ARGENTINE UPDATE – Jan 19 & 20, 2017 News Clips

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Friday, January 19th, and Saturday, January 20th News Clips

1. ARGENTINE TOWN DIGS OUT AFTER MAMMOTH MUDSLIDE (The Washington Post)

2. ANTARCTIC MISSION UNDERLINES ARGENTINA’S TERRITORIAL CLAIMS (Financial Times)

3. ARGENTINA ISSUES $7BN OF DEBT AMID STRONG DEMAND (Financial Times)

4. WITH ARGENTINA’S DECADE IN FINANCIAL WILDERNESS OVER, MACRI MUST TURN TO GROWTH (Bloomberg News)

5. ARGENTINE SCIENTISTS IN ANTARCTICA TALLY TOLL OF CLIMATE CHANGE (Reuters News)

6. ARGENTINA JEWISH CENTER BRIEFLY EVACUATED AFTER FALSE BOMB THREAT (Reuters News)

7. CHILE EYES FURTHER ENERGY EXPORTS TO ARGENTINA – MINISTER (Reuters News)

8. BANKRUPTCY JUDGE DENIES REQUEST FOR PEABODY EQUITY COMMITTEE (Reuters News)

9. ARGENTINA: TANGO IN TROUBLE (The Economist)

10. ARGENTINA, CHILE ADVANCE TOWARDS GAS, POWER SWAPS: MINISTER (Platts)

11. ARGENTINA ON TRACK TO HIT 3.5 PCT GROWTH TARGET -TREASURY MINISTER (Nasdaq)

12. MEDICINE SHORTAGES POSE A THREAT TO HIV POSITIVE ARGENTINES (Americas Quarterly org)

1. ARGENTINE TOWN DIGS OUT AFTER MAMMOTH MUDSLIDE (The Washington Post)
January 19, 2017

https://img.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_480w/2010-2019/Wires/Online/2017-01-17/AP/Images/Argentina_Mudslide_83907.jpg-03c1f.jpg?uuid=mj4WaNz8EeaJAmEP5IZ5HA
In this Jan. 13, 2017 photo, volunteers walk with shovels on the way to help clear clear the mud and help locals the town of Volcan, Jujuy province, Argentina. The mudslide was caused by the Intense rains that hit the area one week ago, flooding the town with mud, killing several and causing the evacuation of thousands. (Gianni Bulacio/Infoto via AP) (Associated Press)

VOLCAN, Argentina — People in this small town in northern Jujuy province are scrambling to rescue what’s left of their belongings a week after torrential rains unleashed a devastating mudslide that buried most of the homes.

Volcan was the worst-hit by the heavy rains that swelled rivers in the region about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) north of Argentina’s capital.

The mudslide killed two people and forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 in several communities in an area frequented by tourists known as the Quebrada de Humahuaca.

Residents have dug out jars, furniture, even religious icons and statues and carted them to rooftops for safekeeping, though rescue teams fear that the roofs will cave in.

Using shovels and buckets, some people are still cleaning out mud, while hundreds more remain in shelters waiting for help promised by the provincial government to rebuild their homes.

President Mauricio Macri said Tuesday that climate change is to blame for the heavy rains and that the government will take on infrastructure work to prepare for destructive flooding.

2. ANTARCTIC MISSION UNDERLINES ARGENTINA’S TERRITORIAL CLAIMS (Financial Times)
By: Benedict Mander on King George Island
January 20, 2017

Climate change unleashes growing international and commercial interest.

Surveying the landscape surrounding the desolate bay on King George Island, 75 miles north of the Antarctic peninsula, Argentina’s foreign minister Susana Malcorra gestures towards jagged outcrops of rock protruding from the snowy expanse.

“It used to be much whiter at this time of year,” she said on a recent visit to the largest of the South Shetland Islands, warning that climate change had unleashed growing international and commercial interest in the Antarctic.

“As Antarctica becomes more relevant for the world, we have to strengthen our presence to protect our interests,” she told accompanying journalists. “What happens to Antarctica happens to Argentina.”

