eight absentees.

The bill will now pass for debate in the Lower House of Congress, where three other labour-related proposals are also under discussion. If it is approved there, it will be referred to President Mauricio Macri, who has spoken out against the bill, to sign it into law or veto it.

The Senate approved the anti-layoffs bill with 48 votes in favour. (Photo: Luciano Ingaramo, Prensa Senado)

The Senate approved the anti-layoffs bill with 48 votes in favour. (Photo: Luciano Ingaramo, Prensa Senado)

The Debate

The proposal calls for establishing a period of 180 days during which time layoffs without just cause would be prohibited in both the public and private sectors. Workers that are laid off in that period can either file a lawsuit or accept the decision and receive double the standard compensation. The law would come into effect immediately once published in the Official Gazette, but would not apply to any employment contracts signed after that date.

“With this bill we are reaffirming the National Constitution, which exists to be followed and to guarantee the rights of all workers,” stated Daniel Lovera, one of the sponsors of the bill. “We want to preserve jobs for a limited time, hoping that the socio-economic conditions of the country will change.”

Federico Pinedo, provisional Senate leader, led the rejection of the bill for President Mauricio Macri’s Pro party: “It is very easy to raise a hand to look good, but it is difficult to create sources of work, and that is our responsibility.”

Pro Senator Laura Rodríguez Machado added: “We are for the promotion [of jobs] rather than prohibition.”

Other Proposals

The bill will now be sent to the Lower House, where its future is still uncertain, as opposition parties have presented alternative proposals.

FpV legislators have drafted a similar bill, but one that would make the ‘Labour Emergency’ period retroactive to 1st March and run until 31st December. Meanwhile, the Frente Renovador (FR) led by Sergio Massa, has developed an alternative proposal with a special focus on Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). The initiative would prevent layoffs at large companies but exclude restrictions for SMEs, which would also receive incentives to retain their workers as well as additional benefits for hiring young (18-24) or older (45+) workers.

Massa’s bill moves closer to the government’s new employment proposal, announced by President Macri earlier this week. The ‘First Job Plan’ establishes tax exemptions and benefits for companies that hire 18-24-year-olds with fewer than three years formal work experience. These incentives will apply to recruits of any age in the ten northern provinces part of the government’s Plan Belgrano development scheme (Misiones, Corrientes, Chaco, Santiago del Estero, Formosa, Salta, Jujuy, Tucumán, Catamarca and La Rioja). The benefits will be greatest for SMEs with up to 200 employees and will only apply to companies that increase their workforce with new hires, not those who replace existing staff with younger recruits.

The Politics

The future of these diverse proposals is unclear. The debates in the lower house of Congress, where no single party or alliance has a clear majority, will be critical. Massa’s FR is again set to play a crucial role: the opposition leader has shown much more willingness to compromise with the government and he again seeks a middle-ground with his proposed bill. However, if the government refuses to compromise on its own ‘First Job Plan’, Massa has threatened to support the FpV bills. Even if the government obtains Massa’s personal support, the FR, which includes several legislators with close links to unions (including Facundo Moyano, son of powerful union leader Hugo Moyano) is divided on the issue and may not follow suit.

Meanwhile, if one of the opposition-led bills is sanctioned by both houses of Congress, President Macri will be faced with a difficult political decision over whether to veto it or nor. Macri has been highly critical of any legislation to prohibit job dismissals, saying it would be counterproductive and end up restricting new job opportunities. At the same time, a veto would put the government at odds with the country’s major trade union bodies, risking more industrial action and potentially damaging strikes. The central unions have already approved a march on 29th April, with Moyano warning that a national strike could be called for May if the government does not act to protect workers.

How Many Layoffs?

The glut of legislative measures comes amid a wave of job cuts that labour unions and opposition parties are calling an employment crisis. However, without official statistics from INDEC, still undergoing a transformation since declaring a ‘statistical emergency’ last December, there is a debate over the actual number of layoffs in recent months.

The private consultancy Tendencias Económicas, widely cited in the media, calculates 127,000 layoffs since the start of President Macri’s term. This fits with the “more than 120,000” cuts estimated by the Argentina Confederation of Medium-Sized Enterprises (CAME). The Argentina Centre for Economy Policy (CEPA) – a think tank with ties to Kirchnerism – counted 141,542 dismissals in the four months of Macri’s government. Public sector union ATE also claims around 140,000.

