May 12, 2015Opinions:Despite what the April 24 editorial “Conspiracy theory” claimed, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made no religious consideration in her opinion, let alone anti-Semitic references. Such characterization was groundless and unjustified. Argentina’s peaceful religious coexistence is widely recognized. As the only Latin-American country member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the government is actively engaged in Holocaust education and research.Argentina’s government has also championed since 2003 the fight for memory, truth and justice for the victims of a terrorist attack on a Jewish community center in Buenes Aires in 1994. Bringing to justice those responsible for this attack was the one and only goal of the agreement with Iran in 2013. The editorial inexplicably omitted that the Argentine judiciary dismissed, for the third and definitive time, on the grounds of nonexistence of crime, prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s baseless “impunity for oil” accusations against the government.Argentina’s historic position on human rights and non-proliferation regarding Iran has not changed, as shown by our voting record at the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Portraying an agreement with Iran as part of a hidden agenda was false and ignored Interpol authorities’ statements praising it as a positive development in the bombing investigation.Furthermore, the editorial was wrong when affirming the agreement was nullified by the Supreme Court, and it stigmatizes our independent judiciary with complete disregard for Argentina’s sovereignty.Cecilia Nahón, WashingtonThe writer is the Argentine ambassador to the United States.By Jonathan GilbertMay 12, 2015BUENOS AIRES — A criminal case against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was closed Tuesday when federal judges accepted a prosecutor’s decision not to pursue accusations that she had conspired to shield Iranians suspected of planning the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center here.The case had originally been brought by another prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who was found dead in January at his home, hours before he was to present his findings before Congress. Mr. Nisman’s body was lying in a pool of blood, and he had a bullet lodged in his head. A pistol was found on the floor under the body, and a spent cartridge was also at the scene. There was no suicide note.His death thrust Argentina into its most severe political crisis in more than a decade. A team of experts is trying to determine whether it was suicide or murder, but the evidence is inconclusive and a consensus seems improbable.The three-judge panel unanimously agreed to accept a prosecutor’s decision to drop Mr. Nisman’s case. The prosecutor, Javier de Luca, refused to take up an appeal to carry the case forward after two courts dismissed it, saying there was no crime on which to base an investigation.Mr. Nisman accused Mrs. Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman of trying to derail his lengthy investigation into the bombing of the Jewish center, which killed 85 people. He said they had plotted a political cover-up to deflect his charges that former Iranian officials masterminded the attack.It is extremely rare for judges here to demand a criminal investigation if the prosecutor does not believe that one is warranted, legal experts said.The progress of Mr. Nisman’s case through the courts highlighted how acutely politicized Argentina’s judiciary had become. Many people here question whether judges and prosecutors can act impartially, free of political interests.Judges who threw the case out said Mr. Nisman had groped for evidence to support a predetermined hypothesis. The government also accused him of trying to destabilize Mrs. Kirchner, who has recently sought to link him to her other foes. Two prosecutors, however, argued that he had gathered leads strong enough to pursue.Still, one of the judges, Ana María Figueroa, underscored in Tuesday’s ruling comments by Mr. de Luca that “no glimmer at all remains” of Mr. Nisman’s claims of a cover-up.The three-judge panel’s decision to agree with Mr. de Luca brings a formal end to the allegations. But Mr. Nisman’s supporters hope that a new criminal case based on Mr. Nisman’s findings might be brought after a new government takes office in December.By Camila Russo and Bob Van VorisMay 12, 2015Argentine bonds issued under local law, which have continued to get paid after the country’s July default, declined after hedge fund Aurelius Capital Management said it’s seeking to block the payments.The nation’s 2024 bonds reversed earlier gains and slid 0.25 cent to 98.17 cents on the dollar, pushing yields up 0.05 percentage point to 9.1 percent at 5 p.m. New York time.Aurelius claims that Argentina’s $1.4 billion of bonds sold in April are subject to U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Griesa’s ruling, which says that some of the country’s performing bonds are subject to equal treatment, or pari passu, with defaulted debt. That means they can’t be serviced unless the nation also pays defaulted bonds from 2001.Aurelius argued Argentine bonds due 2024 should be included in the ruling because they were marketed abroad by Deutsche Bank AG. Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said the April 21 sale of so-called Bonar 24s proved Argentina has access to international financing even after its July default.