Tag Archive | "President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner"

Government Announces Cabinet Shuffle


Aníbal Fernández will return to the executive as secretary-general for the presidency. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Aníbal Fernández will return to the executive as secretary-general for the presidency. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Public Communications Secretary Alfredo Scoccimarro, has announced changes in the cabinet following the resignation of Intelligence Chief Héctor Icazuriaga earlier today.

Scoccimarro said that position as head of the intelligence office will be taken up by Oscar Parrilli, while Senator Aníbal Fernández will occupy Parrilli’s current role as secretary general for the presidency.

Before becoming a senator in 2011, Fernández served as justice minister and cabinet chief during President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s first term. He was also interior minister in the Néstor Kirchner administration.

Opposition parties called the changes a “desperate” response to legal complications affecting high-ranking members of the government, including Vice President Amado Boudou.

Parilli is due to be sworn in by the president this evening, with Fernández to follow on Thursday.

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Congress Approves New Criminal Procedure Code


Legislators approve a new Criminal Procedure Code (Photo: Fernando Sturla/Télam)

Legislators approve a new Criminal Procedure Code (Photo: Fernando Sturla/Télam)

Legislators in the lower house of Congress approved changes to the Criminal Procedure Code after a lengthy debate last night.

The Chamber of Deputies sanctioned the reforms with 130 votes in favour, compared to 99 votes against and two abstentions. It had already been approved by the Senate.

The new code establishes an accusatory system, where prosecutors lead criminal investigations and judges rule on them, to replace the existing inquisitorial system, where judges do both. Other reforms include the introduction of time limits on the completion of criminal investigations and trials, and sanctions for prosecutors and judges who fail to meet the new deadlines. The new code also expands the conditions whereby suspects may be held in custody while awaiting trial.

The law approved last night included more than 40 modifications of the original bill presented by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on 21st October, including a controversial proposal to permit the deportation of foreigners caught committing a crime.

Whilst the original bill sent by the Executive proposed the possibility to deport foreigners who are caught committing a crime and do not have the proper migratory documents for up to 15 years, the version approved into law does not take into account the migratory situation of the accused. However, those who are in Argentina legally can request to serve their sentence in the country. This clause applies to crimes which carry a penalty of over three years in prison, and as long as the right to family reunification is not affected.

Despite these changes and a broad consensus over the need to update the Criminal Procedure Code, opposition parties voted against the government-backed bill, arguing that it could give the executive branch increased power over the judiciary.

During the long debate, members of the ruling Frente Para la Victoria (FpV) party praised the reforms as a means of creating a more transparent, efficient, and democratic judicial process. Opposition legislators, however, expressed concerns over extended powers given the the federal public prosecutor, Alejandra Gils Carbó, and the planned expansion of personnel at the Public Ministry.

“We agree that an accusatory system is more effective, but the only thing that will be implemented with this new code is an increase of more than 1,700 positions in the Public Ministry,” said Manuel Garrido, of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR). “We are handing important powers to a ministry that has no public oversight, because a bicameral commission to perform that function was never incorporated.”

Pablo Tonelli, of the opposition PRO party, added that: “we need complementary measures for this code to come into effect successfully: a law of implementation, a new criminal code, a law for the Public Ministry, the juvenile criminal regime, and another for the execution of sentences.”

The law will now need to be signed by President Fernández, though it is not yet known when it will come into force.

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President Fernández Defends New Civil and Commercial Code


President Fernández holds up a copy of the new Civil and Commerical Code, which will come into force in Argentina in 2016. (Photo: Raúl Ferrari/Télam)

President Fernández holds up a copy of the new Civil and Commerical Code, which will come into force in Argentina in 2016. (Photo: Raúl Ferrari/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last night promulgated the country’s new Civil and Commercial Code, while also stating that reforms to the Criminal Procedure Law would be sent to Congress “within days”.

The updated Civil and Commercial Code was approved by Congress last week, more than two years after the reform bill was initially presented.

