1. JUDGE ORDERS SANCTIONS AGAINST ARGENTINA IN VICTORY FOR CREDITORS (The Wall Street Journal)
By Julie Wernau
August 12, 2015
Any nonmilitary or nondiplomatic Argentine assets the hedge funds can find in the U.S. are subject to seizure
NEW YORK—Creditors who have chased Argentina around the world in their attempts to get paid found victory Wednesday when a U.S. district court judge ordered sanctions against the nation for failing to disclose the whereabouts of its assets.
Hedge funds led by NML Capital Ltd. and Aurelius Capital Management Ltd. owed $1.7 billion in debt the nation defaulted on in 2001, demanded the sanctions, saying Argentina hadn’t responded to its requests for information, despite a 2013 court order. The holdouts—who are among a minority of creditors who have refused the nation’s offers to exchange the bonds—have come after the nation’s central bank, state-owned oil company and even its space agency in their attempts to collect.
Under U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Griesa’s order Wednesday, any assets the hedge funds are able to track down in the U.S.—as long as they aren’t military or diplomatic—will automatically be considered commercial property that can be subject to seizure. Within 10 days, Argentina must also produce of list of all documents it has withheld from its creditors by claiming it is privileged information.
Argentina has continually argued it doesn’t have any assets that can be legally attached to the case and that is has produced all the information it has.
“We believe there is significant property of Argentina in the United States…. We have no choice but to continue to find assets. We aren’t going to walk away,” said Attorney Robert A. Cohen, who represents the plaintiffs.
To fall under the court’s jurisdiction, the Argentine assets would have been state-owned entities used for commercial activities inside the U.S. In court documents, NML said its own investigations have found bank accounts and other entities that fit the bill but Argentina has repeatedly said it has no commercial assets in the U.S.
The nation said the hedge funds want a “witch hunt” so that they can come after anyone rumored to be doing business with or advising Argentina. At one point, according to court documents, NML attempted to seize the passport of a former director of the World Bank.
They told Judge Griesa that the sanctions, as requested, would go against other court decisions in other jurisdictions, opening the door to holdouts to claim military and diplomatic assets including those held by the Argentine embassies.
“They tried to seize an Argentine satellite,” said Attorney Carmine Boccuzzi Jr., who represents Argentina.
Ruling from the bench, Judge Griesa chided the nation for referring to its creditors as “vultures” and interrupted the defense’s arguments, saying its creditors had every right to whatever information they needed to get paid.
“The Republic of Argentina has failed to honor its obligations to pay indebtedness that dates back 12 years or so ago. That is why we are here,” he said.
The plaintiffs had asked for far more broad-reaching sanctions that would have prevented the sovereign nation from arguing about whether or not an asset was being used for commercial use.
In a separate case, an appellate court Monday narrowed the field of bondholders who can demand payment from the South American nation unless their claims to damages are more clearly defined.
In the decision handed down Monday, U.S. Circuit Judge Chester Straub called $700 million in U.S. District Court judgments against Argentina “inflated” and said the court had failed to take into account the movement of bonds in the secondary market.
The action could force bondholders to come forward individually, which is likely to vastly lower judgments against Argentina. So far, named plaintiffs in the class-action suits have come forward claiming individual damages of less than $700,000.
2. US JUDGE: ARGENTINE ASSETS CONSIDERED COMMERCIAL IN DISPUTE (The Washington Post)
August 12, 2015
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A U.S. federal judge in New York sanctioned Argentina on Wednesday, ruling that he will consider Argentine government assets in the U.S. as commercial property in a long-running dispute over the South American nation’s debt.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Griesa said the only exceptions would be military and diplomatic assets. The decision will make it easier for hedge fund NML Capital and other creditors to try to seize Argentine assets if they decide to go after them.
The judge also gave Argentina 10 days to produce a log of any documents it deemed protected by attorney-client privilege, or else he would waive the privilege with the firm representing the country. The holdout creditors have long been trying to get lawyers representing Argentina to turn over details of Argentine assets.
The dispute goes back to Argentina’s $100 billion default in 2001. Most creditors accepted lower-valued bond swaps in 2005 and 2010. But the hedge funds refused and took Argentina to court in New York and won.
Griesa has repeatedly ruled that Argentina can’t pay its other creditors until it pays the holdouts. Argentina has not complied with Griesa’s orders, and the funds have tried to seize Argentine assets around the world.
3. ARGENTINA OFFICIALS TRY DAMAGE CONTROL AFTER FLOODING (The Washington Post)
By Almudena Calatrava
August 12, 2015
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina’s government tried to ease public anger Wednesday over flooding that forced an estimated 11,000 people to flee their homes in Buenos Aires province.
The inadequacy of flood prevention measures in Argentina’s largest province that was evident after torrential weekend rainstorms has become a hot issue ahead of the Oct. 25 presidential election.
Economy Minister Axel Kicillof announced measures Wednesday to help retirees and low-income families affected by rivers spilling over their banks. Cabinet Chief Anibal Fernandez, who is running for governor of Buenos Aires province, visited the areas hit by flooding that killed at least three people.
The current governor, Daniel Scioli, who is a presidential candidate, was forced to return to Argentina after he was criticized for traveling to Italy during the emergency. His office said that Scioli’s trip involved medical matters for a prosthetic arm and that he would be back home Thursday.
Scioli, a former power boat champion who lost his right arm in a 1989 crash, is the chosen successor of President Cristina Fernandez and received the most votes in Sunday’s open primaries. Several polling places were relocated during the voting because of flooding.
The storms in northern Buenos Aires province dropped a record total of 35 centimeters (almost 14 inches) of rain in some areas, according to the province’s agency for emergencies.
Some residents of Buenos Aires province blamed poor infrastructure for the destructive flooding. In 2013, at least 80 people died in the provincial capital of La Plata as flooding from days of heavy rains swamped Argentina’s low-lying capital and the province of Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri is Scioli’s main challenger in the presidential election. On Wednesday, Macri said Scioli’s lack of management and the urgent need for public works in the province were the main causes for the latest disaster.
The national government has acknowledged the need for more drainage works in the area. But the provincial government says the drainage works demanded by residents are being carried out and already helped reduce the damage from the latest flooding.
Metereologist Eduardo Sierra told local Radio Del Plata that a stronger than expected EL Nino weather pattern is causing the heavy rains.
The Arrecifes River grew to 29 feet (nearly 9 meters), nearly twice its usual level. Although the Arrecifes, Lujan and Areco rivers are slowly lowering, authorities were concerned about the possibility of more rains and wind.
One of the worst-hit cities is Lujan, about 46 miles (75 kilometers) west of Argentina’s capital. Water reached the inside of the basilica where thousands of Roman Catholic pilgrims visit each year to give thanks to the Virgin of Lujan, the country’s patron saint.
Relief organizations are collecting water, mattresses and food for evacuees being housed at stadiums owned by Argentina’s top soccer clubs and at the Plaza de Mayo in the capital.
The Telam state news agency said the president is meeting regularly with her Cabinet and will “redouble efforts” to help the people affected by the floods.
