FRIDAY, October 9th






By Andre F. Radzischewski Special to the Washington Times
Thursday, October 8, 2015

BUENOS AIRES | Charismatic and canny, Pope Francis has forged close ties with global power brokers and is said to have swayed President Obama’s views on tough issues such as Cuba and Syria.

But the pontiff has also found time to meddle in the day-to-day politics of his native Argentina — and may have played a behind-the-scenes role in preventing the premature departure of President Cristina Fernandez, his one-time nemesis.

Following the mysterious death of a prosecutor who had indicted Mrs. Fernandez on conspiracy charges, Francis in January stepped in forcefully to keep the president from being deposed in a “soft coup,” The Washington Times learned from a close personal friend of the pope.

Local magnates had plotted to seize the moment and oust the president after Alberto Nisman was found with a gunshot wound to his head hours before he was due to testify on a supposed top-level cover-up of Iran’s suspected involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

But through calls and intermediaries, Francis persuaded “the right people at the right moment” to let Mrs. Fernandez serve our her second term, set to expire Dec. 10, Gustavo Vera, a Buenos Aires legislator and social activist who maintains a close friendship with the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, said.

Worried that such an ouster might be followed by a large-scale devaluation of Argentina’s currency — a measure that would have disproportionately affected the poor — “Francis intervened strongly so that the constitutional continuity [would] be respected,” he said.

Helping a democratically elected leader finish her term should amount to “common sense for any Argentine,” Vatican protocol official Monsignor Guillermo Karcher, a close Francis confidant, said in an interview from Rome.

Monsignor Karcher would not comment on the specifics of the January incident. But the pope has never shied away from involving himself in local politics, a trait highlighted during last month’s visit to the United States, where he weighed in on hot-button topics from immigration to capital punishment and met with Kim Davis, the controversial Kentucky county clerk briefly jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The pope respects secular institutions and does not mean to interfere in the affairs of sovereign nations, Monsignor Karcher said. Still, Francis “does speak out on important topics,” he said. “He does not have prejudice against anybody. He speaks with one [side] and the other,” the Vatican official added when asked about the Davis encounter.

The boldness of his pontificate, though, may be felt strongest in his native Argentina, where Francis is said to have pulled strings in day-to-day politics a number of times, even though he has yet to visit his native land in the 2 years since his surprise selection as pope.

In January, he seemed to back the nomination of a young jurist to the Supreme Court, an effort that eventually failed because of the candidate’s inexperience. Some analysts say Francis may even have led Mrs. Fernandez to anoint Buenos Aires Gov. Daniel Scioli over more radical rivals as her party’s nominee in the Oct. 25 presidential election.

The relationship between pope and president, meanwhile, has been the subject of much speculation. Mrs. Fernandez had been among Cardinal Bergoglio’s harshest critics during his time as Buenos Aires archbishop, but following Francis’ 2013 election, she made a point of forging more cordial ties with the Jesuit pope.

The pontiff has met with her on more than half a dozen occasions, and the 78-year-old has adopted a “merciful” stand toward the leader known for her harsh rhetoric and confrontational style, Mr. Vera said. “I think he has given her a lesson in humanity,” he said.

By Andre F. Radzischewski
Thursday, October 8, 2015

BUENOS AIRES — For the first time in a dozen years, the Kirchner family is set to leave the Casa Rosada — the Argentine version of the White House — but President Cristina Fernandez’s grip on power will likely extend far beyond the vote in two weeks to determine her successor.

Amid accusations of large-scale corruption and opposition charges of widespread electoral fraud, Ms. Fernandez is determined to do whatever is necessary to protect her legacy and, so critics say, the clout she needs to shield herself from prosecution. Anything but a lame duck, the 62-year-old leftist president has refused to cede center stage to Buenos Aires Gov. Daniel Scioli, her own Justicialist Party’s presidential nominee, making an already rough campaign even more complex.

During the past 12 years, Ms. Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, have governed the country in a style that critics dub “monarchical,” and they originally intended to alternate in the presidency to circumvent limits on consecutive terms.