“Though the Constitution is obviously the most important legal instrument of a nation, this is the most important instrument that deals with people’s daily lives, their personal and commercial rights,” said President Fernández in a national address yesterday.

The president said the new law, which combined the Civil and Commercial Codes for the first time in the country’s history, was an “authentic cultural product of Argentina”, replacing the previous version based on European law. “It does not belong to any political party or government, it is the Civil and Commercial Code of democracy,” she said.

President Fernández also addressed the subject of debts and legal tender, an issue that has caused controversy with some claiming the wording of the new code could allow dollar-denominated debts and deposits to be converted into pesos.

“All of these affirmations and headlines to frighten people about how their deposits would lose their value or be paid back in pesos, or that no one could sign a contract… please, this is absolutely out of place,” she remarked.

Article 765 is at the centre of the debate, as it states that a debtor can fulfill his/her payment obligations with the equivalent value of legal currency (the peso).

However, President Fernández said that this would not override several other articles in the code that guarantee the validity of a contract and ensure that banks must respect the currency agreed upon with clients when accepting deposits or issuing loans.

Aside from the issue of currency, the president also highlighted changes to family law within the code, including changes to rules governing divorce, adoption, same-sex marriages, civil unions, and assisted fertilisation.

The new code will come into force on 1st January 2016.

Criminal Procedure Law

The second part of the president’s 50-minute speech was dedicated to the forthcoming reform of the country’s Criminal Procedure Law.

“In the next few days we are going to send Congress a new Penal Code bill, which will transform the existing system from an inquisitorial system to a more agile accusatory system,” declared Fernández.

This means that prosecutors will investigate a case, defense lawyers will act on behalf of the accused, and judges will reach a verdict. In the current system judges fulfill the duel role of investigating and ruling on cases.

President Fernández yesterday claimed that reform was necessary to update the “dysfunctional” existing law. “As I’ve said many times it’s not about being tough or soft on crime, it’s about having the adequate instruments and resources.”

Today, Justice Minister Julián Alvarez added that the main focus of the new law would be to reduce delays in the country’s judicial system. “The timings are going to change. Today it takes an average of four years to bring a case to trial, when it needs to be six months or a year at most, as it is today in Chile.”

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President Creates New Housing Secretariat to Urbanise 100 Villas


New Secretary for Housing Access Rubén_Pascolini (Photo via Presidencia)

New Secretary for Housing Access Rubén_Pascolini (Photo via Presidencia)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced yesterday the creation of a National Secretariat for Housing Access to support the urbanisation of informal shantytowns, or villas, around the country.

According to President Fernández, the new entity will not be involved in housing construction but will aim to ensure that “informal settlements are legally incorporated into the urban fold by providing access to property deeds.”

She added that the first task for the new secretary, Rubén Pascolini, would be the urbanisation of 100 shantytowns built on state lands, covering a total of around 400 blocks. Around 40 of the targeted settlements are in the province of Buenos Aires.

“The National Constitution and our deepest convictions tell us that every Argentine has the right to a piece of land on which they can build their home and their family can live with dignity,” added Fernández during a national tv address.

“We are going to work on inclusion and urban integration,” Pascolini told local press. “This will generate external benefits because when one neighbourhood improves, the whole context improves, and create social interaction.”

While there is no official national data on the number of villas in Argentina, a survey of seven key territories, including the country’s most important urban areas, by the NGO Techo in 2013 documented at least 1,834 settlements housing 532,800 families.

In the city of Buenos Aires, the number of people living in villas has risen dramatically over the last 20 years. Latest official estimates put the number at 275,000, up from 163,587 in 2010 and representing around 10% of the city population.

Earlier this year, the Corriente Villera Independiente, which groups representatives from all of the villas in the capital, staged a 53-day protest camp at the base of the obelisco to demand the urbanisation of the city’s villas by the municipal government. Almost two thirds of these were in the province of Buenos Aires.

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Government Celebrates UN Vote on Sovereign Debt


President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces debt  swap plan in August (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces debt swap plan in August (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

The government has lauded a new UN resolution to create a new framework for restructuring sovereign debt, which it says vindicates its own legal battle against so-called vulture funds.