4. U.S. JUDGE SANCTIONS ARGENTINA IN DEBT DEFAULT LITIGATION (Reuters News)
By Nate Raymond
August 12, 2015
Aug 12 (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Wednesday sanctioned Argentina for failing to provide documents and information about U.S. assets sought by creditors holding defaulted debt and seeking to collect on unpaid judgments.
The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan, is the latest setback to Argentina’s effort to stop hedge funds and other creditors from pursuing repayment on the cash-strapped country’s bonds following its 2002 default.
Griesa said because Argentina’s failed to produce documents in response to a 2013 order, any of its property in the United States, unless for diplomatic or military use, would be deemed commercial, making it easier for the creditors to go after it.
Griesa said that Argentina also must produce a log in 10 days of any documents it deemed protected by attorney-client privilege or else that privilege would be waived.
“There’s no doubt at all that the plaintiffs are entitled to sanctions based on that discovery order,” Griesa said at a court hearing.
The ruling could make it easier for hedge funds including Elliott Management’s NML Capital Ltd to collect on unpaid judgments they have amassed in litigation spilling out of Argentina’s $100 billion default in 2002.
Those creditors spurned Argentina’s 2005 and 2010 debt restructurings, which resulted in 92 percent of its defaulted debt being swapped and investors being paid less than 30 cents on the dollar.
The country defaulted again in July 2014 after refusing to honor orders to pay $1.33 billion plus interest to the hedge funds.
Griesa later held Argentina in contempt for failing to comply with his orders, and in June, ordered it to pay $5.4 billion to another 500-plus holders of defaulted debt before it could pay its other creditors.
Wednesday’s hearing followed a federal appellate court ruling in December rejecting Argentina’s bid to reverse Griesa’s 2013 order requiring documents be produced about its assets. NML subsequently renewed its request, but Argentina has largely declined to produce anything.
Jonathan Blackman, Argentina’s lawyer, warned Griesa that a ruling that all of its U.S. property was commercial could conflict with years of prior rulings.
He cited a ruling in March by a judge in Los Angeles finding that NML could not seek to go after Argentina’s rights to launch two satellites because they were not for a commercial purpose.
“This is an effort to jump over all the issues litigated case by case for years,” Blackman said.
5. ARGENTINA SANCTIONED FOR FAILING TO TURN OVER ASSET EVIDENCE (Bloomberg News)
By Bob Van Voris
August 12, 2015
All Argentine government assets in the U.S., other than diplomatic and military holdings, will be treated as commercial property, a judge said, opening the door for hedge fund NML Capital and other creditors to seek to seize it.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa on Wednesday agreed with NML that the South American nation should be punished for failing to turn over evidence that the fund wants to use to discover assets. NML, seeking to recover on defaulted Argentine debt, is seeking property that isn’t protected by U.S. laws shielding holdings of foreign nations.
Griesa didn’t immediately rule on NML’s request that he rule that three Argentine entities, including the central bank, are so closely tied to the nation that creditors may pursue their property.
Robert Cohen, a lawyer for the hedge fund, said at a hearing in Manhattan federal court that Argentina has ignored orders for years and refused to negotiate. It’s unclear what property creditors will seek to seize.
“We have no choice but to continue to find assets,” Cohen said. “We’re not going to walk away.”
Argentina’s lawyer, Carmine Boccuzzi, called the sanctions request “unprecedented,” part of an illegal attempt to seize the assets of a sovereign nation.
Griesa’s ruling won’t have a practical effect on the nation, Argentina’s Economy Ministry said in a statement.
It isn’t the first time NML has gone after Argentina’s property. In 2012, creditors won a court order detaining an Argentine Navy training ship, the ARA Libertad, in Ghana. The vessel was allowed to leave after 76 days, following a ruling by the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
Hedge funds also tried unsuccessfully to seize Argentina’s rights to satellite-launch contracts and patent royalties.
In its sanctions bid, NML asked Griesa to issue an order barring Argentina from using the attorney-client privilege to shield records. Griesa didn’t immediately rule on the request.
The case is NML v. Republic of Argentina, 08-cv-06978, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
6. WORST EL NINO IN 30 YEARS POUNDS SOUTH AMERICAN ECONOMIES, POLLS (Bloomberg News)
By Charlie Devereux ,Pablo Rosendo Gonzalez and Eduardo Thomson
August 12, 2015
The El Nino climatic phenomenon has hit South America’s southern cone with a vengeance in the past week, causing flooding and landslides that have damaged crops, cut off roads, disrupted copper mining and might even influence Argentina’s presidential elections.
In Chile, six people have been killed, mostly due to mudslides, while in Argentina’s Buenos Aires province almost 30 towns have been flooded, affecting about 20,000 people, TN reported. Daniel Scioli, the province’s governor and the frontrunner ahead of October’s presidential election, cut short his trip to Italy, Cabinet Chief Alberto Perez said on C5N.
“This El Nino is going to be one of the worst we’ve seen in the past 30 years,” said Eduardo Sierra, who has been tracking weather for the Buenos Aires Grains Exchange for four decades. “The worst of it is that this is only just beginning to manifest itself and people should be prepared to withstand some unusual storms.” He expects the current El Nino to last until Easter.
After more than five years of drought caused by La Nina, the switch to El Nino had been forecast for more than a year. Still, the sudden turnaround has caught people by surprise. More rains are projected to hit Argentina’s agricultural belt in the coming days, prompting opposition presidential candidate Mauricio Macri to claim the government should be doing more to help.
El Nino typically alters rainfall in South America and brings dry weather to eastern Australia and parts of Asia. El Nino occurs when, for reasons unknown, there’s a weakening in the trade winds that push the sun-warmed waters of the equatorial Pacific into a mound in the west. Some of that water flows back east, making the eastern Pacific hotter.
In Chile, heavy rains in the past week have flooded streets and caused power cuts along the length of the country. Much of the rain fell in the northern desert, the driest on earth, disrupting operations at copper mines, including the giant Chuquicamata operation.
A storm surge struck the coast at the same time as the heavy rains, sinking fishing boats, damaging buildings and knocking out a train line through Valparaiso and Vina del Mar. In Salto in Buenos Aires province, firemen have evacuated 700 people and estimate that as many as 4,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes, Infobae reported.
The heavy rains will not only damage wheat crops in Argentina, but will also generate fungal diseases such as Fusarium and affect the wheat’s quality, said Cristian Russo, an analyst at the Rosario stock exchange. The exchange will lower on Wednesday its projected wheat estimate of 3.5 million hectares, Russo said.
Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires city, said Wednesday he would offer his emergency services to help flooded towns in the province.
“We are coordinating with mayors because they are the ones who are complaining about a certain absence in the province,” Macri said in a press conference.
Scioli had planned his trip to Italy for an annual medical appointment for his right arm that he lost in a speed boat accident in 1989.
The rest of his team is attending to the flooding and drainage work implemented by his provincial government has prevented further damage, said Perez, who is also Scioli’s cabinet chief.