Argentina first established a permanently inhabited base in Antarctica in 1904, almost a decade before Captain Robert Scott’s fateful South Pole expedition. Its main foothold today is the Carlini research station, which undertakes scientific work including the effects of climate change on the region.

Visiting Carlini, Ms Malcorra said the work of the base was vital to enforcing the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which enshrined the vast territory as a scientific preserve. Argentina was one of the founding signatories of the treaty, penned at the height of the cold war as a conflict prevention tool, suspending all territorial claims and banning military activity.

For now, commercial activity in the Antarctic is limited mainly to fishing and tourism — enforcement largely involves the use of satellites and naval patrols to keep poaching of the rich fishery stocks in check.

But there are increasing concerns that nations such as Russia and China are looking at opportunities to exploit Antarctica’s mineral riches, mirroring fears over the Arctic as melting sea ice opens up the historic Northern Sea Route between Europe and Asia and the possibility of oil exploration.

“Who is to say what countries like Russia and China will do in 30 years’ time? They might say ‘we need these resources’ [that are] in the Antarctic,” said one diplomatic source.

But Ms Malcorra’s visit, the first to the Southern Ocean island by an Argentine foreign minister, was also aimed at assuring Argentines that the year-old government of Mauricio Macri, president, was serious about defending overseas territorial claims.

The Macri administration has come under fire — even from influential members of his own governing coalition — for seeking to mend relations with the UK which have suffered from a dispute over the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory invaded by Argentina in 1982.

Indeed, Argentina’s claims in the Antarctic over a wedge-shaped chunk of land almost as large as Egypt fall, within a slightly larger area that is claimed by the UK. They also overlap with Chilean claims. King George Island is known to Argentines as Isla 25 de Mayo (May 25 Island), after their independence day.

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As a result of the Antarctic Treaty, the region has for decades been held up as a unique example in global co-operation. King George Island is home to a dozen international research stations, including China’s Great Wall base and a Russian outpost with an ornate miniature Orthodox church, continually manned by a priest.

Many would like matters to stay the way they are and ensure the region’s resources are protected. Last year, for instance, the Antarctic region’s Ross Sea was declared the world’s largest marine protected area.

Máximo Gowland, head of Antarctic affairs at Argentina’s foreign ministry, says science is “the paramount issue” in Antarctica. “Everything that is going on in Antarctica has to have a scientific basis to it, so all countries are basically revamping their Antarctic science,” he says, adding that Argentina is keen to boost scientific investment.

Nevertheless, the researchers working at the Carlini station are acutely aware of the geopolitical tensions that serve as a backdrop to their work.

“Antarctica brings [science and politics] together, so that we do scientific research thinking also about politics,” says Lucas Ruberto, who leads the team. “They are two different paths that find their common point in what we do here.”

The wealth of the Antarctic belongs to everyone, but an important part of it is ours
Susana Malcorra, Argentine foreign minister

Ms Malcorra insists her government is strengthening sovereignty in a “modern” way by defending the integrity of the polar region and of Argentine territory. She points out that while many Argentines think their country ends at Tierra del Fuego — which they call the “end of the world” — its southernmost province includes the Antarctic claims.

To emphasize this, the previous government decreed that official maps show Argentina’s Antarctic claims on the same scale as the rest of the country, rather than in a smaller-sized inset.

“We have to preserve [Antarctic resources] and ensure they are managed in a way that does not affect the ecosystem,” Ms Malcorra says, adding: “The wealth belongs to everyone, but an important part of it is ours.”

3. ARGENTINA ISSUES $7BN OF DEBT AMID STRONG DEMAND (Financial Times)
By: Benedict Mander
January 19, 2017

Just in the nick of time.

Argentina has issued $7bn of international debt, taking advantage of calmer conditions across bond markets before the inauguration of Donald Trump as US president on Friday.

Amid strong demand, with orders for around $22bn, Argentina’s finance ministry said that it sold the bonds at 200 basis points lower than its bumper $16.5bn issue last April that marked its return to the international capital markets after a protracted absence since a 2001 debt default.