The resolution was approved last night with support from 124 countries, while 11 voted against the proposal and 41 states abstained.

“Today is a special day for all Argentines. We should feel proud,” said President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last night.

The resolution, which states that an international convention to deal with sovereign debt should be created before the General Assembly summit in 2015, had the backing of the G77 + China group.

“As the president of the G77 + China group said today ‘Argentina made us open our eyes’. That’s why we Argentines should feel proud,” said President Fernández.

The Argentine government said the overwhelming support received for the resolution vindicated its refusal to pay the vulture funds that have taken the country through a drawn-out court battle, ending with Argentina falling into a ‘technical default on 31st July‘.

“Those countries that voted no will one day understand that we need a more equal and fair world, with more doves and fewer vultures in all fields, not just the economy, but the military too,” added President Fernández.

The boost from the UN resolution comes before today’s vote in Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies on a new law to allow the country to pay holders of its restructured debt via domestic channels, thereby circumventing a US court ruling preventing credit payments through New York.

The proposal, which was approved last week in the Senate, will also include an offer for bondholders to swap their titles for ones of identical value issued under Argentine law.

It also declares the 2005 and 2010 debt restructuring to be an issue of public interest, and created a commission to investigate the history of the debt from 1976 until today.

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President Presents Bill to Pay Bondholders Under Local Law


President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces debt  swap plan (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces debt swap plan (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has announced plans to create domestic payment channels for holders of its dollar-denominated bonds and circumvent a US court ruling preventing credit payments. The proposal will also include an offer for bondholders to swap their titles for ones of identical value issued under Argentine law.

Argentina has been in a ‘technical default’ since 31st July after failing to make a credit payment to bondholders that entered into debt restructurings in 2005 and 2010.

Though the US$539mn payment had been deposited on time, New York Judge Thomas Griesa ordered trustee Bank of New York Mellon (BoNY) to retain the funds until Argentina reaches a settlement with vulture funds seeking full repayment on defaulted debt from the country’s 2001 crisis.

According to the proposed bill, which the president presented in a televised broadcast last night, BoNY would be replaced as the trustee bank for exchange bondholders by state-run Banco Nación. The bank would be able to make payments to bondholders via a special account at the Central Bank.

The bill also states that exchange bondholders could choose individually or collectively to swap their existing bonds for new state bonds for the same nominal value governed by Argentine law.

The new law will also create a special account for the bond holdouts, which represent 7.6% of the total defaulted debt from 2001, to deposit payments on the same terms as those who accepted the restructurings. This, informed, President Fernández, would represent a profit of 300% for the vulture funds leading litigation against Argentina.

“Let no one say that Argentina refuses to pay. The Argentine government refuses to be extorted.” said the president, who admitted she was feeling nervous due to the “great injustice” facing the country.

Reactions

The bill was sent to Congress immediately after the president’s tv address, with deliberations in committee expected to begin in the next week.

Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said today that the main purpose of the law was to complete payment obligations locally because they were obstructed in New York. “If the Bank of New York adheres to what Judge Griesa says, Argentina will present the possibility, if they want, for bondholders to be paid here,” said Kicillof. “It is not a compulsive change of jurisdiction, but a method of ensure Argentina can continue to meet its external debt obligations.”

Head of the opposition PRO, Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, was quick to announce that his party would vote against the legislation. “It’s like saying that, in our view, the German goalkeeper committed a penalty in the World Cup final, therefore we don’t recognise Germany as World Champion and we invite them to play a rematch here in Argentina with [local judge] Oyarbide as referee,” said Macri in a press conference earlier today.

Argentina’s benchmark restructured bonds fell around 2% in early trading this morning. Bloomberg reported that JP Morgan released a note to clients calling the president’s announcement “a bucket of cold water” for those expecting a relatively swift resolution to the debt problem at the start of next year.

Economists in the US noted that some investors and banks may be reluctant to enter into a deal with Argentina for fear of being held in contempt of court by Judge Griesa, who has previously said any swap agreement would be illegal.