“The works and cleaning we’ve done has allowed us to provide some relief but often you can’t do a lot against inclement weather,” Perez said.
7. AFTER 14 YEARS, LOOK WHO MAY COME BACK TO THE MARKETS (CNBC News)
By Katy Barnato
August 12, 2015
One debt-mired Socialist country may soon return to the capital markets, say analysts—but it’s not Greece.
The primary ballot held on Sunday in Argentina indicated that this year’s presidential election battle would be a tough one, with no clear winner in sight.
But irrespective of whether Argentina’s leftist Front for Victory party remains in power or is replaced by the pro-business Cambiemos party, draconian capital controls may be scrapped.
“The interesting thing for us as investors is that you have two candidates who will have to bring Argentina back to international capital markets because they need to do it. The only question, are they going to do it fast or slowly?” Juan Sartori, president of Union Group, a private equity company focused on Latin America, told CNBC.
Argentina has remained largely barred from global capital markets following a massive debt default in 2002 and a subsequent one in 2014. A dispute with so-called holdout creditors still has not been solved, with billionaire hedge fund investor Paul Singer one of those chasing his dues.
Capital controls and trade restrictions introduced in December 2001 remain largely in place, with importers requiring authorization to purchases U.S. dollars, for instance.
Mauricio Macri of Cambiemos, who scored second in Sunday’s poll, has pledged to swipe away the capital controls and trade restrictions on his first day in office, should he win in the presidential elections in October.
However, Sartori argued that even Daniel Scioli, the chosen successor of incumbent president Cristina Kirchner, would be forced to scale back on controls and try to regain the trust of investors.
Kirchner, who has led the country for eight years and taken an antagonistic line towards international business, is barred from running for a third term. She was preceded as president by her husband Nestor Kirchner, who led the country for four years.
It may seem that Argentina has little choice but to raise funds—thanks to limited financing options and sky-high inflation. Pressingly, in October—the same month Argentinians head to the polls—the country will face a $6.3 billion debt payment.
“We have no doubt that it (capital markets reopening) is going to happen, probably in a year or two years from now, whether because people want it or because the country needs it. Argentina needs foreign capital again,” Sartori told CNBC.
When Argentina introduced capital controls in 2001, investors could withdraw only small amounts of cash on a weekly basis, with no withdrawals from U.S.-denominated accounts permitted. This paved the way for increasingly stricter controls, culminating in a forced currency conversion of 1 peso to the U.S. dollar in the private sector and 1.4 pesos to the dollar in the public sector and for dollar deposits.
Some control measures were later challenged in court and revoked or loosened.
Argentina’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth shrunk to 0.5 percent in 2014 compared to 2.9 percent the year before, according to the World Bank. The country suffers from one of the highest inflation rates in the world: PwC forecast on Monday that Argentine prices would rise by an average of 20 percent in 2015 and 25 percent in 2016.
“We have to keep in mind that Argentina’s current economic imbalances mean that whoever wins will have to tread a very fine line between reforming the country and not throwing the country into recession. So I think that even an opposition win will mean a very slow pace for Argentine reform, but a lot of hope for potential investors,” Jimena Blanco, principal Latin America analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC on Monday.
Sartori himself was optimistic about investment opportunities.
“When they open up… this injection of foreign capital after 10 years of being completely barred from the global economy is going to have a positive impact,” he told CNBC.
“So we have been historically very pessimistic over Argentina. We don’t have a dollar invested in that country. We are slowly changing our view.”
The appeal of Argentina for risk-taking investors is clear—the benchmark Argentine Merval stock index has gained nearly 40 percent year-to-date, while the Argentine peso is up nearly 8 percent against the U.S. dollar.
“Spreads have come in… equities have also rallied,” Maarten-Jan Bakkum, emerging markets strategist at ING, told CNBC on Monday.
“If you want to take some risk you can try to play Argentina.”
8. THE ROOTS OF THE POPE’S POLITICS (The New York Times)
By Uki Goni
13 August 2015
BUENOS AIRES — ”I wish to join my voice to yours in calling for land, lodging and labor for all our brothers and sisters. I said it and I repeat it: These are sacred rights. It is important, it is well worth fighting for them.” The combative-sounding message of Pope Francis last month on his South American tour resonated deeply in a region where poverty continues to be the most pressing concern.
In Ecuador, an estimated one million people turned out to greet the Argentine pontiff. In Bolivia, where these words were spoken, Francis held an open-air Mass for hundreds of thousands beneath a giant sculpture of Christ the Redeemer. He asked an audience in Paraguay ”not to yield to an economic model which is idolatrous, which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.”
The pope’s strong words against the excesses of capitalism may have made conservatives wary in the run-up to his visit to the United States next month. But if Francis appears to some as a revolutionary in pontifical robes from a continent where a series of populist, left-wing governments have held power for the past decade and a half, that characterization fundamentally misunderstands the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church in South America that have shaped the pope’s political thought.
The Economist recently called Francis ”the Peronist Pope,” referring to his known sympathies for Argentina’s three-time president, Juan Perón. In the 1940s and ’50s, the populist general upended Argentina’s class structure by championing the country’s downtrodden.
Less known is that Perón took his cue from the politicized Catholic leaders of ’30s Argentina. Church leaders back then sought the integration of Argentina’s new working class by promoting radical labor reforms. Bishops addressed some of the country’s first large rallies of workers, and Perón cut his teeth speaking at meetings of the Círculos Católicos de Obreros (Catholic Worker Circles).
Perón’s alliance with the bishops was sealed when the 1943-46 military regime, in which he was vice president, made Catholic education obligatory in Argentina’s previously secular public schools. The process culminated in 1944 when Perón decorated a statue of the Virgin Mary with a military sash and appointed her a ”general,” accompanied by a 21-gun salute.
”Neither Marxists nor Capitalists. Peronists!” was the chant of Perón’s supporters. And it was borrowing from the church’s political thinking that enabled Perón to found his ”Third Way.”
Today, the church in South America is threatened not by Marxism but by the gradual drift of its faithful toward evangelical Protestantism, which offers a more direct relationship with God. With the largest slice of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics, about 28 percent, living in South America, this is a slide the Vatican can ill afford to ignore.
It comes naturally, then, to Francis, who became a priest in Argentina’s politically engaged church hierarchy, to adopt a populist political tone to combat that drift. He speaks directly to the region’s poor with a fire found in the ”liberation theology” that inspired South America’s leftist revolutionaries of the 1970s.
Pope Francis, who firmly disapproved of armed resistance, was not at first a supporter of liberation theology. But his thinking evolved. ”If you were to read one of the sermons of the first fathers of the church, from the second or third centuries, about how you should treat the poor, you’d say it was Maoist or Trotskyist,” he said in 2010, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires (and still known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio).
The catalyst for the fusion of ’70s liberation theology and ’30s conservative church activism that underpins Francis’ worldview can be traced to his encounter with a single extraordinary person. In about 1953, as a young apprentice at a pharmaceutical lab, he met Esther Ballestrino de Careaga, a chemist in her mid-30s who had campaigned for farm laborers’ rights in Paraguay and founded that country’s first women’s movement. ”She’s the person who taught me to think,” Francis told Ms. Careaga’s daughter, Ana María, when the two met last month during the papal tour.
