A debate dominates the end of my dinners at my parents’ house: how to get home? I live a mere seven blocks away, a brief walk across a park. Though I’m an independent urban type, in the labyrinth of subjective insecurity that is Buenos Aires these days, the answer is not as obvious as it seems.
When I walk to my bus stop in Buenos Aires, I zip my purse shut and clutch it tight to my body, like a football player running toward the end zone. When I play Candy Crush on the subway, I hold my phone in a two-handed death grip, lest it be snatched away. After a girls’ night out, I ask my friend to text me when she’s safely home. On warm spring days, my car windows remain shut because robberies have been known to happen at red lights.
And those deeper down the rabbit hole consider me foolhardily naïve in my lack of precaution. I know people who drive from their guarded apartment building garage to their office parking lot, and who avoid setting foot on the street even in broad daylight. Iron bars cover many ground floor windows on Buenos Aires streets, and increasingly the next floor up, too. Barbed wire wraps around some houses’ entrances like ivy. And then there are those who move to gated communities, where they can finally leave these quotidian safety measures behind—but instead end up living in a sort of custom-designed Truman Show of safety from “others.”
But the higher the walls, the more upper-middle-class porteños seem to be afraid. How necessary are these measures, and the correlated paranoia that seems to seep into every step we take?
As surging inflation takes a toll on Argentine consumers, the Argentine government affirmed on Tuesday that it would levy fines against supermarkets who fail to respect voluntary price controls that many stores and wholesalers agreed to in December.
On Tuesday, Chief of Cabinet Jorge Capitanich said that the details of the new sanctions would be made public by the Secretary of Commerce this week. Meanwhile, he encouraged Argentines to act “rationally and effectively” and to not purchase overpriced items that would validate “product price increases due to speculation from industrialists, traders and entrepreneurs."
Initiatives to freeze the costs of common goods at supermarkets, accompanied by ongoing criticism of business owners and banks, have increased as the Argentine government tries to confront rising inflation. The government has also encouraged citizens to report overpriced items to officials by using a free app for smartphones called “Precios OK” (Okay Prices).
Despite the measures, however, analysts have questioned whether attempts to tackle inflation without implementing tighter fiscal and monetary policies will be sufficient. “If the government decides to maintain the interest rate below the rates of inflation and devaluation, mechanisms will arise that increase the demand for dollars,” read a report published in late January by the Instituto Argentino de Analisis Fiscal (Argentine Institute of Fiscal Analysis—IARAF).
Likely top stories this week: the International Court of Justice will rule on the Chile-Peru Maritime border; the CELAC Summit begins on Tuesday in Havana, Cuba; Argentina begins easing restrictions on purchasing US dollars; protesters of the World Cup clash with police in Sao Paulo; Belize and Guatemala sign an agreement at the OAS.
International Court to Rule on Chile-Peru Maritime Dispute: The United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague is due to make a decision today on Peru and Chile’s disputed maritime border. The ruling will decide which country owns 38,000 square kilometers (14,670 square miles) of ocean, which includes one of the world’s richest fishing grounds with an annual catch of $200 million. If Peru wins the dispute, some 2,000 Chilean fishermen fear they could lose their jobs. Presidents of both countries have each said they will adhere to whatever decision the court makes.
CELAC Summit Begins in Havana: World leaders from around the hemisphere are traveling to Havana, Cuba this week for the two-day Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit, which begins tomorrow. Thirty-two heads of state will be attending the summit, including presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Raul Castro of Cuba, among others. Dozens of dissidents have been detained in a new “wave of political repression” ahead of the summit. Activist Guillermo Farinas has been kept under house arrest for three days, and as many as 100 members of the Ladies in White have been arrested to prevent them from attending a forum on human rights on Tuesday.
Argentina Lifts Restrictions on Purchasing U.S. Dollars: Argentina’s Economy Minister Alex Kicollof announced on Friday that it was relaxing restrictions on the purchase of U.S. dollars starting Monday. The decision came amid a 28 percent inflation rate and the sharpest slide in the value of the Argentina peso since the 2002 economic collapse. However, in an interview published by Pagina 12 on Sunday, Kicillof said that the lowering of the tax rate on credit card purchases made in U.S. dollars from 35 percent to 20 percent would not happen on Monday, with no indication of when the change will happen. It’s not clear whether the easing of restrictions will be enough to stabilize the country, given the already high inflation rate and the general lack of confidence in the government—from chronic blackouts, recent looting in the provinces, and President Kirchner’s recent absence—that has grown.