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Argentina vs Vulture Funds: Wishing Won’t Make It So


Last Thursday, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made a televised speech in which she blasted the vulture funds yet again, then told the nation how the case could be ended with one stroke of a pen.

Not her pen, unfortunately. President Obama’s, who she said has the power to veto a court decision if it compromises the United State’s relationship with another country.

President Fernández was citing an article by veteran investigative journalist Greg Palast that appeared in The Guardian on 7th August and was quickly picked up by media outlets in Argentina and all over the world (The president even later posted a translated version of it on her own web site).

Palast’s solution is straightforward:

“Obama could prevent vulture hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer from collecting a single penny from Argentina by invoking the long-established authority granted presidents by the US constitution’s “Separation of Powers” clause. Under the principle known as “comity”, Obama only need inform US federal judge Thomas Griesa that Singer’s suit interferes with the president’s sole authority to conduct foreign policy. Case dismissed.”

“Indeed, President George W Bush invoked this power against the very same hedge fund now threatening Argentina. Bush blocked Singer’s seizure of Congo-Brazzaville’s US property despite the fact that the hedge fund chief is one of the largest, and most influential, contributors to Republican candidates.”

Great news! If only Obama will act, the default will be reversed! Except that – no. This kind of presidential intervention in an ongoing judicial proceeding, under such circumstances, is not remotely possible.

In fact, there is no “Separation of Powers” clause in the US Constitution. Oops. There is a concept of ‘comity’, but it means something very different. Oops again.

A bit of background: though Congress traditionally defers to the president regarding foreign policy, he does not have, as Palast claims, “sole authority” over its conduct. Treaties and ambassadorial appointments must be ratified by the Senate, for example, and Congress has the right to deny funding for foreign adventures if it does not agree.

As for dismissing the case, there is no mechanism for an executive override of a court decision. At best, the administration could file a legal brief on behalf of a party, which it already did in 2012, voicing strong support for Argentina. In an extreme case, he could issue an Executive Order, but given that Argentina’s case is proceeding along established legal guidelines, there is no basis to do so, and it would surely be overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court.

And as for Palast’s statement that President George W Bush “invoked this power against the very same hedge fund” – he did no such thing. The case was settled in a UK court, and though there were several parallel lawsuits in US courts, there is no sign of direct intervention by the White House. (I contacted Greg Palast for comment on these points, but he did not respond.)

Even if President Obama wanted to, there is not much he can do to help Argentina's case against vulture funds (Photo: Victor Carreira/enviado especial/Télam)

Even if President Obama wanted to, there is not much he can do to help Argentina’s case against vulture funds (Photo: Victor Carreira/enviado especial/Télam)

I’ve been an admirer of Palast in the past, but on this topic, he seems to have strayed into magical thinking. While I support Argentina in their struggle against the vultures, Obama’s signature will not cause this case to disappear. For all their moral and human failings, the vulture funds have won key court decisions and hold all the legal cards – especially in the US.

Argentina’s suit at the International Court of Justice is, similarly, no more than a publicity stunt, since the US has already said it does not recognise the Court’s jurisdiction. Even if the Bank of New York wished to abide by an ICJ decision, it could not do so.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner deserves better advisers, who will stop her, next time, before she gives a speech based upon demonstrably false pretenses. In their defence, the Guardian column was also republished, without challenge, by media all over the world. But wishing that it were true will not make it so.

Argentina may decide to negotiate with the vultures, or to wait them out, but there is no quick fix coming from Washington DC.

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Argentina News Roundup: 22nd April 2014


President Fernández launches the Pampa Azul plan (photo: Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation)

President Fernández launches the Pampa Azul plan (photo: Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation)

President Launches ‘Pampa Azul’ Maritime Study Programme: President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner yesterday announced a new ten-year scientific plan to study the seas off Argentina’s coastline. The programme, called ‘Pampa Azul’ (Blue Pampas), will explore five key maritime areas to increase understanding of natural resources, and how they can be managed in a sustainable manner. “This is the first strategic project of the continental sea,” said President Fernández, adding that before it was only seen “for fishing or for the beach.” The five areas to be surveyed include the Río de la Plata estuary and maritime areas around the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands. Minister of Science, Technology, and Productive Innovation Dr. Lino Barañao said the initiative would “promote technological innovations for the sustainable exploitation of natural resources, and the development of industries related to the sea.” The minister added that information and a scientific presence would “support the country’s sovereignty in the South Atlantic.”