”When I hear him speak today about the poor, the excluded, about everybody’s right to work and a roof over their heads,” she says, ”I hear my mother’s influence.”
Francis and Ms. Careaga remained friends during Argentina’s 1976-83 junta, when thousands of opponents were murdered by the military, but each dealt with the dictatorship in different ways. She went on a collision course with the generals. He reportedly worked behind the scenes to save whomever he could from the carnage. Nevertheless, their friendship lasted until Ms. Careaga’s murder in 1977 at the hands of the regime.
Francis has been criticized for failing to take a more public stand — other church leaders paid with their lives for denouncing the crimes of the regime. Bishop Enrique Angelelli of the northern province of La Rioja was killed in 1976 for investigating the murder of two priests. But if Francis did not make himself a martyr, neither was he one of the many collaborators within the church hierarchy. When proceedings began this April to make Angelelli a saint, Francis came out in support.
Although forged in the fiery crucible of the region’s politics, his outlook disavows the confrontational nature of most South American political thought — divided between Peronists and anti-Peronists, liberals and anti-imperialists, left and right. Francis’ blend of thought and tradition isn’t simply middle ground.
The friendship with Ms. Careaga holds the key. He did not share her ideology, but he adopted those values he found humanistic, universal and consistent with Christian teaching.
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Uki Goñi is the author of ”The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Perón’s Argentina” and a contributing opinion writer.
9. ARGENTINE GRAINS FARMERS TO HOLD 5-DAY SALES STRIKE (Reuters News)
12 August 2015
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 12 (Reuters) – Argentine farm groups on Wednesday declared a five-day suspension of grains sales later this month to cajole candidates in October’s presidential election into promising to unwind state controls on grains exports.
Growers in the grains powerhouse say they have been stung by government policies that include hefty export taxes on soybeans and curbs on how much corn and wheat can be shipped out of the country.
The strike will begin on Aug. 24 and result in most farmers halting the sale of wheat, corn and soy, as well as cattle.
“We need answers,” Luis Etchevehere, head of the Rural Society of Argentina, told a news conference.
Argentina is the world’s No. 3 exporter of soybeans and the top supplier of soymeal livestock feed. Even so, the strike is unlikely to impact exports as traders have a window of time in which to ensure sufficient stocks.
Farmers and commodity traders say Argentina could increase its grains output by as much as a fifth if the next president scraps the government controls that have slowed investment.
The country’s Rosario Grains Exchange on Wednesday revised down its wheat planting area forecast for the 2015/16 crop to 3.4 million hectares on Wednesday, citing “commercial uncertainties.”
Leading opposition candidate Mauricio Macri, the market favorite, has pledged to abolish export taxes on all grains products except soy, which would be phased out more slowly.
However, the front runner in the presidential race, ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli, promises only gradual change and has been light on agriculture policy detail.
10. TEATRO COLÓN IN BUENOS AIRES AIMS TO RECLAIM GLORY DAYS WITH A NEW DIRECTION (NYTimes.com Feed)
By Marina Harss
16 August 2015
BUENOS AIRES — The Teatro Colón, a stately Belle Époque building, presides over the Avenida 9 de Julio here like a grande dame, elegant and imposing. The century-old building fills a city block, rising four stories and extending three stories below ground, with studios and workshops beneath the avenue and the Plaza del Vaticano. It is one of this city’s most important landmarks, a reminder of a more prosperous era, when artists like Toscanini, Caruso and the Ballets Russes routinely performed there.
On a recent July afternoon, three couples were positioned across a large studio. The men rested the tips of their fingers on their partners’ temples as the women hovered on one leg, the other leg extended in an arabesque. The gesture, from Frederick Ashton’s 1952 ballet “Sylvia,” surprising in its intimacy, reads both as a caress and as an ingenious partnering move.
“In every Ashton ballet there is a climax,” said Susan Jones, a longtime ballet mistress with American Ballet Theater who had traveled here to teach “Sylvia” to members of the Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón. “And this is it,” she continued, “not the fish dive or the big lift” that had come before. “It’s subtle, not in your face.”
The dancers struggled to master the timing and exact placement of the hands. Then one couple — the petite and delicate Nadia Muzyka and the long-limbed Federico Fernández — got it. Ms. Muzyka seemed to float for an instant, then melted back into her partner’s arms.
“Sylvia,” a mythological ballet based on a play by the 16th-century poet Torquato Tasso, is to be performed by the Colón for the first time in a weeklong run starting Aug. 23. It is part of the final season sketched out by the company’s former artistic director, Lidia Segni; its style, detailed, charming and almost fussily classical, is new to these dancers, who are more accustomed to the epic classicism of “Swan Lake” or the ghostly romanticism of “Giselle.”
In February, in one of the abrupt changes that have characterized the theater’s recent history, the company was taken in hand by Maximiliano Guerra, a former Colón star who went on to join the London Festival Ballet and La Scala, among other companies, and to found his own troupe, the Ballet del Mercosur.
Interviewed in his unglamorous subterranean office, Mr. Guerra said he hoped to lead the company in a more contemporary direction, with an eye toward the European dance scene. Next year he hopes to present a bill with works by Nacho Duato, William Forsythe and Sasha Waltz, all new to the dancers. “We need to introduce them to our company so that perhaps in the future they’ll make new works for us,” Mr. Guerra said of the mixed program.
Mr. Guerra is a contemporary of Julio Bocca, an even bigger Argentine star who has been at the helm of Uruguay’s Ballet Nacional Sodre since 2010. Over the years, Argentina has produced a steady stream of exceptional ballet performers stretching all the way back to María Ruanova, who danced the lead in a new work for the Colón by George Balanchine, “Concierto de Mozart,” in 1942.
There have been many others, including Olga Ferri in the 1960s, and more recently Paloma Herrera, Marianela Nuñez and the high-flying Herman Cornejo. The tradition continues with Nicolai Gorodiskii, 19, who recently decamped to become a soloist at Pennsylvania Ballet.
There are varying explanations for this distinguished lineage. One has to do with the wealth and relative stability of Argentina during the first half of the 20th century, when Europe was rocked by wars, revolutions and economic strife. Companies and choreographers traveled to Buenos Aires; in 1913 and 1917, Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes presented full seasons at the Colón. (It was here, on a day off, that Vaslav Nijinsky married Romola de Pulszky, much to Diaghilev’s chagrin.)
Russians helped to establish the Colón’s first ballet company in 1925. There were visits by Bronislava Nijinska, Michel Fokine, Balanchine and Antony Tudor. Dancers came from across Europe, later setting up schools to train the next generation. Mr. Bocca’s teacher was from Czechoslovakia, and Mr. Guerra’s from Bulgaria.