The government, meanwhile, has repeatedly denied the existence of the jobs crisis. Citing data extracted from the Social Security system (SIPA), Labour Minister Jorge Triaca acknowledged around 27,000 job cuts through to February in the private sector, while Modernisation Minister Andrés Ibarra said that 10,931 public sector contracts had been rescinded. The Labour Ministry’s monthly Survey of Labour Indicators (EIL) said the net fall in employment was just 0.1% between November and February.

Leading government figures have spoken out recently to refute reports of a jobs crisis. Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña denied that there was a “destruction of jobs”, saying that the situation was the same as in recent years. Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay said “we shouldn’t believe this ‘sensation’ that there are significant job losses.” Both have stated that new public works projects will create thousands of new jobs, starting from the second half of 2016.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina1 Comment

Mexico: Experts Slam Government Over Disappeared Students

Relatives of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students marched yesterday to mark 19 months since they taken away by police, just days after the release of another damning report into the Mexican government’s handling of the investigation.

On Sunday, an international group of experts (GIEI) appointed in March 2015 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said that the government had “stonewalled” their investigation, thwarting efforts to find the truth.

The GIEI panel in Mexico (Photo via IACHR)

The GIEI panel in Mexico (Photo via IACHR)

The group, which is now leaving Mexico after the government chose not to renew its mandate, presented a 608-page document highlighting major doubts over the official version of what is alleged to have taken place in Iguala back in September 2014.

Debunking the ‘Historic Truth’

In January 2015, following what public prosecutor Jesús Murillo Karam classified as an “exhaustive” and “serious” investigation, the government concluded that the students were kidnapped then murdered by a drug cartel, with their remains incinerated in a nearby rubbish dump.

This version, called the “historic truth” by Karam, has been challenged by relatives of the missing students as well as various international groups.

The GIEI’s two comprehensive reports also debunk, as this theory. In September, the group said that there was “no scientific proof” to support the government’s verdict, adding that “things did not happen as described.”

In the follow up report released on Sunday, the group confirmed that it found inconsistencies, errors, omissions in the official investigation. It also stated that key evidence from testimonies and confessions from the alleged perpetrators was gathered “under torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.” Adopting United Nations guidelines relating to torture, the panel determined that 17 suspects were tortured. Forced confessions are not permitted in Mexican courts.

Further concerns were raised pertaining to the failure of the government to fully check phone records, which could have depicted where students were taken that night. Other doubts were raised over whether evidence – including a bone fragment identified as belonging to one of the victims, Alexander Mora – was gathered correctly.

Francisco Cox, a Chilean lawyer on the GIEI panel stated that he “has not a single piece of evidence” to warrant changing the existing conclusion that the 43 students were not incinerated as purported.

However, while challenging the official version, the panel lamented not being able to come up with definitive answers to what really happened that night. Claudia Paz, a GIEI member and former public prosecutor in Guatemala said that: “we are unable to respond to the question that we asked ourselves every night for the last year and a month and that all of the fathers and mothers still ask.”

In its presentation the group said that its progress had been stymied by a lack of cooperation by the government after the September report was released. It reported that requests for information were ignored or took a long time to be answered, while also claiming that a smear campaign was undertaken in local media. The report notes that: “The group has suffered a campaign trying to discredit its members as a way to question their work… certain sectors are not interested in the truth.”

The Mexican government denied these claims, saying it had cooperated fully and adding that it will continue to investigate the findings of the GIEI, which have criticised Mexico’s human rights record and exposed widespread corruption, negligence, and abuse in the country’s security forces and judicial system.

Alejandro Valencia, a Colombian lawyer who also forms part of the five-person panel explained on Sunday that: “The Ayotzinapa case has put the country at a crossroads, from which it has yet to emerge, and for that it needs a strengthening of the rule of law and of the defence, the guarantee and respect for human rights.”

Meanwhile, the premature departure of the GIEI group represents another blow for the relatives of the disappeared students, who continue to demand answers over the whereabouts of their loved ones.