World Cup Protests in São Paulo Turn Violent: Protesters clashed with police this weekend in São Paulo, where thousands had taken to the street to protest the cost of the 2014 World Cup. More than 130 protesters were arrested, and one man is in critical condition after being shot by police for allegedly carrying an explosive in his backpack. The Anonymous Rio protest group organized the demonstrations using social media and called it “Operation Stop the World Cup”. Following the massive protests last year, Brazil has seen “rolezinhos”—flash mobs by young people from the favelas targeting affluent shopping malls —crop up across the country.
Belize and Guatemala Sign Bilateral Agreement: The foreign ministers of Belize and Guatemala met with Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza over the weekend, and signed on to a “Road Map and Plan of Action” to deepen transnational cooperation. According to Insulza, the agreement will allow the two countries to “develop significant projects in the areas of the environment, security, labor, immigration, health or education, (which) helps people to get to know and value each other.” Through the agreement, both nations also pledged that they will adhere to the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the pending territorial dispute.
The Argentine government adopted new legislation limiting online buying on Tuesday in an effort to defend domestic production.
The resolution, adopted by Argentina’s tax agency, the Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos , and published in the Boletín Oficial, restricts Argentines to two tax-free purchases of up to $25 on foreign-based websites per year, with a 50 percent tax imposed on any additional amount spent.
Argentines will also no longer be able to have items purchased on foreign websites delivered directly to their residences, but will have to pick up their packages at a customs office. The new resolution changes the way the government gathers information on shipments, requiring the buyer to fill out paper work on their transaction before picking up their order. Prior to the resolution, increased online spending made it difficult for Argentine Customs to track online transactions, but with the newly imposed measures, the government expects easier application of the import tax.
While international online purchasing will have tax restrictions, national online spending will still be unlimited. With Argentine reserves at $30 billion—their lowest levels since 2006—and a 30 percent drop since last year, the resolution aims at decreasing dollars from leaving the country, which can occur when purchasing from foreign countries. According to Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich, Internet purchases in Argentina have doubled over the past year, and Argentines spent almost 30 million dollars during an organized Cyber Monday sale last month.
Argentine government officials formalized a $500 million plan to improve the distribution of electricity in Buenos Aires this week, but remained strongly opposed to raising utility rates in order to alleviate the city’s ongoing energy crisis.
The measure comes after the hottest heat wave on record prompted a series of power outages, leaving hundreds of thousands of Argentines without light and running water in December and January. According to the Argentine Ministry of Infrastructure, Julio De Vido, energy consumption reached unforeseen levels during those two months.
The new government plan will enable two privately-owned electric companies, Edesur and Edenor, to install new substations and upgrade low-voltage cables in neighborhoods affected by the recent blackouts. Edesur and Edenor serve 13 million residents of Buenos Aires and, according to De Vido, will have to increase work crews by 20 percent.
Many, however, accuse the government of sidestepping its own role in the energy crisis. “The outages are synonymous with failure,” said Sergio Massa a likely presidential candidate from the opposition party Frente Renovador (Renewal Front).
Likely top stories this week: the U.S. Supreme Court will look at Argentina’s debt case; Michoacán’s government asks for help; Pope Francis names Haitian, Brazilian, Nicaraguan and Chilean cardinals; President Ortega says that Nicaragua Canal construction will begin this year; Air Europa rejects Venezuelan customers’ bolivars.
Argentina’s Bondholder Battle Goes to U.S. Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to review a case that pitted hedge funds NML Capital and Aurelius against the Argentine government in the aftermath of the country’s 2002 debt default. Though most of the debt has been written off since then, the holdout bondholders have demanded repayment in full, which amounts to about $1.3 billion dollars, plus interest. Argentina has refused to pay back the debt, and while U.S. courts have ruled against the country, a U.S. appeals court said last August that Argentina will not be required to pay back the money until the Supreme Court rules on the matter.
Michoacán Asks for Help From Federal Government to Contain Violence: Governor Fausto Vallejo of the Mexican state of Michoacán confirmed that he asked for help from the federal government on January 10 to combat a recent spate of violence in the crime-plagued state. In Michoacán, vigilante “self-defense” vigilante groups have occupied a number of cities in an effort to battle the Knights Templar drug cartel for control of the state. On Friday, a number of masked gunmen looted and set fire to stores and the main municipal building of the town of Apatzingan, causing fearful residents to stay home. Local Congressman Silvano Aureoles called on the federal government to take control of the situation in a statement published on Sunday.
Pope Francis Names Cardinals, Including Four from the Americas: Pope Francis named 19 new cardinals this Sunday, including Chibly Langlois of Haiti, Orani João Tempesta of Brazil, Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Nicaragua, and Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Chile. A spokesperson for the Vatican said that the new appointees from poor countries such as Haiti and Burkina Faso reflect the pope’s commitment to helping the impoverished. The new cardinals will be installed in a ceremony on February 22 in the Vatican City.