Although Mr. Kirchner’s unexpected 2010 death torpedoed that plan, Ms. Fernandez has shrewdly preserved — and extended — the clan’s influence as she went after independent judges and prosecutors, cut federal funds from provinces led by critical governors and stacked government ministries and state-run companies with fierce loyalists.

“They continue to run the country as if they were its owners,” said opposition lawmaker Fernando Iglesias, author the local best-seller “It’s Peronism, Stupid,” referring to the country’s longtime strongman. “I believe the country is worse off than in 2001,” he said recalling the economic crisis that ended in riots and the resignations of two presidents.

A staggering economy, stubbornly high inflation and the mysterious death of a prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, have all led to Ms. Fernandez’s popularity suffering significantly since her 2011 landslide re-election. But many Argentines still back the president’s Peronist wing, and Mr. Scioli, her hand-picked successor, is still favored to take the reins after the Oct. 25 vote.

Mr. Scioli’s main challenger is Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, a pro-market onetime businessman who once was seen as a real threat to end the Kirchners’ dominance of Argentine politics with a platform seeking to end the state’s economic interventionist ways. But he has been falling in recent polls, hurt in part by the rise of a third candidate, dissident Peronist Sergio Massa, who claimed over a fifth of the vote in a recent poll.

Under Argentine electoral law, a candidate needs 45 percent of the vote — or 40 percent with no other candidate higher than 30 percent — to win outright in the Oct. 25 election. Otherwise, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff in late November.

With his poll numbers surging, Mr. Scioli has been taking a front-runner’s approach in recent days, even skipping a televised debate in which Mr. Macri and four other candidates participated. A survey by Ricardo Rouvier and Associates Oct. 2 gave the ruling party candidate 41.3 percent to 30.2 percent for Mr. Macri. Mr. Massa was third with 20.6 percent.

Preserving her clout

Political observers say Ms. Fernandez, despite her shaky political standing, has skillfully maneuvered to preserve her clout after she formally steps down Dec. 10.

To avoid an internal struggle among her own political base, Ms. Fernandez in June tapped Mr. Scioli to lead her Front for Victory, even though she never particularly warmed to the governor of the nation’s most populous province — a key electoral district. His coronation thus did not come without a major concession — the incumbent imposed her chief ideologue, Carlos Zannini, as Mr. Scioli’s running mate.

Nor did Ms. Fernandez hesitate to keep in play the possibility of another run for the presidency when term limits no longer keep her from doing so. “I hope that I do not have to return in 2019,” she said earlier this year, “because that means that who comes after me will be better than me.”

Mr. Zannini’s selection, meanwhile, is only part of a multipronged strategy to cement the Kirchner influence beyond the next president’s inauguration, said Daniel Arzadun, a political scientist and author of a book about the family’s role within Peronism.

Ms. Fernandez is enlisting allies in Congress, where her son and potential political heir, Maximo Kirchner, is running for a seat for the first time. Meanwhile, she can count on the Front for Victory’s ultraloyal grass-roots groups to help her maintain control of the Peronist movement — and come out on top in a potential power struggle with a Scioli-led government.

“The Kirchnerist wing will be left out [of government],” Mr. Arzadun said. But traditionally, “the political power in Argentina revolves around Peronism.”

Irritated by Kirchner loyalists’ lackluster commitment to his campaign, Mr. Scioli said last week that he had no intention of being a “transitional president.” If he moves into the Casa Rosada, the former powerboat racer may well take a page out of the family’s own playbook and cut deals with powerful provincial governors to counter the influence of his predecessor.

But Mr. Macri has not been shy about playing on fears that Ms. Kirchner will be the power behind the throne if her anointed successor wins. When Mr. Scioli declined to take part in the debate Sunday, Mr. Macri remarked, “It looks like [the ruling party] is having trouble defining who is going to govern if it wins the presidency.”

Ironically, a victory by Mr. Macri, the outgoing president’s longtime nemesis, might make it easier for Ms. Fernandez to unite Peronists behind her and hold on to power in the long run, Mr. Arzadun said.

Whomever Argentines pick as their next president Oct. 25, the Kirchners are unlikely to stand by idly during the next four years. But the voters’ choice still matters, Mr. Arzadun said.

By Kamilia Lahrichi
9 October 2015

Argentina has a new law for treating children in hospitals that requires doctors to literally send in the clowns.