The most determined students combined free instruction at the official arts academy, the Instituto Superior de Arte, with private lessons, often from a teacher specializing in a different approach to ballet technique. “The main characteristic of Argentine dancers is their adaptability,” Mr. Guerra said. “My teacher, Wasil Tupin, taught French technique, with lots of small jumps and beats, and at the school they taught Russian technique. So when I arrived in London, it was easy for me to dance Bournonville. And when I was invited to the Bolshoi, I had the strength and muscle mass to dance slowly, the way the Russians did.”
This adaptability had a collateral effect: Many of the best dancers end up leaving. Argentina’s political and financial troubles over the last four decades have inevitably left their mark on cultural institutions. The ballet season has shrunk from about 15 ballets per season in the 1960s to just five now. At times directors have come and gone at a disquieting pace.
In 2007 the theater closed for extensive renovations. The public areas were resplendent upon its reopening in 2010 — it is one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world — but less prominent parts of the renovation remain unfinished.
The fourth floor, intended for the ballet school, is still closed off, and classes are held around town and in the downstairs studios after hours. On rainy days, water leaks into storage areas where set pieces are kept. (The Colón is one of the few opera houses in which most sets, costumes and painted backdrops are still made in-house, in a labyrinth of workshops that employs 400 specialized artisans.)
Add to this national laws that set retirement age at 65, even though most dancers quit the stage before reaching 40. Of 103 people on the company’s roster, 39 are described as “jubilable,” or “retireable,” in other words, past their dancing years but still receiving paychecks.
Nor is the company a stranger to labor strife. For months the dancers, who are represented by several unions, have been working on a reduced schedule, rehearsing three hours a day instead of six. At times during rehearsals for “Sylvia,” Ms. Jones seemed pressed for time. “The dancers are good, and they do their homework,” she said, “but they need to dance more.”
Still, the performers’ pride in the theater is strong. “The stage is fantastic,” said the ballerina Karina Olmedo, a veteran of almost three decades (and countless administrations). “It has the perfect proportions.” The 2,487-seat hall, with smoky tea-rose-colored walls and glowing lamps, is both majestic and inviting, and the acoustics are legendary.
The company continues to bring in strong dancers. At 22, Macarena Giménez, one of four women vying for a chance at the role of Sylvia , shows enormous promise, with plush arm movements and a natural, easygoing approach to the steps. “As in every company,” Ms. Jones said, “there’s that special group of dancers, the ‘hot 20.’ Macarena is one of them.” She may well represent the next chapter in the story of ballet in Argentina, if only the Colón can keep her close to home.
11. ARGENTINA CASHES IN AS GAY-MARRIAGE CAPITAL (PanamPost)
By Belén Marty
August 11, 2015
Foreigners Flock to World’s Most Inclusive Licensing
To the rest of the world, Argentina is the land of wine, mate tea, tango, and soccer. More recently, however, the South American nation has gained a reputation as a Mecca for gay tourism in Latin America.
Argentina is currently the only country in the world where any two consenting adults, regardless of nationality or sexual orientation, can get married. Based on Law 26,618, known as the Equal Marriage Act of 2010, homosexual couples can legally marry in the country and have their union recognized internationally.
As a result, hundreds of couples every year travel to Argentina to tie the knot in the offices of the civil registry of Buenos Aires.
The company Gay Marriage Argentina has capitalized on this phenomenon and is now facilitating the marriage process for interested couples.
Leandro, a company partner who preferred not to give his last name, told the PanAm Post that they have already organized the marriage of more than 100 international couples since they began just over two years ago. He says most of their customers come from Venezuela, followed by couples from Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.
The company offers a variety of services, including photography, a translator (for those who do not speak Spanish), and the required paperwork. Their packages vary from US$749 to $2,999, and premium services offer live streaming to anywhere in the world, hotel accommodations, visits to tourist attractions, and spa services.
According to the Argentinean Constitution, foreigners in the country enjoy the same rights and privileges as citizens, and can “make wills and marry under the law.” Leandro says Argentina is the only nation out of the 20 countries where gay marriage is legal that allows foreign couples to marry.
“Canada is a special case, because the country allows foreigners to marry, but only if gay marriage is legal in their home country,” he explains.
Many couples, according to Leandro, travel to Argentina just to feel what it’s like to get married, but don’t follow through with the necessary paperwork to make their marriage valid in their home country.
“There are countries with reciprocity agreements. It’s not a immediate process, but it can be done. Your marriage can be legal even in countries where gay marriage has not been legalized,” he adds.
Since gay marriage became legal in Argentina in 2010, over 10,500 gay couples have been married in the country, and 10 percent of those couples have been foreigners.
“Not once has a wedding been denied or prohibited, not for locals or for tourists, not for homosexuals or heterosexuals,” the company states on its website.
Gay Marriage around the World
Although first in the region and 10th in the world, Argentina is no longer alone on the list of Latin American countries that have passed legislation sanctioning gay marriage.
Uruguay, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Canada, and the United States have all legalized gay marriage, while Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador have approved legislation that recognizes homosexual civil unions.
12. NOT AGAIN!
WILL ARGENTINA ELECT ANOTHER PERONIST? (American Thinker)
By Mike Konrad
August 13, 2015
The economic Nobelist Simon Kuznets is credited with having said:
[T]here are four kinds of countries: developed countries, underdeveloped countries, Japan, and Argentina – Slate
Yes, as anyone who has studied history over the last century has come to observe, Argentina is beyond description. It is singularly unique, requiring its own category. It refuses comparison.
Over the last twenty years, I have joined the ever-growing ranks of those who watch that antipodean republic from afar with a mixture of bemusement, wistful hope for its success, and utter astonishment at its incomparable capacity for failure: a nation that was once the fourth-richest per capita country on earth, and promised to compete with America, yet regularly descends into collapse.
For brevity’s sake — and for those unaware of Argentina — the country is about 83% white (including both whites, and those who are almost white with a minority fraction of Indian blood), 8% Indian or mestizo, and around 9% Arab (included with the white group). Other smaller groups are also evident.
The white ethnic mix is promisingly electic. 60-80% of the population has some degree of Spanish blood. 60% or more has some degree of Italian ancestry, which is responsible for porteños (Buenos Aireans) speaking Spanish with a relic of an Italian accent. The root ethnic stock of the country is an Italian-Spanish blend. About 17% of Argentines have some French blood, including its most famous tango star, Carlos Gardel, who was born in France, before arriving in Argentina when he was two. About 10% of Argentines have some German, Austrian, Swiss, or Germanic blood. They even have some Scandanavians. And sit down for this: even some English and Irish (about 1 million combined). Not a bad mix. Certainly better than most countries in Latin America.
However, Argentina has been mismanaged by both the left and right throughout its history. It has vacillated between ruthless elites who sold out the country’s wealth to foreigners while exploiting the poor for cheap, almost slave, labor; and socialists who spent the country into poverty, and exploited the poor for votes — the latter’s most famous example being Juan Perón.
Juan Perón himself is the very essence of Argentina’s problem. He was born an illegitimate son — quite common in Argentina — with a mix of Scottish, Italian, Spanish, along with some Indian blood, about 3/4 or more mixed European in ancestry, a typical Argentine.