The disappearance of the 43 students ignited protests all over Mexico. (Photo by Montecruz Foto)

The disappearance of the 43 students ignited protests all over Mexico. (Photo by Montecruz Foto)

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

On Macri and Entrepreneurs

On Macri and Entrepreneurs

This is an exclusive English-language translation of the article ‘Sobre los emprendedores‘ by José Natanson, originally published in edition 202 of Le Monde Diplomatique – Southern Cone edition.

Mauricio Macri at a campaign rally (Photo via mauriciomacri.com.ar)

Mauricio Macri at a campaign rally (Photo via mauriciomacri.com.ar)

Every era of capitalism has an iconic social subject, one that personifies it and provides it with the legitimacy required to keep functioning. In the 20th Century, against a backdrop of Keynesian economics, increased social rights, and class divisions, it was the paternal business owner Henry Ford. He established a 40-hour work week, introduced paid holidays, and offered high wages with the revolutionary notion that the workers themselves could then buy the cars that they were making. This model of a ‘benevolent businessman’ eclipsed the exploitative owners of the early Industrial Revolution, depicted by Josiah Bounderby, the cruel character of Charles Dickens’ ‘Hard Times‘.

Ford’s era was only really replaced several decades later, in the 1980s, when the factory-based industrial capitalism evolved into an open and increasingly global system dominated by services, consumption, and above all finance. The latter was personified in literature by Sherman McCoy, the bond trader and self-regarded “Master of The Universe” in ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities‘, and even found a psychotic derivative in the sadistic killer Patrick Bateman in ‘American Psycho‘.

The capitalist ‘hero’ of the 21st century is the entrepreneur. Born in the post-welfare state world and blessed with the agility required to adapt to a relentlessly changing global economy, the entrepreneur is not just another business person but rather an innovator who finds novel solutions to old problems. In its most idealised form, the entrepreneur does not have much start-up capital or need a large organisation with thousands of workers. All that’s required is a garage, a loan from skeptical parents, and a list of attributes which are, according to specialist Diego Pereyra, more related to “emotional intelligence” than a hard knowledge of finance or economics. The marks of an entrepreneur are creativity, flexibility, and leadership, malleable attributes that contrast with the rigid traits of the old economy.

Typically young, the entrepreneur introduces a break in the time line, one that emerges from an intense faith in his/her ideas: the extra-ordinary capacity to achieve the impossible, or what nobody else thought was possible. The most emblematic incarnations of this entrepreneur are Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Apple creator Steve Jobs, who both already have their own biopics. Incubated in the very North American culture of ‘being a winner’, the entrepreneur is validated by success. Friends could be betrayed (as in the case of Zuckerberg and Jobs), or companies could end up splitting with their founder. But what cannot happen, under any circumstance, is failure: it is success, rather than the market value or social utility of the product, that defines the entrepreneur.

Apple founder Steve Jobs is an iconic entrepreneur of the 21st century.

Apple founder Steve Jobs is an iconic entrepreneur of the 21st century.

PRO Entrepreneurs

As one of the novelties of his movement, President Mauricio Macri incorporated into politics groups that had previously remained on the sidelines. Not so much the classic businessmen who have always played a central role in Argentine history, but a new batch of CEOs who are decisive in a world where owning the means of production is increasingly separated from the management of them. If, as sociologist Gabriel Vommaro claims, Macri has placed former CEOs of multinationals in the ‘hard’ areas of government like finance, energy and, public enterprises, he reserved the ‘soft’ areas like environment and social development for activists from NGOs who had already built bridges between capitalism and society through programmes of corporate social responsibility. In both cases, Macri’s cabinet bets on the techniques and know-how of managers as a means of efficiently resolving problems.

The figure of the entrepreneur has a central role in the government’s vision, as evidenced by the decision to rename the Secretariat of SMEs in the Production Ministry as the ‘Secretariat of SMEs and Entrepreneurs’. This expanded office is now led by Mariano Mayer, who performed a similar role in the Buenos Aires city government and who has passed though “the principal institutions to encourage entrepreneurial activity in Argentina”, according to the website. It is also demonstrated in new programmes for a ‘Creative Economy’, in naming ex-CEO of despegar.com Guillermo Fretes as head of the Educ.ar plan, and appointing Andy Freire, founder of Officenet and named by Aperture magazine as “synonymous with entrepreneurship” as city Modernisation Minister. In his campaign platform, Macri himself stated that “we must become a country of 40 million entrepreneurs”.