The groundbreaking law — the first in the world — for Argentina’s largest province, Buenos Aires, was inspired by the “laughter therapy” of U.S. physician Hunter “Patch” Adams and was implemented in August. All public hospitals in the province that have pediatric services are required to work with specially trained clowns.

The project is “complementary medicine to bring joy to sick children in hospitals, their families and the medical and non- medical personnel,” according to the Argentine Senate.

Ezequiel Belsu, 12, was crippled by pain from a pulmonary disease in intensive care at Hospital Piero. He was not moving.

But his eyes suddenly widened and he smiled when three clowns stepped into his room.

“Up until the clowns got in, he felt desperate. It’s the first time he spent so much time away from his home, so it made him feel better,” said the boy’s mother, Rosana Belsu.

The three go by Dr. Lala, Dr. Azul Primavera (blue spring in English) and Dr. Lulo Alegre. Their real names, respectively, are Evelyn Smink, Mara Asuncin Giardina and Miguel Alegre. And they are trained by the organization Puente Clown in Buenos Aires.

Jos Pellucchi, a physician who is director of Payamedicos, an organization of medical clowns, said clowns have been working in more than 150 hospitals in Argentina and Chile since 2002.

The clowns consult with pediatricians to know which patients they can entertain without disturbing them — or being exposed to a disease.

“We do an activity with everyone in the hospital, from the cleaning employees to the security officers and the doctors, to generate well-being in the workplace,” said Gustavo Iribarne, another Puente Clown professional.

The doctors believe the clowns benefit the patients.

“The fact that someone comes in with a white medical coat and a red nose saying the same things (as a doctor) but with a distinct language changes everything,” said Daniel Rivero, head of pediatrics at Hospital Piero.

“Health issues are not just related to our body. Determining factors include and human contact, which can change how our body works,” he said.

Clowns are important because “the hospital’s environment is very strict with white doors and aggressive people who put needles in children’s veins, tell them bad news and make them swallow awful medicine,” he added.

To build a bridge, clowns give patients in neighboring rooms each end of a rope. The clowns then relay jokes and messages between rooms.

This way, Ezequiel can communicate with his hospital neighbor, 12-year-old Sofia Benites from Paraguay who had her appendix removed.

With some patients, the clowns know that laughter isn’t always the best medicine.

“We don’t necessarily want to make people laugh. Although laughter is always curative, we want people to reconnect with their childhood’s world, dreams and fantasies,” Smink said.

By Charlie Devereux and Charlie Devereux
October 8, 2015

*Scioli adviser says candidate will resolve debt dispute sooner
*Bonds have soared on bets the next president will end default

Bond investors have long believed Mauricio Macri to be the presidential candidate in Argentina who will make ending the nation’s decade-long legal dispute with creditors a priority. With the election just three weeks away, they may want to reconsider.

Macri, the leading opposition contender, is pledging to restore Argentina’s finances by jettisoning currency controls and cutting subsidies that have swelled the budget deficit to a 14-year high. According to Macri’s own adviser, Federico Sturzenegger, those priorities will make striking a deal with hedge-fund foes led by Paul Singer’s Elliott Management less urgent.

By contrast, Daniel Scioli, the front-runner in polls, will seek to finance the deficit by regaining access to overseas debt markets, rather than making wholesale changes to many of the policies implemented by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, according to former central bank Governor Mario Blejer, a Scioli adviser. That will make reaching an accord with the likes of Singer a priority.

Fernandez’s refusal to abide by a U.S. court ruling requiring Argentina to repay disgruntled creditors led to the nation’s second default in 13 years.

“He’ll be forced to negotiate sooner,” Luis Caputo, the president of Axis Inversiones, a money manager that owns Argentina debt, said from Buenos Aires. “This is more about logic than ideology.”

Argentina hasn’t sold debt under international law since it defaulted on a record $95 billion in 2001. Creditors including Singer rejected the government’s debt restructuring deals in 2005 and 2010 and won the right to full repayment in U.S. courts.

‘Social Constraints’

U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa has blocked the country from honoring its foreign debt until the government reaches a settlement with the so-called holdouts. Fernandez calls the investors “vultures” and has refused to comply with the ruling, triggering another default in 2014.