“Mr. Kicillof likes to brag that the recent Bonar 24 offering was international,” Mark Brodsky, chairman of Aurelius Capital Management said in an e-mailed statement. “We agree. That makes those bonds subject to our pari passu covenant. The hedge funds that piled into these richly priced bonds did so with eyes wide open.”May 12, 2015In the past few months Argentina has catapulted to the front end of global attention on new nuclear builds with deals for three new nuclear reactors, two from China and one from Russia. Additionally, the country has its own nuclear R&D program which supports the development of a 25 MB SMR based on PWR designs.The combined value of the Chinese and Russian deals is estimated to be between $18-20 billion. Of this amount, most of it will be financed by China’s CNNC (deal worth $13 billion) and Russia’s Rosatom (deal worth $6 billion). Even with these favorable terms, Argentina may still have to go to international financial markets for its share and this will be an issue given the country’s less than stellar track record in paying its debts.Two from ChinaFor starters, World Nuclear News (WNN) reports that China has two reactors on its order books to be delivered to Argentina. The first is an 800 MW PHWR Candu type reactor with work to begin on it in 2016. The second is the first export of CNNC’s new 1100 MW Hualong One to a South American country.China will provide most of the financing of both reactors, but the credit line come with a price. Unlike many export deals from other suppliers, which have strong localization programs to benefit the domestic industries where the reactor is being built, CNNC is demanding in return for favorable financial terms that Chinese companies be given priority for all aspects of the project including design, construction, and the fuel cycle.These terms have not set well with Argentina’s nuclear regulatory agency nor the government both of which have doubts about being a first of a kind test case for an export deal for the Hualong One. CNNC has only recently broken ground for two Hualong One units at a domestic site so experience building one isn’t available.As a result, Argentina has postponed closing the deal for its Hualong unit until 2017 which should give CNNC time to prove that it can keep to schedule and costs for the domestic project. CNNC has tried to sweeten the deal with Argentina by offering to transfer some of the Hualong One PWR technology as part of the arrangement for using Chinese suppliers.The PHWR would be built at the Atucha site near Buenos Aries. The CNNC Hualong One is expected to be built along the Paraguary River, but the exact location hasn’t been set.One from RussiaIn April Argentina signed an agreement with Rosatom for construction of a 1200 MW VVER. Both Roastom and the Argentine government said the final terms and conditions for the project would be completed later this year. Initial reports indicate that like the Chinese project, Rosatom would provide financing of between 50-70% and offer some technology transfer in return for Rosatom providing the reactor, turbine, and fuel cycle. Localization of components has rarely been a significant element of Rosatom’s export deals and this latest one is no exception. The site of the Rosatom unit was not disclosed in news media coverage of the agreement.Small modular reactorCAREM SMRCAREM (Spanish: Central Argentina de Elementos Modulares) is an Argentine nuclear reactor designed by CNEA (National Atomic Energy Commission). A 25 MWe, pressurized water reactor version of CAREM is currently being built near Atucha I Nuclear Power Plant as the first prototype, and a second one of 100-200 MWe is planned to be installed in Formosa Province. The first prototype is planned to receive its first fuel load in 2017. The date for deployment of the second larger unit would be set thereafter.CAREM is being positioned to be used to supply energy for areas with small populations/small electricity demands. Another possible use is to power seawater desalination plants to supply water and energy to coastal sites.Like other SMRs, the plan is to build multiple units at the same location to scale up generation of electricity to follow economic development. There are plans for 100 MW and 300 MW designs. Argentina’s Comision Nacional de Energia Atomica (CNEA), which is the developer, has its eye on export markets for the various designs.How nuclear energy fits in Argentina’s energy mixArgentina has three nuclear reactors generating about 10% of its electricity. Its first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in 1974. According to WNN, the profile of installed units includes three PWHR Candu type reactors the oldest of which was built in 1974 (Atucha 1). Atucha 2, a 700 MW PHWR entered revenue service in 2014, and a third unit Embalse, a 600 MW Candu 6, was completed in 1983. The majority of the country’s electrical power generation comes from a combination of natural gas and coal (68%) and hydro (28%).According the US Energy Information Administration, natural gas, which is used widely in the electricity, industrial, and residential sectors, represented 53% of total primary energy consumption in 2013 (3.22 quadrillion Btu). Oil is the primary fuel used in the transportation sector and represented 33% of total primary energy consumption.Argentina produces almost all of its domestic fuels for the transportation sector.Despite the commitments to new nuclear plants, Argentina