“This confirms investors’ trust in the capacity of this government to control inflation and stimulate economic growth,” said the finance ministry in a statement — even though economic growth so far remains elusive more than a year into President Mauricio Macri’s term.

BBVA, Citi, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, JP Morgan and Banco Santander managed the bond sale, which saw Argentina issue $3.25bn of 5-year bonds at 5.625 per cent, and $3.75bn of 10-year bonds at 7 per cent. The average interest rate of 6.3 per cent compares to 7.2 per cent last year.

4. WITH ARGENTINA’S DECADE IN FINANCIAL WILDERNESS OVER, MACRI MUST TURN TO GROWTH (Bloomberg News)
By Carolina Millan
‎January‎ ‎19‎, ‎2017‎ ‎

* Country plans to sell $10 billion of overseas bonds in 2017
* Government still facing growth, inflation challenges

Argentina’s borrowing costs have tumbled since Mauricio Macri was inaugurated as president in December 2015.

In the past year, he’s dismantled most of the country’s currency controls and, crucially, ended a feud with bondholders, allowing Argentina to access to global debt markets after more than a decade in the wilderness.

But even as the government prepares another sale of dollar debt this week, Macri is still grappling with an economy in the doldrums, stubborn inflation — starting to slow from a peak of as high as 47 percent in Buenos Aires — and a crippling budget deficit.

Capital Markets

•Argentina is looking to sell $10 billion of foreign debt in 2017 after issuing $19 billion last year, when it ended a 15-year hiatus following its historic default on $95 billion of debt.
•Yields on Argentina’s notes due in 2024 have tumbled 2 percentage points since Macri’s inauguration in December 2015.

•To capitalize on soaring investor demand, Argentina started issuing fixed-rate peso bonds for the first time in nine years in August. JPMorgan Chase & Co. also said Jan. 5 that Argentina’s local government bonds were eligible for its index and may be added as soon as late February.

Currency

•On Jan. 5, the government removed a rule requiring financial portfolio investments remain in the country for at least 120 days, part of an ongoing effort to jettison the nation’s capital controls. The move may lead to a reclassification of Argentina’s stocks by MSCI Inc. to emerging markets in June.
•In one of his first moves as president, Macri lifted a crawling peg on the peso and allowed it to trade freely. The currency weakened 38 percent since the move, but remains stronger than most analysts had forecast.

Economy

•Macri has said Argentina is on the verge of exiting a year-long recession and should grow more than the 2.7 percent forecast by the International Monetary Fund in 2017. Still, the government last year had to revise down its projections for a recovery as the reforms Macri implemented damped demand.
•The central bank has managed to slow inflation after ratcheting up a key interest rate last year. But core inflation has remained unchanged in the past few months.

•The government expects to post a 4.2 percent deficit in 2017 as spending remains high to pull the economy out of its slump.

Comments

•“We’re still holders, we’re still buyers of Argentine debt,” said Jim Dondero, the president and co-founder of Dallas-based Highland Capital Management LP, which oversees $15 billion. “We’re optimistic. We characterize Argentina as ‘exceeded expectations’ on the regulatory and reform side. We continue to be optimistic overall for spread compression on the debt side.”
•“The fast pace at which they took financial and political action has already brought huge gains to the country,” said Gerardo Rodriguez, a former Mexico Deputy Finance Minister who now manages emerging-market funds for BlackRock Inc. in New York. “Now, the next stage of changes will be harder because making changes on the margin is always more complicated. Especially in a context of slow economic growth.”
•“I’m cautiously optimistic, on concerns that the government might not be able to achieve its targets for growth and inflation,” said Sean Newman, who helps manage $1.4 billion in emerging markets debt at Invesco Advisers Inc. “Their expectations are a bit more optimistic than what might actually occur.”

