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News roundup 11/12: Changes (and Covid) in the cabinet

Fernández deemed as COVID risk, with abortion, the army and pot also on the news

By | [email protected] | November 12, 2020 9:59am

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Busy days in almost any country’s politics are comparatively boring and uneventful when contrasted with Argentine standards.

Yesterday was no exception: the President almost caught COVID after grossly violating all of the protocols he insists the rest of us should follow strictly, the Economy Minister announced harsh benefit cuts to the poor in line with its newfound love for IMF-like austerity, retired Army generals formed a group which the Defense Minister accused of “conspiring” against legitimate authorities, Senate Peronists signaled that Fernández might not have enough votes for his abortion bill and, to cap it all off, we saw the first changes at the top of the Cabinet.

-As the picture of this article illustrates, President Alberto Fernández dined with a large entourage of cabinet members and other allies in the Argentine farewell to exiled former Bolivian president Evo Morales, before his massively-attended return to his country earlier this week. Social distancing went out the window, with dozens of attendants all in close proximity to each other, very few of them wearing masks, and with no signs of proper ventilation whatsoever. Hours later, Fernández’s key foreign policy adviser Gustavo Béliz (circled in red, one man away from the President) was diagnosed with COVID-19, and all of the attendants had to go into isolation. Reports say Fernández has tested negative, though he remains in isolation for precautionary reasons.

-While others in the cabinet also remain in isolation, one of them is no longer part of it: María Eugenia Bielsa (yes, the sister of that other famous Bielsa, known for his crazy coaching antics, his 2002 first round football World Cup elimination with Argentina’s national team, and his recent revival of Leeds United in England) was shown the door of the Housing Ministry yesterday, accused of being one of the “officials that aren’t functioning”, in the words of Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s latest letter, as The Bubble anticipated. Bielsa’s replacement will be Jorge Ferraresi, a Greater Buenos Aires Peronist mayor in good terms with the VP, and with better knowledge of the province’s heated territory, where land occupations have been a headache for the administration.

Another potential conflict linked to Argentina’s armed forces erupted yesterday, after a group led by retired generals announced they would band together with the goal of “representing the hundreds of thousands of uniformed men who serve the country before politicians and public opinion”. Defence Minister Agustín Rossi, who was quick to play down former president Eduardo Duhalde’s warnings about military unrest a mere two months ago, was much stronger in his response now, calling the movement’s leaders “conspirators” against the democratic chiefs of the armed forces.

-In the Senate, Peronist caucus leader and Cristina Kirchner ally José Mayans came out against the government’s proposed abortion legalization bill, on the same day that El Cronista reported the VP as telling the Presidency that there were not enough votes in the Upper Chamber (where conservative provinces have more weight, and where a similar bill fell through in 2018 after passing the House of Representatives), despite her recent switch to the pro-choice side of the debate.

-Meanwhile, Economy Minister Martín Guzmán delivered his first dose of IMF-like austerity, announcing that the IFE aid program for those most affected by the pandemic would not be renewed for the time being.

-And if that wasn’t enough, reports broke by midnight that the country legalized marihuana use for medicinal purposes.

Just another quiet day of news in Argentina.