is continuing to exploit its coal deposits with construction of a 240 MW mine mouth power plant near one of the major mining sites.Can Argentina afford major new energy infrastructure?What’s powering the Chinese and Russia deals with that the export arms of both governments are offering to finance 50-70% of the deal with their respective domestic firms providing almost all of the components.The Economist in its 2014 profile of the country points out that its finances are “perilous” composed of inflation, little budgetary space for economic stimulus, and a history of corruption with government projects. The magazine reports the economy is stagnant, the peso is falling in unofficial markets, and inflation is rising.A default on bonds with a group of US hedge fund investors in July 2014 put a crimp on its ability to get international loans in hard currencies. It was the country’s second default with international investors. Since then, the Economist notes, the government has “fudged” the data on how the economy is performing making it difficult for outside observers to make informed judgments about new investments.Current reserves of hard currencies have been falling from $50 billion in 2011 to less than $30 billion in late 2014.The Economist reports that the current regime of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has little political incentive to settle accounts and this sets up a situation in which international lending markets are now playing a waiting game for a new regime that will play by the rules.How Argentina will finance its end of the massive nuclear projects remains to be seen. The Chinese deal is worth $13 billion and 30% of it will require Argentina to come up with a minimum of $4 billion of the costs. The Russian deal, with a similar funding profile, will be worth about $6 billion which means Argentina’s share would come in at about $2 billion.Taken together, Argentina will want to go to international financial markets with a bond issue worth at least $6 billion, but with a junk bond credit rating. If the deals result in the Chinese and Russian only financing 50% of the costs, the borrowing burden for Argentina would be closer to $10 billion.It is one thing to sign off on nuclear energy projects with favorable financing from the vendor, but eventually, Argentina’s nuclear future depends on its government cleaning up its act with international lending institutions.
By David JenisonMay 12, 2015From Andean volcano peaks to rainforest waterfalls, Argentina has a wealth of natural beauty, and travelers can enjoy many of the best experiences in day trips. The following list highlights the 10 best (and one worst) Argentine adventures that make for memorable days on bikes, boats, feet and 4×4s.Fitz RoyNear the village of El Chaltén on the Argentine-Chilean border, Fitz Roy (pictured above) is the mountain whose namesake range appears in the Patagonia clothing logo. Located in Los Glaciares National Park, Fitz Roy has a challenging summit that should be left to experienced climbers, but clearly marked paths allow the average person to enjoy various day hikes. For example, the Laguna Torre hike leads to a lake at the base of the 10,262-foot-tall Cerro Torre, while the strongly recommended (yet more difficult) Laguna de los Tres trek provides one of the best views of Fitz Roy.Talampaya National ParkTalampaya and Ischigualasto (the latter to follow) are contiguous parks separated by the provincial border of La Rioja and San Juan. Both provinces are associated with winemaking, but these parks have closer ties to a T-Rex than a Torrontés. On the Rioja side, Talampaya claims some of the world’s oldest dinosaur fossils, and prehistoric petroglyphs and paintings provide insight into the desert park’s lost city. Likewise, Instagram addicts will enjoy shooting geomorphic rock shapes with names like the Monk, Chimney and Chessboard as well as sheer 500-foot red-colored walls. Villa Unión is a main departure town for tours, which require a ranger or registered guide.Ischigualasto National Park (Valley of the Moon)Just north of Talampaya, the lunar landscape of Ischigualasto Provincial Park inspired the alternate name Valley of the Moon, and the heavily eroded terrain would certainly give Buzz Aldrin flashbacks. Though its neighbor also has dinosaur bones, the mother lode was found on the Moon Valley side, and the park museum collection includes the Eoraptor, one of the earliest predatory dinosaurs. Ischigualasto also claims a larger collection of geomorphic rock resemblances with names like the Submarine, Worm, Sphinx, Bowling Field and Thor’s Hammer. Those who opt for a full moon tour will be happy to hear none of rocks are called Dracula.Laguna Brava and Corona del IncaIn the Andes of La Rioja Province, small groups in 4×4 vehicles ascend the rugged trails to the Laguna Brava reserve and Corona del Inca crater set in desolate mountain terrain. At around 10,000 feet, Laguna Brava (Angry Lagoon) is a multi-hued hypersaline lake steeped in Jackson Pollock-style color splatter. Towering volcanic peaks like Pissis (the Andes’ third-tallest at 22,297 feet) overlook the reserve, while out-of-place pink flamingos add a tender touch to an otherwise apocalyptic landscape. During the South American summer, tours can continue to Corona del Inca, a sapphire-blue crater lake near 18,000 feet. By means of contrast, Lake Titicaca (Peru/Bolivia) is called the world’s highest navigable lake at only 12,500 