Scioli and Macri have both indicated they’d hold talks to end the debt dispute. That’s helped spark a 19 percent gain in Argentina’s foreign bonds in the past year, the biggest in emerging markets, according to data compiled by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Government notes due 2033 which fell into default last year are trading at 102.33 cents on the dollar.

The winner of the Oct. 25 election will inherit a budget deficit of about 7 percent and foreign reserves hovering near a nine-year low.

“Scioli believes that you cannot fully correct the deficit given the political, social, economic and financial constraints,” Blejer, who is now vice president of Banco Hipotecario, said in an interview at his office in Buenos Aires. “This makes it extremely important to solve the problem of the holdouts because if you can’t close the deficit quick, you need to finance it in a way that is not damaging.”

‘Negotiate Firmly’

Scioli said Wednesday that the conflict with creditors has held Argentina back from progressing. Jorge Telerman, Scioli’s campaign manager, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

“We’re going to have the willingness to negotiate firmly, with tenacity and open to, in fair and equal terms, finalizing something that has conditioned Argentina,” Scioli said at an event with business executives in Buenos Aires.

Macri is betting that his victory will stoke foreign investment in Argentina, which would help boost the country’s reserves, Sturzenegger, who’s a member of Congress, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s offices in Buenos Aires. By reforming Argentina’s institutions and reducing the risk of investing in the country, Macri can help state-run companies such as oil company YPF SA obtain lower borrowing costs, he said.

Lower Incentive

The oil and gas producer, seized from Repsol SA by Fernandez in April 2012, saw yields on its $1.5 billion of notes due 2025 climb to a record 10.77 percent last month before falling to 9.65 percent Wednesday.

The government’s foreign-exchange controls have also spawned myriad illegal currency as Argentines favor dollars in a country where inflation exceeds 25 percent.

“If Macri does his institutional shock, unifies the exchange-rate market, the yield of YPF bonds comes down from 11 percent to 5 percent,” Sturzenegger said. “Then the incentive as a government to solve the holdouts problem is lower because you have financial means of your own.”

Ivan Pavlovsky, Macri’s spokesman, didn’t return a voicemail seeking comment on what Sturzenegger said about creditor negotiations.

Stephen Spruiell, a spokesman at Elliott Management, declined to comment.

To Jefferies Group LLC’s Siobhan Morden, Scioli would have to do more than just end the debt impasse for Argentina to regain access to overseas credit markets. The country will still find it hard to get financing as long as it’s dependent on commodity revenue and refuses to devalue the peso, she said.

“Debt issuance alone is not a strategy,” Morden, the head of Latin America fixed income strategy at Jefferies, said in an e-mail.

By Juan Carlos Hidalgo
October 8, 2015

One of the most controversial and radical moves implemented during the populist rule of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina was the nationalization of private pension funds in 2008.

Not only did the government seize $29.3 billion in pension savings but, since the private pension funds owned stock in a multitude of companies, the government also seized that stock and used it to appoint cronies to their boards. This significantly increased the government’s control over the private sector.

Even though none of the opposition candidates has proposed peddling back the nationalization of the pension funds, the Kirchner administration is taking no chances. This week the government enacted a law that makes it extremely difficult for future administrations to sell the stock: from now on it will require a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of Congress. Since kirchnerismo will likely remain a significant political force in Congress in the foreseeable future, it will enjoy a veto power over any future sale of the stock regardless of who wins the presidential election in late October.

Tellingly, the Argentine government has also drafted legislation that would limit the extraordinary executive powers that the presidency has accumulated since the Kirchner couple came to power in 2003 (Cristina was preceded by her husband Nestor). But don’t count on Cristina discovering her inner Montesquieu. The Kirchner administration has signaled that the bill would be approved only if an opposition candidate wins the election.

Thus, even though Cristina might have only few more months in power, much of her economic model will live on.

TUESDAY, October 13th









By Peter Prengaman
October 12, 2015

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Like a dark cloud, the bitter fight between Argentina and a group of holdout creditors in the U.S. has hung over South America’s second largest economy for years, preventing the country from accessing international credit markets.