5. ARGENTINE SCIENTISTS IN ANTARCTICA TALLY TOLL OF CLIMATE CHANGE (Reuters News)
By Nicolás Misculin
Jan 19, 2017

http://s3.reutersmedia.net/resources/r/?m=02&d=20170119&t=2&i=1169348888&w=&fh=&fw=&ll=780&pl=468&sq=&r=LYNXMPED0I16M
Argentina’s Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra shakes hands with a crew member of the Islas Malvinas ship as they approach Argentina’s Carlini Base in Antarctica, January 12, 2017. Picture taken January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Nicolas Misculin

On King George Island in Antarctica, the thunderous sound of ice sliding off the Fourcade Glacier and crashing into the icy water bordering Argentina’s Carlini research base serves as a daily reminder of a warming climate.

The glacier has retreated 500 meters (1,640 feet) over 25 years, scientists working on this island just north of the Antarctica Peninsula say, affecting an entire ecosystem of algae, sea lions and penguins, as well as raising sea levels.

“This glacial retreat at Potter Cove releases a mass of fresh water that alters salinity levels and unleashes sediment … changing the abundance and diversity of wildlife,” said Rodolfo Sanchez, director of Argentina’s Antarctic Institute.

The Antarctic Peninsula suffered the most severe temperature variation in the world, with average temperatures rising 2.5 degrees Celsius in 100 years, according to Sanchez, who accompanied Argentina’s Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and journalists to Carlini.

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said 2016 was the hottest on record by a wide margin.

An iceberg the size of the U.S. state of Delaware is poised to break off from the Larsen C ice shelf, an event that will fundamentally change the peninsula’s landscape, Welsh scientists said earlier this month.

Scientists at Carlini, the largest research center of Argentina’s 13 Antarctica bases, refer to ice blocks covering the base’s beach in white before they melt as “debris” because of their role in transforming the region’s fauna.

Widespread deaths of shrimp-like krill have jeopardized the food supply for mammals and birds at a protected wildlife reserve on King George Island, known in Argentina as May 25 Island.

Javier Negrete, a marine mammal specialist, said the colony of female elephant seals that normally come to the base between September and November to give birth was reduced by some 30 percent since 1995 to 320 last year.

“It’s not clear if the animals are disappearing or relocating,” he said.

Meanwhile, habitat for Emperor and Adelie penguins is shrinking while King penguins and other species that are common in warmer climates are traveling farther south.

For human visitors, the changes observed over a quarter of a century at the Carlini base have been abrupt.

“I started coming here in 1990. It snowed, but it did not rain… now in the summer it is raining all the time,” said Sanchez.

6. ARGENTINA JEWISH CENTER BRIEFLY EVACUATED AFTER FALSE BOMB THREAT (Reuters News)
By Eliana Raszewski
Jan 19, 2017

A Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was briefly evacuated after a false bomb threat on Thursday, Argentina’s Jewish community association AMIA said in a statement, a day after dozens of similar episodes were reported in the United States.

The threat also came a day after the two-year anniversary of the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had been investigating whether former President Christina Fernandez tried to cover up Iran’s alleged role in a 1994 attack on another AMIA building in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.

The AMIA statement said police had received an anonymous phone call threatening a center for senior citizens near the AMIA building that was attacked nearly 23 years ago.

The history of the attack “obliges this institution to demand the highest levels of security and prevention, and to pay the utmost attention to this type of provocation,” the statement said.

Iran denies any role in the 1994 attack. Nisman’s death is still being investigated, and an appeals court revived his case against Fernandez last month.

Twenty-seven Jewish community centers in 17 U.S. states reported receiving false telephone threats on Wednesday, prompting evacuations and an FBI probe into the second wave of hoax attacks to target such facilities this month.

7. CHILE EYES FURTHER ENERGY EXPORTS TO ARGENTINA – MINISTER (Reuters News)
By Fabian Cambero
Jan 19, 2017

Chile is looking at boosting energy exports to Argentina and connecting with electricity grids in neighboring countries, as it seeks to capitalize on friendly relations to drive down prices, the energy minister said Thursday.

Chile, which has almost no hydrocarbons of its own and an energy-intensive copper mining industry, has struggled for years with high power prices.

But a shift towards renewables and warming relations with neighboring countries is starting to take some of the pressure off.

Last year, Chile began exporting gas to Argentina for the first time in order to meet elevated winter demand, sending 361 cubic meters.