At first glance, it is an interesting proposal. As is evident already, Macri’s economic programme is fundamentally based on sectors like agribusiness, mining, energy, and some services, all of which are dynamic and generate badly-needed dollar incomes, but are not known for creating new or quality jobs. As such, it is a good idea to nuance this model with support for innovation and creativity, especially given that Argentina’s high education standards and broad middle class create the ideal conditions in which entrepreneurial virtues can prosper. These are fed even more by the roller-coaster highs and low of the country’s economic history: periods of hyperinflation, debt crises, and devaluations make it hard to plan long-term policies but also pushes people to sharpen their ingenuity in order to survive. It wouldn’t be nationalist to highlight that the three most important dot com businesses in Latin America – Patagon, Mercadolibre, and Despegar – were founded by Argentines.

However, taking a deeper look can lead to a different interpretation. In spite of stories that emphasise private/individual enterprise, entrepreneurial prosperity requires an active role by the State. Expert Sabrina Díaz Rato, of the Puntoguv foundation, explains that the Silicon Valley boom, synonymous with the success of US entrepreneurs, would not have been possible without active public intervention ranging from strict intellectual property laws to flexible migration regulations that permit special visas (for engineers, for example), as well as direct finance for the technological industry. “The famous Google algorithm,” says Díaz Rato, “was created thanks to a project financed by the state-organism US National Science Foundation.”

Macri’s PRO has chosen a discourse that identifies “equal opportunity” as the umbrella concept under which his government will operate. It is a typically liberal concept that banks on progress through individual effort, or at most that of families, more than via a collective construction of public goods. And this syncronises with other aspects of Macrismo, such as its leanings towards a fashionable version of Buddhism that is less of a dogmatic religion and more a collection of teachings and techniques to achieve happiness – another personal pursuit. Entrepreneurism, emerging as a current of practical economics and management from the West Coast of the USA (the same birthplace of this ‘New Age Buddhism’), is the most virtuous face – individual stories of success – of the liberal approach to equal opportunities.

Mauricio Macri and his cabinet, which contains many modern CEOs (Photo via Mauricio Macri's official FB page)

Mauricio Macri and his cabinet, which contains many modern CEOs (Photo via Mauricio Macri’s official FB page)

This makes the issue almost a philosophical one. One of the fundamental traits of the figure of the entrepreneur, one that recovers legitimacy lost in the outdated archetype of capital businessman, is the capacity to reconcile an aspirational image made of dreams and ideas with the hard search for capital gains. The entrepreneur, in essence, is guided by more than just the pursuit of profit, though none have given up their millions so far. Today’s entrepreneurs almost always operate in the service sector, information and knowledge, where owning the methods of production is less important and where traditional forms of exploitation are replaced by more flexible and diverse jobs. As the entrepreneur is not exactly a business person, and carries the romantic notion of an innovator, the division between capital and work – the base of any capitalist relationship – is disguised, on the surface. This provides a buffer against the traditional market conflicts, e.g. with labour unions, that emerge as a company grows to a point where it needs to be managed with a more classic style. In other words, when the entrepreneur becomes the businessman.

At the extreme, the notorious Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han highlights on the capacity of neo-liberal capitalism to generate subjects that are self-exploited. In the end, he writes, it is neo-liberalism and not communism that eliminates the class struggle, not as a consequence of a proletariat victory but rather via the individualisation of responsibilities. “Those who fail in a neo-liberal society are ashamed and hold themselves responsible, rather than question the system. In this lies the special intelligence of the neo-liberal regime. It does not allow resistance against the system to emerge. When others are exploited, they can unite and rise up against the exploiter. But when people exploit themselves, they point their aggression inwards, creating a depressive instead of a revolutionary.”

My theory is that the gamble on entreprenuerism has its limit. For all the individual drive one might have, an entrepreneur does not operate in a vacuum but rather in certain coordinates of time and space. In the post-Kirchnerist Argentina, these conditions restrict the entrepreneurial possibilities to a limited sector of the population. It would be, at best, overly idealistic to imagine that a youngster out on the fringes of Greater Buenos Aires will raise a cow at the bottom on the garden, produce dulce de leche, bottled it with a designer label and export to Eastern Europe. Or that a subsistence farmer in Chaco will leave behind agriculture to set up a dot com enterprise. All those genius innovators require, from the very beginning, self-confidence, talent and… capital, as shown in the examples of Zuckerberg and Jobs, who both relied on thousands of dollars lent by relatives or friends to start their businesses. This is something unreachable for the majority of the 40 million Argentines that Macri wants to convert into entrepreneurs.