The dispute pits creditors led by U.S. billionaire Paul Singer against Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who has refused to pay the $1.5 billion owed to hedge funds she refers to as “vultures.” A U.S. district judge’s rulings in favor of the hedge funds have put Argentina in default, scaring off would­be investors and forcing the country to search for money in unorthodox places.

For Fernandez, who along with her late husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner helped lead the country after a devastating financial crash in 2001, the issue has been a deeply personal fight and she has taken a tough approach, including a refusal to even engage in talks over the last year.

But many people think her successor being chosen in the Oct. 25 presidential election will feel compelled to resolve the standoff.

“There are big incentives for the next president to resolve this because the government needs foreign funding,” said.

Gabriel Torres, a senior credit officer for Moody’s Investor Services in New York. “For years, it’s been clear that deep down the current administration didn’t care about this.”

A cash crunch would be the biggest prod for clearing up the conflict, analysts say. Argentina has about $27 billion in foreign reserves, relatively low for such a large economy in which the government offers generous subsidies.

The governing party’s presidential candidate, Daniel Scioli, governor of Buenos Aires province who leads in the polls, has taken up Fernandez’s hard line, yet he is also promising to find a solution. Economists on his team have made clear that Argentina will have problems raising money until the dispute is settled. His main opponent, outgoing Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, has vowed to negotiate a resolution.

While the candidates remain vague, there are several ways the spat could be resolved. As part of a deal, Argentina could get loans on preferential terms to pay creditors off in lump sums. The country could also simply reissue the debt with new bonds at higher rates.

Still, many Argentines believe the country has been unfairly picked on, which means candidates have to talk tough when it comes to the holdouts, notes Roberto Bacman, director of the South American research firm Center for Public Opinion Studies.

The dispute goes back to Argentina’s $100 billion default on its debts in late 2001. In 2005, and then again in 2010, most of the country’s creditors accepted lower­yield bond swaps. But a group led by Elliot Management refused and sued Argentina in New York federal court. Elliot officials declined to comment on the conflict.

A familiar pattern has subsequently emerged: U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Griesa rules against Argentina, often raising the stakes, such as recently opening the door for Argentine assets in the U.S. to be seized. Economy Minister Axel Kiciloff accuses Griesa of overstepping, and Argentina ignores the rulings.

Largely cut off from international loans, Argentina has turned to countries such as China for backdoor ways to get desperately needed financing. In the last two years, Argentina has signed several agreements with the Asian powerhouse, including multibillion­dollar infrastructure projects and a currency swap.

Fernandez has touted the deals, but the terms have never been made public, and analysts have little doubt China exacts a price far more than the roughly 3 percent interest rate currently available in international loan markets.

“It’s the equivalent of somebody going for a payday loan,” said Brett House, a former IMF economist who is chief economist at Alignvest Investment Management, a Toronto­based investment firm. “Argentina is mortgaging the future” with such deals.

From the outside, the solution seems obvious: negotiate a deal and move beyond the stalemate. But inside Argentina, a country rich in natural resources with a long history of booms and spectacular busts, it’s a political land mine.

Macri learned that the hard way. In June 2014, long before becoming a presidential candidate, he said: “We must go, sit down with Judge Griesa and do what he says.”

Macri was roundly criticized, and now rarely talks about the matter on the campaign trail. When he does, he promises to be a tough negotiator who will not simply pay an “unjustified” sum.

There are other considerations, such as the “me, too” holders of about $5.4 billion in defaulted debt, a second group that has taken Argentina to court. In June, Griesa ruled Argentina also must pay them before paying its majority creditors, a decision that an appeals court threw out in August. Still, they and other holdout creditors will probably have to be included in an eventual deal.

Torres, at Moody’s Investor Services, says that Argentina’s outstanding debt is relatively small for an economy estimated at $600 billion and that the country is capable of paying it. Until it’s paid off, Argentina won’t be able to get loans on good terms and will struggle to attract foreign investors.

“Reaching an agreement with the holdouts has some costs, but not doing so has huge costs,” Torres said.

By Clyde Haberman
October 11, 2015

Grandmothers, an old saying goes, are angels in training. If so, one contingent that has had a great deal of practice can be found in Argentina.