Nicaragua Canal Construction on Track, Says Ortega: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced on Saturday that the construction of the country’s $30 billion inter-oceanic canal would begin as planned in December 2014. Last week, Manuel Coronel Kautz, president of the Nicaragua canal authority, said that the canal’s construction would likely be delayed until 2015. The Nicaraguan government granted the Hong Kong-based HKND Group a 50-year concession to build and manage the new canal, which will also include an oil pipeline, overland route, two deepwater ports, and two airports and duty-free zones.
Airline Refuses Bolivars from Venezuelan Customers: Spanish airline Air Europa announced on Friday an “indefinite” suspension of all ticket sales in bolivars, making it increasingly difficult for Venezuelans to purchase flights in the local currency. The airline said that it is owed more than $160 million because Venezuela’s country’s foreign exchange agency has not exchanged bolivars for U.S. dollars in some time. Other airlines may follow suit, cutting off access to flights for many Venezuelans. While the Venezuelan government says that one U.S. dollar equals 6.3 bolivars, the black market exchange rate is 11 times higher.
Likely top stories this week: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announce a ceasefire; Venezuelans vote in municipal elections; the Mexican Congress debates energy reform; Police strikes across Argentina continue; Bill Clinton visits Rio de Janeiro for the Clinton Global Initiative Latin America meeting.
FARC Rebels Announce a Ceasefire: In a statement on Sunday, Colombia's Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) announced a 30-day ceasefire that is scheduled to begin on December 15. The announcement was made a day after nine people died in a FARC firebomb attack at a police station in the town of Inza in the province of Cauca. Peace talks continued on Sunday, but the Colombian government said it would not stop fighting the rebels until a peace accord is signed.
Venezuelans Vote in Municipal Elections: Venezuelans went to the polls on Sunday to elect mayors and city councilmembers in municipal elections that many saw as a critical test for the government of President Nicolás Maduro. On Monday, with nearly all polling stations reporting, the National Electoral Council announced that the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party—PSUV) captured a majority of the votes nationwide, but the opposition won in Venezuela’s biggest cities, including Caracas, Maracaibo, and Barinas—the birthplace of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Mexican Congress to Debate Energy Bill: Mexican Senate committees are debating a controversial energy reform bill that would allow private companies to invest in Mexican state oil company PEMEX through new production-sharing contracts. As protesters gathered outside the Senate on Sunday, lawmakers reviewed the bill, which is expected to move to the full Senate and lower house this week. The Senate resumed debate of the bill on Monday, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hopes to pass the legislation by Christmas.
Police Strikes in Argentina Lead to Violence: Violence continues in Argentina after police in Córdoba went on strike last week to demand higher wages, leading to a collapse in security and rule of law. Police forces in at least eight other provinces followed suit, leading to looting and violence in which at least three people died. Though violence continues in several provinces, strikes in the Argentine provinces of Neuquén, Santa Fe, San Juan and Catamarca appear to be drawing to a close after government officials agreed to raise wages. Police are demanding higher wages to combat Argentina’s estimated 26 percent inflation.
Bill Clinton Visits Rio: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday for the start of the Clinton Global Initiative Latin America meeting in Rio de Janeiro, which will gather together business leaders, politicians and members of civil society for three days. On Sunday, Clinton met with Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, and Rio de Janeiro State Governor Sérgio Cabral. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to attend the meeting on Monday.
Likely top stories this week: Venezuela’s National Assembly is increasing presidential powers for President Nicolás Maduro; Demand for U.S. oil grows in Latin America; Michelle Bachelet enters second round of presidential elections in Chile; Arrest warrants are issued for bankers and politicians involved in Brazil’s biggest corruption trial; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returns to office.
Presidential Powers in Venezuela: Venezuela’s National Assembly gave initial approval to a bill last week that would grant President Nicolás Maduro decree powers for 12 months. Maduro says he plans to use the new authorities to combat corruption and the country’s ongoing economic crisis, yet critics fear it will be used to suppress the opposition. The bill still requires final approval from a special commission, but is unlikely to undergo substantial changes.
Demand for U.S. oil grows in Latin America: Demand for U.S. fuels has doubled in Latin America during the past five years and continues to grow. The increased demand is due to economic growth and outdated Latin American refineries that have been unable to sustain production at levels comparable with market demands.
Bachelet Enters Second Round Presidential Elections in Chile: Michelle Bachelet won nearly twice as many votes as her second-place opponent, Evelyn Matthei, in the first round presidential elections in Chile. Bachelet won 47 percent of votes and Matthei won 25 percent, leading the two into a final and second round which will be Chile’s first in which both candidates were women. Bachelet’s center-left Nueva Mayoría (New Majority) coalition failed to win a super-majority in Congress, posing a challenge to the candidate’s proposed social and economic reforms.