feet.Quebrada de HumahuacaSnaking its way toward Bolivia in the north, the UNESCO-crowned Quebrada de Humahuaca is a mountainous canyon with vast minerals and strata eroded into a parade of vibrant colors. The valley reaches its chromatic peak at three places, i.e., the Painter’s Palette, the Hill of Seven Colors and the Mirador del Hornocal. Though location makes it the least-visited of the bunch, the Mirador is unequalled with more than a dozen rich colors stacked in layers like upside down Vs. Few operators, if any, offer group tours that visit all three locations in a day, so rent a car and visit them independently instead.Tierra de FuegoMost people head to Ushuaia for Antarctic cruises, but Argentina’s southernmost tip is also a day-hike paradise with Tierra del Fuego National Park. Separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) is an archipelago whose eponymous park is completely contained on the main island. Well-marked trails lead through the Andean-Patagonian forest and up the mountainside to soaring peaks with expansive views. The Pampa Alta trail provides looks across the Beagle Channel, while the forested Hito XXIV stretches around Lago Roca to the Chilean border. From the latter trailhead, a challenging ascent up Cerro Guanaco pays off with viewpoints above 3,000 feet.Circuito ChicoBariloche is a taste of Switzerland in South America with fondues, wild game and chocolates that put a stress test on your belt loops. All the more reason travelers should stay active in this gorgeous Lake District town. Cyclists can start with Circuito Chico, a 37-mile loop through lakeside Nahuel Huapi National Park with scenic spots like López Bay, Panoramic Point and the Hidden Lake. Along the way, the luxurious Llao Llao hotel provides an optional water, wine or whiskey stop for cyclists who won’t scare the guests with Lance Armstrong-style spandex. Bus routes can shorten the ride, while side trips and hikes can extend it. Several companies rent bikes for the day.Iguazú FallsThe serpent god M’Boi in the Iguazú River coveted a beautiful girl set to marry an Indian warrior. As per the Guaraní legend, the tribe ceded to the god’s wishes, but before they could perform the river sacrifice, the couple fled in a canoe. The jealous god responded by splitting the earth and collapsing the riverbed into a series of waterfalls. He then turned the warrior into a tree and the girl into a rock so they could see each other but never touch. Love apparently found a way, however, as rainbows occasionally form that appear to connect the rock and tree. Though the more likely origin story involves lava flow, Iguazú Falls is a network of nearly 300 waterfalls in an Amazon-like national park shared by Brazil and Argentina. Brazil has the panoramic vantage points, but the Argentine side provides front-row views with hiking trails and boat rides that go right up to the falls. For any young love pondering a proposal at Iguazú, M’Boi still lurks in the depths near Devil’s Throat, so maybe pick a different spot to pop the question.El BolsónIf Bariloche is a Euro-Latin hotspot for tourists, El Bolsón is a nature-centric playground for post-Deadhead bohemians who dig vegan vibes and dopey drum circles. Located about 75 miles south of Bariloche, the no-nukes town drew waves of Buenos Aires hippies in the 1970s, and picturesque nature trails complement its laidback allure. The various trailheads, many of which can be reached on foot, include waterfalls, forests, ridges, swimmable lakes and strange rock formations. Many of the paths are also popular with mountain bikers, who can rent wheels in town.Perito Moreno GlacierWatching glacial ice sheets crumble into Argentino Lake is certainly one highlight at Los Glaciares National Park, but no visit is complete without trekking across the Perito Moreno Glacier. Multi-hour tours take adventurous travelers across the surface of the 100-square-mile glacier, which reaches about 300 feet in height. To avoid slipping and sliding, tour companies provide spiked crampons that attach to your boots. The terrain includes small water streams, naturally sculpted ice and a bluish glow that emanates from the otherwise stark-white expanse. Pick the right tour operator, and the trek might conclude with a shot of whiskey from a bottle chilled in glacial ice.The Day Adventure to Avoid: The Train to the CloudsFor all the memorable adventures in Argentina, one trip should be avoided. Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) in Salta is the nation’s most famous ride, and tickets costing 1,540 pesos each (at 8.91 pesos to the dollar) sell out in advance. The sales pitch itself—a 270-mile journey ascending nearly 14,000 feet into the Andes—sounds like an epic adventure filled with amazing sights. The heavily advertised excursion is, in reality, a cramped 18-hour train ride with limited views save for a stunning 210-foot-high bridge at the peak. On the way back, the train spends about six hours in total darkness while attendants make Herculean attempts to sell merchandise. The train’s Wikitravel entry conspicuously does not allow edits, a move that predates last summer’s derailment at 12,000 feet that required national army help and multi-mile passenger hikes. At the risk of making a grade-school analogy, the Train to the Clouds feels more like the Express Train to Hades.David Jenison is a Los Angeles native. He has covered entertainment, restaurants and travel for more than 20 years as a writer and editor.