The chief pursuit of these women is more temporal than celestial. With focused anger, they have spent more than three decades seeking to unravel and, when possible, correct one of the more shocking human rights outrages of modern times.

This installment of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries chronicling major news stories of the past and their abiding consequences, delves into the theft of babies by the military junta that ruthlessly ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Those were the years of the dirty war, as it was called. Thousands upon thousands of Argentines — at least 10,000 and possibly as many as 30,000, according to some human rights groups — became los desaparecidos, the disappeared. “Desaparecido” was a word that politically attuned people around the world came to recognize instantly, even if they spoke almost no Spanish.

Men and women whom the junta deemed leftist subversives were abducted by death squads, most never to be seen again. They were routinely tortured in secret detention centers and then murdered, their bodies cremated or buried in mass graves or dropped from airplanes into the Atlantic Ocean. The junta described its victims as terrorists, but its definition was, to put it mildly, expansive. “One becomes a terrorist not only by killing with a weapon or setting a bomb, but also by encouraging others through ideas that go against our Western and Christian civilization,” the junta’s leader, Jorge Rafael Videla, said in 1977. He died two years ago in a Buenos Aires prison, where he had been serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.

The junta’s brutality had a twist: Some of the kidnapped women were pregnant. A few had small children. The pregnant captives were kept alive only long enough to give birth. Then, as described in a 2004 article in the Harvard Women’s Law Journal, the junta embarked on “an unprecedented and systematic plan to steal and sell the babies of its victims.” The mothers were killed. Many fathers were, too. And the babies — about 500 of them, in a widely accepted estimate — were handed or sold to military families and to others considered “politically acceptable.” Birth certificates were falsified. The infants’ true identities were effectively erased. In some instances, they went to the very people who had killed their parents.

As this nightmare unfolded, two Argentine rights groups came into being in 1977: Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo and Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, the mothers and the grandmothers of a central square in Buenos Aires. Every Thursday, they marched in silent protest around the plaza. The mothers sought to learn the fates of their dead children, the grandmothers the whereabouts of their stolen grandchildren, known as los desaparecidos con vida, the living disappeared.

Not everyone was even aware at first that a grandchild existed. One such abuela was Estela Barnes de Carlotto, a school principal. She knew that the eldest of her four children, Laura, had disappeared toward the end of 1977. Only later did she learn that her politically active daughter had been pregnant. Laura was murdered after giving birth to a boy in June 1978. Still later, Ms. de Carlotto found out that the baby’s father was another activist, Walmir Montoya. He, too, was killed, and his remains were not identified until 2009.

Ms. de Carlotto, who turns 85 on Oct. 22, joined Las Abuelas in 1979 and became its president 10 years later. Her story is central to the Retro Report video. Identifying and finding missing grandchildren turned into her life’s mission, with every success representing one more blow against the murderous junta. “Each case,” she has said in interviews, “is a triumph of truth over lies, horrors and deceit.”

Yet as stolen babies were tracked down one by one, 113 of them by May 2014, the search for her own grandchild proved futile. Then, suddenly, in the summer of 2014, there was a turnaround. Genetic testing proved conclusively that a musician, Ignacio Hurban, was Laura’s child. Given Ms. de Carlotto’s national prominence, the discovery was a triumph that resonated emotionally across Argentina.

Mr. Hurban had long wondered if he was truly the biological son of the couple who reared him from infancy, farmers who had received him in 1978 from a powerful landowner with ties to the junta. He did not seem like them at all, either in appearance or in cultural interests. A year ago, on his 36th birthday, he learned that he had in fact been adopted. Wondering if he might be one of the living disappeared, he had a blood test. After the results confirmed his parentage, making him the 114th grandchild to be identified, he changed his name to Ignacio Montoya Carlotto. Since then, three more such identifications have been made, bringing the total to 117.

Forensic genetics, the key to discovering many of the lost grandchildren, has proved an indispensable human rights tool. Advances in DNA analysis make it possible to match a person with his or her biological grandparent; that has been happening in Argentina since 1984. In 1987, the National Bank of Genetic Data was created there, the first of its kind in the world, and it now stores several hundred family profiles. Roughly 10,000 young adults (babies snatched during the dirty war are typically now in their mid- to late 30s) have had themselves tested for possible matches. In that manner, dozens of them have found their biological grandparents.