Supreme Court Issues Arrest Warrants in Brazil Corruption Trial: Brazil’s Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Tribunal—STF) issued arrest warrants on Friday for 12 of the 25 convicted politicians, businessmen and bankers involved in the country’s Mensalão (monthly allowance) corruption scandal. Several prominent politicians—including José Genoino, the former president of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), and José Dirceu, former chief-of-staff to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—immediately turned themselves into federal authorities.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Returns to Office: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to office Monday after taking a six-week medical leave and undergoing surgery to stop internal bleeding caused by head trauma. Following her doctors’ recommendation, Kirchner remained on leave for a week longer than she had originally planned.
Likely top stories this week: Chilean voters go to the polls; El Salvador and Honduras face off over Isla Conejo; the Venezuelan government seizes the electronic chain Daka; Chilean forensic experts conclude that Pablo Neruda was not poisoned; the Argentine president is cleared to start working.
Chilean Presidential Elections: Chilean voters will go to the polls on Sunday to elect their next president, with former President Michelle Bachelet heavily favored to win. Bachelet may forgo a presidential runoff with the second-place candidate if she is able to win more than 50 percent of the vote; polls thus far predict she will do so by winning a first-round majority. However, this is the first presidential election in Chile in which voting is no longer compulsory but in which all eligible voters are automatically registered; the new system may have some impact on the vote.
El Salvador Appeals to UN Over Isla Conejo: Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes announced on Sunday that his government would send a letter to the UN and OAS regarding its diplomatic dispute with Honduras over Isla Conejo, which is claimed by both countries. The Honduran military has occupied Isla Conejo since the 1980s, but El Salvador's recent purchase of ten A-37 fighter planes from Chile has made the Honduran government uneasy, with the Honduran government calling the purchase "an open threat." Funes denied the claims on Sunday and said that El Salvador was a peaceful nation and was not planning to go to war.
Government Seizes Venezuelan Electronics Chain: As the Christmas season and Venezuela's December 8 municipal elections approach, the Venezuelan government on Friday ordered the seizure of the electronics chain Daka, saying that prices of goods like plasma TVs were overpriced by as much as 1000 percent. After the government instituted a rapid price reduction of Daka's goods, Venezuelan customers lined up for hours to take advantage of the new prices. Shortages of basic goods have plagued the Venezuelan economy and inflation is estimated at 54 percent. Maduro says he is cracking down on unscrupulous businesspeople and has instituted a number of strategies—including kicking off Christmas celebrations in the first week of November—to shore up support ahead of the elections.
Neruda Not Poisoned, Experts Say: Experts from the Chilean Forensic Service said on Friday that no evidence of poison was found in the remains of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, who was exhumed earlier this year and whose body underwent six months of test by a team comprised of 15 Chilean and foreign forensic scientists. Neruda apparently died of prostate cancer just days before the coup of General Augusto Pinochet in September 1973. Neruda's driver, Manuel Araya, maintained for decades that the poet was poisoned after entering the hospital. Chile's Communist Party, of which Neruda was a member, has called for further studies.
Fernández de Kirchner to Resume Duties: A month after undergoing emergency surgery due to a blood clot in her brain, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been given medical clearance to resume presidential duties starting on Monday. She will undergo more tests next month and is not allowed to fly for another 30 days. Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou was formally in charge of the government during Fernández de Kirchner’s recovery.
Clarín Group, Argentina’s largest media conglomerate, announced plans Monday to divide its operations into six subsidiary companies, in compliance with the country’s Ley de Medios (Media Law). The anti-monopoly law was upheld by the Argentine Supreme Court last week after four years of legal disputes between Clarín and the federal government. Clarín representatives said the company had only agreed to implement the changes after the decision was “forced upon" them, but they did not rule out the possibility of appealing the decision to international tribunals.
Martín Sabbatella, president of the Autoridad Federal de Comunicación Audiovisual (Federal Audiovisual Communications Authority—AFSCA) and Argentina’s top broadcast regulator, welcomed the company’s decision to comply with the law and said his agency would review Clarín’s breakup proposal within 120 days. In the first meeting held between government representatives and Clarín executives since last week’s Supreme Court decision, Sabatella said he would ensure that the reform process causes the company “as little damage as possible.”
The Supreme Court said it found “no evidence in the case that there is a violation of freedom of expression derived from the law." Nevertheless, the Court also informed the government that companies surrendering licenses under the new law must be duly compensated, with oversight from an independent regulatory authority and equal distribution of government subsidies. The law will reduce the number of radio and television licenses that a single company can hold, and pending government review of the company’s proposal, may require Clarín to sell one or more of its newly created subsidiaries.
Read about Argentina's 2009 media reforms in the Fall 2013 issue of AQ, which focuses on freedom of expression.