The danger is concrete. With a government that has difficulties looking beyond its own social class, the pro-entrepreneur discourse runs the risk of leading to state inaction when faced with Argentina’s poorer, precarious, developing-world version – an informal ‘do-it-yourself’ approach that today includes one in five workers. Like visiting a psychoanalyst or travelling to Machu Picchu, entrepreneurism is something that, in the best of cases, is limited to the middle class.

Posted in Analysis, Opinion, TOP STORY1 Comment

Peru: Anti-Mining Activist Máxima Acuña Awarded Goldman Prize

Peruvian campesina (subsistance farmer) Máxima Acuña, who has endured beatings and jail while defending her land against a massive gold-mining project, has been awarded The 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize for South and Central America.

Máxima Acuña (Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize)

Máxima Acuña (Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize)

Over the past five years Acuña, a mother of four and grandmother, has campaigned ceaselessly to be able to remain living on her 60-acre plot of land in Tragadero Grande, in the highlands of Northern Peru.

In 2010, mining companies Newmont (US) and Buenaventura (Peru) sought to expand operations from the Yanacocha project, one of the largest and most profitable open-pit gold and copper mines in the country.

The new Conga Mine project, which was approved by the Peruvian government, would involve draining local lakes to mine for gold and create space to dump toxic mining waste.

Environmentalists feared the mine could potentially poison local water sources, damaging local ecosystems and local biodiversity in turn, and likewise displacing communities dependent upon the lifeblood of the land.

In 2011, representatives of the mining company came to the Acuña household, near one of the lakes in question called Laguna Azul, urging them to leave their land to make way for mining operations. After refusing to do so, Acuña met a ferocious backlash, as armed personnel destroyed her home, her possessions, and beat her and her family severely.

The company then took Acuña to a provincial court, where she was charged with illegally squatting and given a suspended prison sentence of nearly three years. She was also fined US$2,000.

“The police beat us and the company mistreats us but the politicians always take the company’s side. Newmont should just leave Peru”, ruminates Acuña in the face of ordeal.

With support from a local NGO, Acuña appealed her ruling and eventually, in December 2014 the court overturned Acura’s sentence and her annulled her eviction. This decision has meant the mining companies involved have been unable to proceed with any extraction around Laguna Azul.

According to Goldman, Acuña continues to suffer from harassment and threats from the mining company and its armed guards. Her dog had its neck slit open but survived its ordeal. The company has also constructed a fence around Acuña’s property in what it purports to be a result of several unrelated incidents of theft.

“What’s happened too is that the company has put up these wire fences around the land, so they have us in their corrals—as if we’re in prison there—and so we don’t feel safe,” says Acuña.

In the interim, the legal disputes continue in the Peruvian Supreme Court, with more appeals and lawsuits likely.

According to Goldman, Acuña is now know around Latin America for her “inspirational courage in standing up against a multinational mining company… The community has rallied behind Máxima and her victory has brought new life to the struggle to defend Cajamarca’s páramos, water supplies, and people from large-scale gold mining.”

The government-backed advance of mining in Peru’s Andean region has sparked widespread protests and conflicts, as locals say they were not consulted when licenses were approved. Following her prize, the world’s most prestigious environmental award, Acuña says it proves “humble people and farmers are able to fight for our rights and prevail.”

However, it remains a dangerous pursuit. At least 61 activists have been killed in Peru over the last decade, with almost 80% of deaths related to mining, according to human rights NGO Global Witness.

The mining companies at the centre of the dispute have levelled criticised at the decision to award Acuña the prize, stating the committee did not receive “balanced or complete information about the land dispute or the events surrounding it”.