In part because of the Argentine experience, international accords now recognize certain fundamental human rights. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, asserts that nations must “respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity,” a requirement that extends to one’s name and family relationships. In 2006, the General Assembly affirmed that a “forced disappearance” that is part of a systematic attack on a civilian population qualifies as a crime against humanity.

The identification of abducted Argentine babies has not been without pain. Some children, on discovering their true identities, have resisted leaving the only parents they know. Also, some adoptive parents have been criminally charged, with the couple who reared Mr. Montoya Carlotto now also facing that risk. His newly found grandmother, focusing on such couples in general, told Retro Report, “Without exception, they have to be brought to justice.”

Then again, some grandchildren are comforted to learn that they were not abandoned by their biological parents, as they long believed. “Initially, most victims experienced psychological shock when their true identity was revealed,” Dr. Victor B. Penchaszadeh, a once-exiled Argentine geneticist who returned home several years ago, wrote this year in The Journal of Community Genetics. But in time, Dr. Penchaszadeh said, “knowledge of the truth, painful as it was, was emotionally liberating from the perversity, lies, concealment and violence that in many cases had surrounded their rearing.”

Ms. de Carlotto vowed to continue the search for those still missing and “for truth and justice.” She will do this, she said, “while I have life in me.” But she is well aware that the clock is ticking. Grandmothers may be angels in training. But unlike celestial messengers, they are not immortal.

October 10, 2015

The Trans-Pacific trade agreement signed last week between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries will be another nail in the coffin of the populist governments of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and other countries that will be left even more isolated from the global economy — and poorer — than before.

Once ratified by the countries that signed it, the agreement — officially known as Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and heralded as the biggest trade deal in history — is expected to cover 40 percent of the world economy. It’s likely to be a major boost to trade and investments among the United States, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile and the remaining Pacific Basin signatory countries.

But what has gone almost unnoticed is that it will further isolate the struggling economies of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and other countries on Latin America’s Atlantic coast, whose disastrous populist governments have refused to enter free trade deals with the world’s biggest economies.

And what’s even sadder, this is not even a major topic of discussion in Brazil, Argentina or Venezuela, whose leaders live in an ideological bubble, oblivious to the fact that the commodity price boom their countries benefited from in recent years was a stroke of luck that is not likely to be repeated anytime soon.

While their governments pretend that everything is fine, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela are facing an economic tsunami that may worsen their current crises.

At last week’s annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Lima, Peru, the IMF projected that Venezuela’s economy will contract a whopping 10 percent this year, and that the country will suffer a 200 percent inflation rate this year, the world’s highest. Brazil’s economy will contract by 3 percent, and Argentina’s will remain flat at 0.4 percent this year, and contract by 0.7 percent next year, the IMF said.

These populist governments, which are already weakened by corruption scandals, face bad news everywhere: China’s economy is slowing, world commodity prices have plummeted, nervous investors are fleeing from emerging countries, the U.S. dollar is gaining strength while their currencies get weaker, and the U.S. Federal Reserve may soon raise interest rates, which will make it more expensive for developing countries to borrow abroad and pay their debts.

And now comes the Trans-Pacific deal, which will make international companies more likely to open up manufacturing plants in Latin America’s TPP-member countries than in non-member ones. Whereas investing in any TPP member country will alllow multinational corporations to export duty-free to the entire TPP market accounting for 40 percent of the world economy, investing in non-TPP members such as Argentina, Brazil or Venezuela will only allow them to export duty free to their Mercosur economic bloc, which accounts for only 5 percent of the world economy.

In addition, the Trans Pacific deal will allow member countries to export to one another under common regulations. By comparison, non-members will have to adapt their exports to the individual import regulations of each of the 12 TPP member countries.

All of this will lead to a formal partition of Latin America. There will be a Pacific bloc led by TPP member countries that will be linked to the world’s biggest trading bloc, and an Atlantic bloc led by Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela that will be linked to an economically troubled China. The division, which has already existed de facto, will now become official.