Perón took part in an officer’s coup in 1943. The officers were furious that the vast wealth Argentina was receiving from grain sales during World War II was ending up in the hands of a rapacious and crooked elite, who keep much of Argentina’s poor in quasi-serfdom. So they overthrow the corrupt President Castillo. The British, who were at war, saw it as some internal matter, and did not care as long as Argentina continued to sell grain to them.
The U.S. State Department saw it as a fascist coup. They had hoped the officers would declare war on Germany, but were furious when Argentina remained neutral. This lead to the amazing contradiction of British newsreels declaring Argentine coup as anti-Axis, while American newsreels described the Argentine coup as pro-Axis.
So which was it? Pro-Axis or Pro-Allied? It was neither. It was a corrupt army trying to overturn even more corrupt politicians who had gone too far. Argentina’s officer class was a mix of Spanish, Italian, and German, none-too-eager to declare war on Germany and Italy or their fascist ally Spain. Probably as much out of ethnic pride as politics.
Perón used his new position as head of the inconsequential Department of Labor to ingratiate himself with the poorer classes, by setting up a series of needed wage laws and reforms, which the elite had arrogantly resisted. In doing so, Perón garnered the affection of the poor, and politically outflanked the other leaders of the coup, who had taken more prestigious ministries. He soon rose to rule the country within a year. Perón would later have a hand in overthrowing puppet presidents who were getting too close to the Allies.
By 1945, the army overthrew Perón for the first time, but labor unions demonstrated to bring him back — a populist feat later recapitulated by Hugo Chavez in 2002. More than anyone else in world history, Perón evinced the total equivalence of socialism and fascism. He started off among a coup with minor Axis sympathies, and ended up destroying Argentina by reckless spending along leftist lines. Perón took Argentina from a statist fascist coup, to a left-wing socialist populism. Did he go from extreme right to left, or are these distinctions false? The more discerning see this as a difference without a distinction.
By 1955, Perón had spent Argentina into massive debt. For the second time, the army tried to overthrow Perón in June 1955, but they failed. Three months later, in September 1955, after a third attempt, they succeeded and he was finally overthrown — while still popular — by another army coup. But Peronism survived in the party he created: The Justicialist Party, though at times it had to go underground.
Perón returned to Argentina from exile in 1973. After his death, his third wife, Isabel Perón, took over; and the army staged yet another coup, the fourth, against Peronism in 1976 to get rid of her. Though the army, by various coups, have tried to suppress Peronism, it is a many-headed hydra which keeps coming back.
There are left-wing Peronists and right-wing Peronists — it is a malleable philosophy, easily morphed into whatever one wants. And why not? Perón himself was all over the place. Since 1989, 24 of the last 26 years, Argentina has had a Justicialist/Peronist president. And that is the problem. Argentines have no concept of a limited constitutional republic. They want magical leaders who can fix everything for them. They keep on voting for Peronists. Often the determining elections are the preliminary primaries between various flavors of Peronists.
In June 2004 [former Peronist President] Menem announced that he had founded a new faction within the Justicialist Party, called “People’s Peronism.” – Wikipedia
Modern Peronism claims it has Perón’s populist ideals without his dictatorial methods. “Peronism without Perón” They fail to see that the Peronism is the problem. A friendly form of fascism/socialism is still dictatorial.
Yet, the madness persists. Evita Perón, Juan’s manipulative second wife, is venerated like a saint, and her image graces iconic buildings, while her picture is everywhere. N.B. Her face is on the new 100-peso note.
So who just took the lead in Argentina’s primaries this Monday, and is now the chief candidate for the presidential elections of 2015?
Scioli belongs to the Front for Victory Party, an offshoot of Justicialism (read Peronism), the party of the Kirchners, whom the Argentines called the Clintonistas.
Scioli says he is more conservative than the Kirchners. A meaningless distinction. Peronism is malleable. But in whatever form it takes, the glorious leader is exalted. One of his opponents is a dissident Peronist called Sergio Massa.
Congressman Sergio Massa, a dissident Peronist who was once Mrs. Kirchner’s cabinet chief, led another opposition group that got almost 21% of the vote. — Wall Street Journal
It is like watching a horror movie. You see the pretty girl about to open a door behind which is the monster, and you scream from your seat: No, don’t do it! So it is with Argentina. They are about to elect another Peronist, and you want to scream: No, don’t do it! Only Argentina has opened the door to the monster so many times that, like the movie, you now equate the imminent calamity as comedic. And then one thinks of Hilary, one of the original Clintonistas, our own Evita.
I would laugh, but from the grave, Perón is having the last guffaw. America and Western Europe have become so statist that they are now effectually Peronist. How the worm has turned.
Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who is not Jewish, Latin, or Arab. He runs a website,http://latinarabia.com
, where he discusses the subculture of Arabs in Latin America. He wishes his Spanish were better.
FRIDAY, August 14th
1. ARGENTINE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE CONFRONTS FLOODS, CRITICS (The Washington Post)
By Peter Prengaman and Almudena Calatrava
August 13, 2015
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina’s leading presidential candidate returned from Italy on Thursday, cutting short his trip amid growing complaints about his absence during widespread flooding in the province he governs.
Buenos Aires provincial Gov. Daniel Scioli told reporters he went to Italy for medical treatment for a prosthetic arm. The former boat racer lost his right arm in an accident.
Scioli criticized opposition candidates and others who questioned the timing of his trip. He said he was in constant contact with emergency personnel and returned immediately upon hearing the situation had worsened.
“The adversary is climate change. I don’t look at this in political terms and I’m sorry about those who want to look at it that way,” said Scioli, visibly tired. He added that his focus was on helping people who have been forced from their homes.
The storms in northern Buenos Aires province have dropped a record total of 14 inches (35 centimeters) of rain over the last several days, destroying many homes and forcing the evacuation of several thousand people.
Some residents blamed poor infrastructure for the destructive flooding. In 2013, at least 80 people died in the provincial capital of La Plata as flooding from days of heavy rains and rising rivers engulfed the area.
Scioli declared a state of emergency Thursday, freeing up funds to help people who have been evacuated. He also said authorities were working to drain areas with standing water.
Scioli is President Cristina Fernandez’s preferred successor. In Sunday’s open primaries, he got 38 percent of the vote compared to 30 percent for opposition candidate Mauricio Macri and others from his alliance.
Heavy rains affected the primaries, with flooding prompting election officials to move polling stations in several areas of the vast Buenos Aires province. After taking a victory lap on Monday, Scioli traveled to Italy on Tuesday.
Opposition candidates didn’t hesitate to highlight his absence as the situation worsened Tuesday and Wednesday.
Macri, the outgoing mayor of Buenos Aires, said his administration was coordinating emergency response with provincial leaders because “they are complaining about a certain absence.”
Sergio Mass, the other leading opposition candidate, called Scioli’s trip “inopportune.”
Even some in Scioli’s own party appeared surprised by his absence.