At the same conference last night, President Fernández also announced that the government would send a bill to Congress to remove taxes for biodiesel for as long as EU restrictions on Argentine imports of biodiesel remain in place. “We are in a real trade war,” said the president. “Our institutional obligation is to help and protect those with difficulties.”

Six Airport Baggage Handlers Arrested for Theft: Federal Judge Ariel Lijo ordered the arrest of six baggage handlers at the Jorge Newberry airport in Buenos Aires as part of an investigation into the theft of personal belongings. The six people work for Aerohandling, which is contracted to provide baggage handling services for Aerolíneas Argentinas. As part of the investigation, police also conducted searches of the suspects’ houses. The president of Aerolíneas, Mariano Recalde, said today that it was he who had reported the theft of belongings from suitcases to the judiciary last year. “We reported it quietly last year, the courts took it on, and after excellent work, was able to move the investigation forward and obtain important results,” explained Recalde in a press conference. “I want to leave to one side the vast majority of workers and baggage handlers at the company who work honestly every day.”

Economic Activity Up 1.3% in February: Statistics agency INDEC today reported that national economic activity in February was 1.3% higher than in the same month a year earlier. INDEC’s monthly estimate of activity – considered a proxy for economic growth, which is reported on a quarterly basis – showed no change from the level recorded in January, marking a slowdown compared to last year. According to economy minister Axel Kicillof, the Argentine economy expanded by a preliminary 3% in 2013, below the initial INDEC estimate of 4.9% after the statistical base year from which growth rates are calculated was updated from 1993 to 2004.

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Argentina News Roundup: 15th April 2014


Buenos Aires Subte (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Buenos Aires Subte (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Judge Orders Modifications to Subte Fare Plan: Buenos Aires judge Elena Liberatori today ordered modifications to subte price plans for multiple-journey tickets introduced last month when the basic fare rose from $3.50 to $4.50. Liberatori ruled that the fare for a single journey could remain at $4.50 but that a ticket for 20 journeys should cost $85 ($4.25 per journey). Further discounts for multi-journey tickets will remain in place: a 30-journey pass will cost $126 ($4.20 per journey), one for 40 journeys $157 ($3.94 each), and for 50 journeys $184 ($3.68 each). However, Liberatori ordered the removal of any expiry date on these multi-journey tickets. Finally, the judge ruled that subte travel on weekends and public holidays will count towards a passenger’s reward scheme for regular use. Under the current system, a commuter using the subte twice every working day would only qualify for the maximum savings on three months of the year, due to public holidays.

Today’s ruling comes after Buenos Aires city legislator Alejandro Bodart had filed an appeal against the fare hike in March, and the city government was ordered to modify the pricing system to account for “inconsistencies”. Bodart had requested the fare be returned to $3.50 and today said the ruling was “insufficient”, adding that he would present another appeal tomorrow because the city government had not properly justified the fare hike.

New Regulations for Motorbike Passengers in Security Crackdown: Motorcycle passengers in the province on Buenos Aires will be obliged to wear a helmet and reflective jacket marked with the bike’s number plate, as part of efforts to clamp down on crime. The new measure was introduced by governor Daniel Scioli yesterday and came into effect today. Failure to comply with the regulation will be considered a “serious offence” and could result in confiscation of the vehicle or driving license. “This is a road safety measure, but above all targets a new style of crime committed by motorcycle passengers,” explained Alberto Pérez, cabinet chief for the provincial government. The move comes as part of governor Scioli’s ‘security emergency‘ programme, declared after a wave of lynchings put the spotlight on crime and security in the province.