My opinion: South America’s populist cycle may soon come to an end in several countries, as a result of new economic realities. Whether they like it or not, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and their ideological allies will have to desperately seek investments to face the perfect economic storm that is heading toward them.

The Trans-Pacific agreement is just the latest reason why they should leave behind their unsustainable demagogic isolationist models, and seek new trade and investment agreements with the biggest world blocs as fast as they can.

By Walter Bianchi
Oct 11, 2015

The Argentinian ruling party’s candidate Daniel Scioli maintains a commanding lead in the presidential race but still lacks enough voter support to win outright in the first round, a poll by the Poliarquia consultancy showed on Sunday.

Scioli, a moderate Peronist from President Cristina Fernandez’s Front for Victory Party, has support from 37.1 percent of those who have decided how they are going to vote, according to the poll published in the daily La Nacion.

His nearest rival Mauricio Macri, the center-right mayor of Buenos Aires city, trails with 26.2 percent, while Sergio Massa, who defected from the ruling party in 2013, has 20.1 percent ahead of the Oct. 25 ballot.

Scioli owes much of his support base to Fernandez loyalists. While he has made new investment a pillar of his campaign platform he has given little away on how far he would unwind state controls in the economy.

That has limited his appeal to voters weary of capital controls, import restrictions, rampant inflation. Some polls show a united opposition would win a second round.

Macri promises swift reforms to open up markets in Latin America’s third biggest economy but many voters worry he would return Argentina to the neo-liberal policies of the 1990s that led to a devastating economic depression.

To win outright in the first round a candidate requires 45 percent of valid votes or 40 percent and a 10-point lead over their nearest rival.

“Scioli is near the 40 percent threshold but there is no certainty he will reach it,” said Eduardo Fidanza, director of Poliarquia.

The pollster said that if undecided votes were taken into account Scioli would poll between 38.5 and 41 percent, Macri between 27.5 and 30 percent and Massa 21 to 23.5 percent.

The poll was carried out from Oct. 2-7 and surveyed 1,838 people across the country.

By Charles Newbery
12 Oct 2015

Argentina’s state-run energy company YPF plans to ramp up unconventional natural gas production to help close the nation’s supply deficit and expand petrochemical output.

“Fifteen percent of our gas production comes from tight and shale,” CEO Miguel Galuccio said late Thursday at the Argentina Oil & Gas Expo in Buenos Aires. “We have a goal of getting 50% of our gas production from these formations by 2020.”

YPF is producing gas from tight plays like Lajas and Mulichinco, as well as from Vaca Muerta, one of the world’s most promising shale plays that has attracted the attention of majors like Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell.

Argentina has 802 Tcf of shale gas resources, far more than its 12 Tcf of proved conventional reserves, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

There is room to meet domestic demand, given that the country is running a deficit in gas, which meets 50% of national energy demand.

Gas production has dropped by about 20% to 118 million cu m/d over the past decade, led by maturing output from conventional reserves.

This has left slack capacity on pipelines that can be filled without much infrastructure investment.

Galuccio said another incentive is that the government is subsidizing gas prices from new developments to encourage exploration and production. Producers get $7.50/MMBtu at the wellhead for such new output, more than a $4/MMBtu average for conventional production.

As the country pays about $7.50/MMBtu or more for imported gas in its liquefied form, there is an incentive to close the deficit with local production, he said, more so if global gas prices rise in the future.


With more gas supplies, YPF wants to expand its petrochemical production.

“There is an important opportunity to create a regional hub for petrochemical production in Argentina,” led by polyethylene, polypropylene and other polyolefins and derivatives, Galuccio said.

“This will make it possible to replace imports and become a net exporter of petrochemicals,” he said.

In August, YPF announced plans to buy stakes in two polymer producers in Argentina for $122 million by the end of 2015. The assets include an 180,000 mt/year polypropylene plant and another with 130,000 mt/year of capacity.

Galuccio said the petrochemical output will add between $1/MMBtu and $2/MMBtu to the revenue the company makes on its gas production.

With this additional revenue, YPF could widen its exploration and production to riskier locations that it can’t develop now because gas prices are not high enough, he said.

YPF produces 45 million cu m/d of gas, more than a third of national output.

9 Oct
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