“I didn’t know about his trip. I didn’t speak with him before or after,” said Anibal Fernandez, the president’s Cabinet chief. “It’s not my responsibility to make a value judgment about this.”
Scioli is no stranger to the bright lights of politics. He was vice president in the administration of Fernandez’s predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner, and currently oversees the country’s largest province, which includes about a third of Argentine voters.
On Thursday, he spoke in unusually personal terms about the rigors of the campaign and how it had influenced his decision to go to Europe.
“Often the stress (of the campaign) has pushed me to the limit of pain for my physical problem,” he said, adding that he seeks medical treatment in Germany, France and Italy.
2. ARGENTINA’S MACRI OPEN TO OPPOSITION TALKS BUT NO FORMAL PACT (Bloomberg News)
By Charlie Devereux
August 13, 2015
Presidential candidate Mauricio Macri said Thursday he’s open to talks with other sectors of Argentina’s opposition, while stepping back from offering a formal alliance to defeat the government´s candidate.
The fact that the opposition has more than 60 percent of voter preferences indicates that Argentina needs a change after 12 years of government by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband Nestor Kirchner, Macri said. A deadline for parties to form alliances expired in June.
Macri´s Cambiemos alliance garnered 30.1 percent of votes in primaries on Aug. 9, trailing Daniel Scioli of the ruling Victory Front alliance, who attracted 38.4 percent. Many Argentines are speculating the opposition needs to unite to prevent Scioli from winning in a first round as the Buenos Aires governor fell just short of the 10 percentage point lead he needs to avoid a run-off in November.
“We need to understand that the primaries were the first half of a match and you can’t change teams at half-time,” Macri said in a speech at an event hosted by the Inter-American Council for Trade and Production in Buenos Aires. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be constructive dialogue, since we all share the conviction that Argentina needs a change.”
The opposition includes Sergio Massa’s UNA alliance, which got 20.6 percent support in the primaries and Margarita Stolbizer’s Progressive Alliance who got 3.5 percent of votes.
Macri, the current mayor of Buenos Aires city, reiterated a previous pledge to remove currency controls on his first day in office and said the peso would be allowed to float freely without any intervention from the central bank. Argentina would avoid a slump in the peso because of the influx of investment dollars into the country as confidence in Argentina recovers, he said.
His government would establish clear guidelines within 90 days to offer security to investors.
“Argentina’s economy is so stifled and everything is so repressed that if we establish clear rules and a clear outlook the country will begin to advance immediately,” Macri said.
In contrast, Scioli has called on any economic changes to be implemented gradually.
Central Bank President Alejandro Vanoli isn’t qualified for his position and Macri said that if he gained power he would ask him to resign or seek Congressional permission to remove him. Prosecutor General Alejandra Gils Carbo should also step down, Macri said.
3. CHINA DEVALUATION IS BLOW TO CASH-STRAPPED ARGENTINA’S RESERVES (Bloomberg News)
By Daniel Cancel
August 13, 2015
China’s devaluation couldn’t come at a worse time for Argentina.
About a quarter of the country’s $33.7 billion of foreign reserves are now denominated in yuan, which suffered its biggest loss since 1994 on Tuesday.
The move is eroding the perception of Argentina’s capacity to pay its debt and comes as the nation is effectively shut out of overseas bond markets and struggling to defend its slumping peso at home. The country’s yuan holdings have ballooned since it signed an $11 billion currency-swap agreement with the People’s Bank of China in July.
“The underlying risks are now becoming more apparent,” said Marcos Buscaglia, an economist at Bank of America Corp.
Buscaglia estimates that only $16 billion of Argentina’s reserves is easily accessible, after excluding certain items such as bank deposits and its yuan holdings. That figure may fall below $10 billion by year-end after the government makes local dollar-denominated debt payments, he said. Reserves have slid $151 million this week, the most since May.
When asked to comment on how China’s devaluation would affect Argentina’s reserves, a press official for the central bank referred to a Tweet on Tuesday by the bank’s president, Alejandro Vanoli. In that message, Vanoli said the country won’t face any losses on its balance sheet from the currency-swap position with China. He didn’t address the impact on reserves, which are reported separately and updated daily.
The South American country turned to China to bolster its financing sources after a legal dispute with hedge fund creditors led by billionaire Paul Singer caused Argentina to default for the second time in 13 years.
Argentina has drawn about $8 billion from the three-year $11 billion swap agreement, but hasn’t used the money or converted it into U.S. dollars, according to a bank official who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Argentina’s $4.5 billion of dollar-denominated bonds due in 2024 have slumped 3 percent in the past month in part on speculation a government agency that owns the securities is selling the notes and using the greenbacks to prop up the peso. The central bank itself has already spent about $500 million this month to shore up the currency.
In the unregulated market Argentines use to sidestep the government’s currency controls, the peso has sunk 12 percent in the past two months on concern presidential elections in October will fail to usher in a government able to quell surging inflation and boost a flagging economy.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government has pledged not to devalue the peso before elections on Oct. 25. Daniel Scioli, a member of Fernandez’s party, is the front-runner after winning Aug. 9 primaries.
The government has let the official peso rate weaken just 10.4 percent in the last year compared with annual inflation estimated at 25 percent. Brazil, in comparison, its largest trading partner, has devalued the real 35 percent in that span.
“It’s conceivable to see a draw-down of reserves as we get close to a new administration,” said Marco Santamaria, a money manager at AllianceBernstein LP, which owns Argentine bonds. “It’s pretty clear that ultimately some kind of currency adjustment will be necessary.”
4. ARGENTINA’S MACRI WANTS CENTRAL BANK CHIEF TO RESIGN—MEDIA (Reuters News)
By Richard Lough
August 13, 2015
Aug 13 Argentina’s leading opposition presidential candidate Mauricio Macri expects the country’s central bank chief to step down if he wins the presidential election in October, local media reported Macri as saying on Thursday.
Market-favorite Macri, the conservative mayor of Buenos Aires city, is campaigning on a mandate to unwind state controls on the currency and trade that have stunted investment and stalled growth in Latin America’s No. 3 economy.
“I hope that some officials would have the dignity to resign, like Alejandro Vanoli,” the daily El Cronista quoted Macri as telling reporters on the sidelines of a conference with business leaders, referring to the central bank chief.
“Vanoli does not have the credentials for the job. He is a militant,” Macri said in some of his strongest remarks yet on the central bank’s waning independence under Fernandez’s leadership.
An organizer of the event present during Macri’s remarks confirmed the comments.
Macri’s campaign team could not confirm the comments. The central bank’s press office said no one was available to react immediately to Macri’s remarks.
Vanoli was named president of the central bank in October last year. Under his watch, the central bank has not resisted the expansive fiscal policies of outgoing President Cristina Fernandez amid high inflation.
Macri reiterated his campaign pledge to remove controls on the currency that prevent it floating freely and restrict importers’ access to dollars. He is running second in the presidential race to ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli.
“The market will determine the exchange rate, we will not intervene,” a second newspaper, Ambito Financiero, quoted Macri as saying.