The Goldman prize, the world’s most prestigious environmental award, was created in 1990 by a married couple and philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman. Last year’s winner was Berta Cáceres, the Honduran activist who successfully blocked the construction of a hydroelectric plant. Cáceres was murdered last month

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Argentina Returns to Market with Record US$16.5bn Bond Sale

The government has successfully issued a record US$16.5bn in bonds, marking an eye-catching return to international debt markets after 15 years on the sidelines.

The four-tiered bond package attracted investor demand of nearly US$70bn, a historic high according to the government.

“This is the biggest demand in history for a bond from an emerging market country or company,” said Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay, who recently completed a roadshow to attract investors.

Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña (left) and Economy Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay announce the bond issuance (Photo: Casa Rosada)

Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña (left) and Economy Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay announce the bond issuance (Photo: Casa Rosada)

The sale included bonds with four different maturities, with interest rates ranging from 6.25%-8.0%.

Local press revealed an initial breakdown of US$2.75bn three-year bonds at a 6.25% yield, US$4.5bn five-year bonds at a 6.875% yield, US$6.5bn ten-year bonds at 7.5%, and US$2.75bn 30-year bonds priced at 8.0%.

The bonds were issued under New York jurisdiction, which Prat-Gay said offered the lowest costs now that there were no longer fears of litigation.

Most of the capital raised in the sale will be used to pay back holdout creditors – led by the so-called vulture funds – for defaulted debt that was not restructured after the 2001 crisis. Prat-Gay said that it would pay the roughly US$11bn owed on Friday. The remaining funds will likely be used to finance the budget deficit this year.

“We are resolving three issues in one. We are resolving the 2001 default, as well as the [2014] default of the previous government. And at the same time we are returning to the market with the proceeds we will obtain with this emission, bringing funds for an infrastructure plan that will allow us to create more jobs and better connect the country,” said Prat-Gay.

“The access to credit will allow us not to implement austerity measures and reduce the budget deficit in a gradual manner.”

The Finance Minister added that the government hoped interest rate would fall further in the coming months, and expected Argentine provinces and companies to be able to benefit from access to credit.

[Story in Development]

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Investigation Underway After Five Die at Time Warp Argentina Festival

An investigation is underway to determine the circumstances in which five people died of suspected drug overdoses at the Time Warp electronic festival on the weekend.

The five victims, aged between 20 and 25, are thought to have taken so-called ‘Superman’ pills laced with the powerful drug PMMA during the rave, held at the Costa Salguero complex. Another five people were hospitalised, including one minor, with three remaining in a critical state today.

Time Warp Argentina (Photo via Time Warp)

Time Warp Argentina (Photo via Time Warp)

Various witness testimonies confirmed that drugs were widely available at the event, the third time the international festival has been held in Argentina. A bus travelling to the event on Friday night was stopped in La Plata by police, who found a variety of pills, cocaine, LSD, and marijuana.

Beyond the decision of the victims to consume drugs, the investigation is focused on how and where the drugs were sold to festival goers. It is also analysing whether the organisers took all the necessary measures to ensure to safety of partygoers, and if this in turn was properly controlled by security forces and city authorities.

While those responsible have stated that everything was conducted as required by law, witnesses have reported overcrowding, high temperatures, insufficient access to water, and long queues to purchase bottled water.

The Investigation

The case was first picked by local prosecutor Sandro Abraldes but then passed on to the Federal Courts due to the hypothesis that the deaths were caused by drugs.

There were also immediate suspicions over the role of the Navy Coast Guard that has jurisdiction in the area. Abraldes confirmed that the Coast Guard had said there were no drugs on site, adding: “They said they had performed controls through the night and not found anything. We couldn’t continue the investigation with so many dead youngsters and with a security force that I don’t have full confidence in, at least with regard their actions that night.”

The case is now in the hands of Federal Prsoecutor Federico Delgado and Judge Sebastián Casanello. At Delgado’s request, Casanello first ordered the arrest of Adrián Conci, president of the company Dell Producciones S.A. that organised the event. Delgado cited evidence of the “organised sale of drugs” and other irregularities such as access to water in the venue.

“The organised selling of drugs, the regulation of this ‘market’, the overcrowding, and the heat put those responsible for the event as also responsible for the incidents,” read the prosecutor’s statement. “The level of this responsibility – as well as the responsibility of any other people – will be determined as the investigation continues, but there are enough elements to warrant his [Conci’s] immediate arrest.”