President Fernández presents new bill to combat informal labour (photo: Maximiliano Luna/Télam)

President Fernández presents new bill to combat informal labour (photo: Maximiliano Luna/Télam)

New Bill Targets Informal Labour Market: President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner yesterday presented a new law aimed at reducing informal labour that will be sent to Congress. The aim of the bill is to bring around 650,000 workers into the formal labour market over the next two years through a combination of incentives, especially for small companies, to register staff and stricter controls. According to the proposal, companies with fewer that five employees will receive a 50% deduction in employer contribution payments. All private companies that hire new workers will receive similar benefits for two years, with the deduction ranging from 25% to 100% depending on the size of the business. Presenting the bill, President Fernández said that working in the informal market is “the second biggest problem for workers, the first is not having a job.” Labour Minister Carlos Tomada said the bill would deliver a “final blow” to informal labour. “We want to intensify the fight [against informal labour] and so we are providing tools so that employers do not deny workers their rights,” said Tomada in a radio interview earlier today. Under the initiative, the Labour Ministry will have authority to supervise the application of labour laws. At present, provincial governments are responsible for regulating labour conditions, but according to Tomada, lack the resources to carry out controls. According to official statistics, approximately a third of the working age population are in the informal labour market.

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Argentina News Roundup: 25th March 2014


A monument to the murdered French tourists was inaugurated last year in the area they were found in Salta (photo: Néstor Troncoso/El Tribuno/Télam)

A monument to the murdered French tourists was inaugurated last year in the area they were found in Salta (photo: Néstor Troncoso/El Tribuno/Télam)

Trial Over Murdered French Tourists Begins in Salta: The trial of five suspects for the rape and murder of two French tourists in Salta in 2011 began today in the provincial capital. Three of the defendants – Gustavo Lasi, Daniel Vilte Laxi and Santos Clemente Vera – are accused of double homicide, with aggravated sexual assault and theft. Lasi has already confessed to being at the scene of the crime and sexually assaulting one of the women, though claimed Vilte Laxi and Vera shot the girls. Both deny any involvement in the crime. The other two defendants, Omar Darío Ramos and Antonio Eduardo Sandoval, are charged with helping to cover up the crime by hiding the murder weapon. An estimated 200 witnesses will provide testimony in the trial, with a verdict expected in May. The two victims, Cassandre Bouvier and Houria Moumni, were last seen visiting the popular tourist site Quebrada de San Lorenzo on 15th July 2011. Their bodies were found two weeks later.

President Accuses Western Powers of Double Standards Over Crimea: President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner today criticised the “double standards of some Western countries and international organisations” in territorial disputes. “They can’t defend territorial integrity in Crimea and be against it in the Malvinas Islands,” the president wrote on Twitter, in reference to the contrasting reactions of the UK and US to recent referendums over sovereignty in both places. The statement came shortly after a phone conversation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in which she said he “highlighted Argentina’s position to include these double standards in the debate.” President Fernández also cricticised the application of sanctions, which she claimed “only impede constructive dialogue”, and added that the two leaders also discussed improving economic and business ties between Argentina and Russia.

Paramedics Found Guilty of Abandoning Dying Slum Resident: Two paramedics, Eva Celia Rodríguez and Marcela Susana Tela, received a three-year suspended prison sentence on Friday night after being found guilty of the abandonment of a person leading to death. The pair were also disqualified from working for two years and ordered to complete a further two years of community work. The ambulance paramedics refused to enter Villa 31 to treat Humberto ‘Sapito’ Ruiz, who died in April 2011 after suffering multiple epilectic seizures, despite the offer of police custody. In delivering her verdict, Judge María Elena Diotti ruled that “the accused had failed in their duty due to their discriminatory prejudices, and therefore committed a crime.” The ruling is the first in Buenos Aires to condemn ambulance personnel for refusing to treat people inside the city’s shantytowns.

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On the 4th anniversary of the death of former president Néstor Kirchner, we revisit Marc Rogers' 2011 article analysing his legacy.

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