Macri’s Let’s Change alliance came second in party primaries on Sunday, winning 30 percent of the vote against the ruling party’s 38.4 percent.
The results showed Scioli for now lacks the voter support to win outright in the first round on October 25, paving the way for a tight run-off in November.
Macri told the business forum he was open to dialogue with his rivals but appeared to rule out striking a deal with the third-placed candidate, dissident Peronist Sergio Massa, until after the first round in October.
“You have to understand that the primaries were like the first half of a match and you can’t change the team at half-time,” Macri said.
5. TRIAL OF ARGENTINA’S MENEM LAST HOPE FOR JUSTICE IN AMIA CASE (World Politics Review)
By Frida Ghitis
Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015
A new high-profile trial started last week in Buenos Aires, opening another act in the cloak-and-dagger drama surrounding a decades-old terrorist attack in the Argentine capital. Once again, charges and countercharges about Middle Eastern powers, shady characters and secret payments to local players are bound to come to light. Once again, the principal perpetrators will escape punishment in a case that has continued to claim victims as recently as this year, when the case’s special prosecutor, still leading an ongoing parallel investigation, was found dead in his apartment.
When this court proceeding ends, the one thing that is certain is that the killers will not be punished—they are not even on trial. Instead, Argentines will have a better understanding of why justice for the attack remains beyond reach, a topic sure to make those in power extremely nervous, especially in the midst of a presidential election campaign.
The trial involves the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of the Jewish community center known as AMIA that killed 85 people and injured hundreds. In the more than 20 years since what remains one of the world’s deadliest terrorist attacks, authorities have failed to bring anyone to justice, even though prosecutors are convinced they know who was responsible—Iran and Hezbollah—and even though they possess enough evidence to have secured Interpol arrest warrants for some of the key figures in their theory of the case.
At long last, a trial has started, but in a sign of just how demoralizing this particular case has been since its start, it centers not on who perpetrated the crime but instead on why the guilty remain unpunished. Though a weak substitute for the truth, this may be the closest the victims’ families, and the people of Argentina, will come to seeing any justice, however tangential, meted out.
The star defendant in the trial that opened last week is former President Carlos Menem, one of 13 people charged with obstructing the investigation.
The trial is expected to last for many months, perhaps as long as a year, with more than 100 witnesses expected to take the stand. They will offer evidence on the prosecution’s claim that top Argentine officials conspired to protect Hezbollah, Iran and their local accomplices who made possible the operation that demolished a seven-story building in the heart of the South American metropolis, home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities. A nearly identical bombing two years earlier in front of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killed 29 people.
The prosecution charges that Menem and his co-defendants covered up evidence linking Hezbollah and Iran to the attack by protecting the involvement of a Syrian-Argentine businessman, Alberto Kanoore Edul. They allege that the former president conspired with the former head of state intelligence, Hugo Anzorreguy, and the former police chief, Jorge Palacio, to block the investigation into Kanoore’s participation. Kanoore—a family friend of Menem’s, whose own parents emigrated from Syria to Argentina—died in 2010.
According to prosecutors, Menem and his aides pressured former judge Juan Jose Galeano, who was in charge of the initial AMIA investigation, to stay away from Kanoore. Galeano has also been ordered to stand trial for obstruction of justice in the case.
Prosecutors have long been convinced of how the AMIA bombing unfolded, but political interference has kept the case from reaching a conclusion. In 2003, then-President Nestor Kirchner called the failure to prosecute the perpetrators a “national disgrace.” That’s when he appointed Alberto Nisman to take over as special prosecutor.
In 2006, Nisman issued a 900-page indictment in which he described an alleged meeting on Aug. 14, 1993, where Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei, President Hashemi Rafsanjani and other officials decided to approve the attack in conjunction with leaders of Hezbollah, which would carry out the operation.
The next year, Nisman secured Interpol arrest warrants for a Lebanese man and five Iranians, including then-Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi. Interpol declined to issue so-called Red Notices for several even more prominent Iranians on Nisman’s list, including Rafsanjani, the former president, and Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister.
The Iranian government refused to cooperate with the indictment, and that’s where matters rested until 2013, when Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner stunned the country with the announcement that Argentina and Iran had reached an agreement to jointly investigate the case by establishing a “truth commission” unencumbered by timetables or subpoena powers. The move seemed destined to bring the case to an end, without resolution, ensuring the impunity that is the hallmark of corrupt justice systems in Latin America and elsewhere.
But the case took yet another unexpected turn in January, when Nisman was found dead in his apartment with a bullet in his head. His murder came the day before he was scheduled to appear before Congress to expose what he said was evidence that the deal with Tehran was explicitly designed to protect Iranian officials from prosecution—and that Fernandez de Kirchner was directly implicated in the scheme.
Nisman’s conspiracy case against Fernandez de Kirchner has been dismissed by the courts. And yet, he might have found a measure of satisfaction in the current trial. It was Nisman who first requested an arrest warrant for Menem back in 2008, telling a judge that the former president had blocked the initial investigation of Kanoore’s connection to the bombing. Nisman eventually dropped that request. A federal judge later charged Menem, his brother and other officials with hiding evidence and abuse of power, ordering the former president to stand trial. That case now stands as the last remaining legal thread in the AMIA investigation.
The case against Menem and his co-defendants is unfolding as Fernandez’s term comes to an end. Argentina’s voters will choose a new president in October. For the first time in a dozen years, there is not a Kirchner on the ballot.
More than a decade after Nestor Kirchner declared the failure to prosecute the AMIA perpetrators a national disgrace, the quest for justice has become even more confusing, more sordid and more disheartening.
For the families of the victims, the last best hope is that this new trial, occurring in the midst of an election campaign, will unearth enough information to fuel interest in the case and spur Argentine voters to demand a commitment from the candidates to not allow it to die. Without a prosecution of the perpetrators, the AMIA bombing will continue hanging as a dark cloud over Argentina.
6. EVITA, TAKE TWO? INVESTORS FEAR PERONIST POWER GRAB IN ARGENTINA, AS BOND CLAIMS LANGUISH (Heartland.org)
By Gene Koprowski
August 13, 2015
A U.S. appeals court this week pared the list of bondholders whose claims against Argentina are still unsettled, 13 years after the nation’s most recent debt default. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opined that the U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa had “improperly expanded a class of investors” who hold bonds and are demanding payment, following the country’s $100 billion default in 2002.
The appeals court ordered Judge Griesa to limit the class of claimants to those who “still hold the bonds in question,” and to hold a hearing to take evidence to discern the correct amount of damages.
With economic trouble bubbling up once again in Argentina, there are worries among investors of yet another debt default by Buenos Aires. U.S. opinion journals have speculated that another Peron-style government could be elected there, one that nationalizes industries owned by foreign firms.
The situation could become as bad as the crisis seen recently in Greece, but put U.S. investors’, rather than German share and bondholders, at risk. “Greece capitulated, but it is Europe that was defeated,” an op/ed in LeMonde Diplomatique, the English-language edition of the French daily, LeMonde, this week said.