Casanello also ordered several police raids, including in an office of the Coast Guard and the City Government Control Agency. And Prosecutor Delgado today requested the judge summon several coast guard officers, one public official, and those responsible for private security at the event over a possible “co-operation” between them to permit the sale of drugs on the site.

In addition, Casanello rejected a claim by the Security Ministry that judicial employees in his court had ordered the Coast Guard “not to bother the youngsters while they were having fun” at the event.

The city government says that it had performed all the necessary checks before an event like Time Warp.

On Monday, Deputy Mayor of Buenos Aires Diego Santilli stated that the organisers had correctly licensed the venue for the event and complied with all city controls.

“All the control measures were applied before and after the event – the records at the opening were completed by all the organisms that had to be there, and at 3am another check was conducted,” said Santilli, who added that the security inside the venue was not the responsibility of the city government while acknowledging that “chemical drugs are evolving faster than the State”.

Santilli also stated that the government had checked the attendance of 10,900 people, below the official capacity of 13,000.

Meanwhile, the Association for Environmental Lawyers (AJAM) and the City Law Observatory (ODC) questioned the licensing of the Costa Salguero premises for music festivals, saying in a statement that it should be prohibited according to existing city norms. The groups also noted that the company Telemetrix S.A. was paying the city government a “derisory” fee to license the Costa Salguero complex, far below the market value of the area.

The Fallout

While the formal investigation continues, the deaths have reignited a wider debate about nightclub controls and the availability of drugs, especially at electronic festivals. Though few are surprised that drugs were being consumed at an event like Time Warp, there are diverse views on whether to blame the tragedy on the negligence or complicity of the organisers and authorities, the individuals themselves, or a deeper cultural problem and ineffective drug policies.

Some, including Prosecutor Delgado, have drawn parallels with the Cromañón nightclub fire that killed 194 youngsters in 2006. Though the circumstances this weekend were markedly different, they point to the common ground of how lax controls and corruption among the relevant authorities contributed to the tragedy.

City legislator for the Frente Izquierda, Patricio del Corro, said the latest tragedy was “a product of corruption in a system where businesses and the government only look to boost their profits at the cost of security for youngsters.”

Del Corro was among the opposition legislators to criticise the city authorities for failing to enforce the proper safety measures after an audience with the head of the Government Control Agency, Matías Álvarez Dorrego.

“He couldn’t answer any of our questions,” Del Corro told La Izquierda Diario. “The event had only 10 medical workers, two ambulances, and one station. How could that number be sufficient to attend an event where according to their own count there were 10,000 people.” Del Corro also highlighted witness accounts of there being just one water dispenser for the huge crowd.

In the broader policy debate, President Mauricio Macri has made eliminating drugs-trafficking one of the three pillars of his government, and Security Minister Patricia Bullrich has unsurprisingly taken a hard line on the topic.

Bullrich told Radio Mitre: “My view is that we have to be more strict and work with parents, who must also be more strict. We are prepared to be, but many times we come up against a culture that says we cross a line if we are too strict.”

However, others in the government took a different stance, with Buenos Aires Health Minister Ana María Bou Pérez saying that there should be a society-wide discussion about the “decriminalisation” of certain drugs.

“In other societies there are NGOs that control the purity of pills before entering this type of party,” said Bou Pérez. “It’s a decision taken by other societies, and we would have to see if we agree with this other way of combatting [drugs]. We must not forget that this is a crime here.”

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Ecuador Earthquake: Death Toll Reaches 413

The official death toll from Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Ecuador has now reached 413, with 2,500 confirmed injured.

The figure may yet rise further as the search for survivors continues amongst the rubble and collapsed buildings.

President Rafael Correa visiting areas worst affected by the earthquake (Photo: Carlos Silva / Presidencia de la República

President Rafael Correa visiting areas worst affected by the earthquake (Photo: Carlos Silva / Presidencia de la República

More than 15,000 emergency workers have been deployed in rescue efforts and to start the recovery from the disastrous situation. Another 400 have also been sent to help from neighbouring countries.

Portoviejo, a city of 300,000 people 15km (10 miles) from the coast and Perdernales a town of 47,000 people on the east coast are two of the worst affected areas. Both lie in the state of Manabí.

In Pedernales, which is located close to the epicentre, Mayor Gabriel Alcivar explained that the “entire town is devastated.”

“Buildings have fallen down, especially hotels where there are lots of tourists staying. There are lots of dead bodies. We’re trying to do the most we can but there’s almost nothing we can do,” said Alcivar.

Accounts of looting have also been reported in Portoviejo.

Nearly 100 lorries and two planes carrying donated goods such as tinned food, water, clothes, toilet paper and other cleaning utensils provided by the Centro de Convenciones del Bicentenario (Bicentennial Convention Centre) have been sent to Manabí to assist those most affected.

President Rafael Correa, who cut short a visit to Italy to return and visit the affected areas, described events as “the biggest tragedy in the last 67 years”, since the Ambato earthquake on 5th August 1949.

Speaking regarding the humanitarian disaster, Correa confirmed that the number of fatalities could climb further, but added that there was still hope of find survivors: “there are signs of life in the rubble and that is being prioritised.”

President Correa also stated that the rebuilding process will cost billions of dollars.

The World Bank President Jim Yong Kim stated it would provide US$150m in financial aid to restore basic services damaged by the quake, with power lines still out of operation in many affected areas. The European Union also promised aid.

Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organisation of American States(OAS), has likewise confirmed some of the groups finances will be used to assist in the rebuilding effort.

The earthquake struck at a depth of 19.2km (11.9 miles) from Muisne, on Ecuador’s northwest Pacific coastline, according to the US geological survey.

El Comercio confirmed that 405 aftershocks have been registered as far as 7:20am this morning. In the last 12 hours, 56 aftershocks were reported.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Brazil: Congress Votes in Favour of Rousseff Impeachment

Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies has voted in favour of impeaching President Dilma Rousseff, marking a big step towards her being removed from office.

In a marathon session, the motion was approved by two thirds, or 342 seats, of the Lower House of Congress. The house erupted in cheers from opposition parties as the target was reached shortly after 11pm.

The final vote count saw 367 legislators supporting impeachment, 137 against, and seven abstentions. Only two out of the 513 legislators were absent for the vote.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil)

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil)

The impeachment process will now move to the Senate, and if supported in an initial vote, Rousseff will be forced to step down while a six-month trial takes place to deliver a definitive verdict.

In this scenario, which local analysts see as increasingly likely, Rousseff will be replaced on an interim basis by Vice-President Michel Temer of the PMDB party, the largest in Brazil’s congress. Temer and the PMDB formally split with Rousseff’s PT party earlier in April and is supporting her impeachment.

Political Crisis

Impeachment proceedings began last year against Rousseff, who is accused of breaking fiscal laws by manipulating public finances ahead of her re-election in 2014.

The president, whose approval ratings have fallen into single figures, has called the impeachment process a “soft coup”, led by opposition groups supporter by the country’s main media outlets.

“We are facing the threat of a coup d’’état,” Rousseff wrote in an article published yesterday in daily Folha de Sao Paulo. “A coup without guns, using even more destructive weapons like fraud and lies, in an attempt to remove a legitimate elected government and replace it with one without votes or legitimacy.”

Today’s result deepens Brazil political crisis, with many top officials from both official and opposition parties being investigated for crimes more serious than those used to justify impeachment. Unlike Rousseff, those in line to take over the presidency face corruption charges including money laundering.

Vice-president Temer, who broke his alliance with Rousseff earlier this month, could also face potential impeachment charges for signing off budget figures. He is also being investigated over an alleged illegal ethanol purchasing scheme.

If Temer is also blocked from becoming leader, next in line to assume the presidency would be speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha. He too is facing possible money-laundering charges, which emanate from the lava jato (car wash) Petrobras scandal.

After that would come the head of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, who is also caught up in the corruption investigations.

In today’s session, César Messias of the Socialist Party (PSB), voted against impeachment saying: “If we impeach Dilma, we get Temer. If we impeach Temer, we get Cunha. After that, Renan.”

[Story in development]

More than 500 members of Congress cast their vote in Brasilia today (Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil)

More than 500 members of Congress cast their vote in Brasilia today (Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil)

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

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As a possible ‪Grexit‬ looms in the old continent, we revisit Marc Rogers' article comparing Greece's current situation to Argentina's own 2001-2 crisis.

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