It also supplied 101 gigawatt hours of electricity.

“The company that exported electricity has already asked permission to export again and (state energy firm) ENAP is finalizing negotiations to sell gas again to Argentina,” Energy Minister Andres Rebolledo told journalists at a briefing on Thursday.

In coming weeks, Chile will suggest a program of energy swaps with Argentina, allowing for energy exports in both directions in relevant areas along the countries’ shared 5,200 kilometer (3,230 miles) border, Rebolledo said.

Argentina used to be an important supplier of gas to Chile, but cut off exports in the mid-2000s after its own supply faltered.

Chile and Peru are also looking at connecting border towns on the same electric grid, in a possible first step towards greater electricity integration, said Rebolledo.

“Today, there is a favorable political-economic context to build the bases for what could be a regional electric connection,” he said.

8. BANKRUPTCY JUDGE DENIES REQUEST FOR PEABODY EQUITY COMMITTEE (Reuters News)
By Tracy Rucinski
Jan 19, 2017

A U.S. bankruptcy judge denied on Thursday a request by Peabody Energy Corp (BTUUQ.PK) shareholders to order the appointment of an official equity committee in the coal miner’s Chapter 11 restructuring, crushing hopes of a recovery for investors.

Shareholders led by hedge fund Mangrove Partners had urged the creation of an official committee, which would receive money from Peabody for lawyers and advisers and could help craft a reorganization plan.

At a hearing in St. Louis, Mangrove cited several paths for a potential recovery for Peabody shareholders given a rise in coal prices.

In rejecting the request, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Barry Schermer asked why more money should be spent on legal fees when unsecured creditors such as Aurelius Capital Management and Elliott Management accept that they will not be paid in full.

The two funds, among the most litigious on Wall Street, spent years battling Argentina in U.S. courts over the country’s 2001 default.

“Aurelius and Elliot are not used to leaving money on the table,” Schermer said. “Look at Argentina.”

In a bankruptcy, unsecured creditors are the last on the totem pole for recovery. They would have to be repaid in full for anything to be left for shareholders, who generally lose their entire investment.

In the case of Peabody, unsecured creditors will recover about 30 cents on the dollar.

The coal industry has been recovering from weak prices that pushed three of the four largest U.S. producers into bankruptcy over the past two years.

Many of the dozens of bankruptcies filed by energy companies in the past year have involved similar campaigns by shareholders who have pointed to rising commodity prices to justify the appointment of an official equity committee.

Few, however, have won court approval.

Peabody hopes to exit bankruptcy in April, a year after filing for bankruptcy, with a plan to cut $5 billion of debt and raise capital from creditors with a $750 million private placement and a $750 million rights offering.

Peabody shares will be canceled and replaced with new stock which will be owned by creditors, the majority of which support the reorganization plan.

The shares closed up 2.8 percent at $3.98 in over-the-counter trading on Thursday, well off session highs.

9. ARGENTINA: TANGO IN TROUBLE (The Economist)
21 January 2017

The flat-footed economy is pulling dancers off the floor

WHEN couples tango outdoors in Buenos Aires, it is usually to cadge coins from tourists. A recent display, outside the city hall, had a new purpose: to draw attention to the plight of the city’s milongas, tango events where the dancers’ only audience is other dancers.

Perhaps 150 milongas take place weekly in dance halls and community centres across the capital, either in the afternoons or after midnight. “They are the heart of the tango,” says Julio Bassan, president of the Association of Milonga Organisers (AOM). And they are in trouble.

With a weak economy and high inflation cutting into incomes, attendance fell by as much as half last year, Mr Bassan reckons; 17 milongas closed. “When there’s so much uncertainty, the first thing that people cut back on is recreation,” says Jimena Salzman, who runs the Milonga de las Morochas (“Milonga of the Dark-Haired Women”). She charges an entrance fee of 100 pesos ($6.25), the cost of a cinema ticket. That puts some people off. “I love to dance, but I need to eat,” says Augustín Rodrigo, a teacher, who has reduced his daily tangoing to twice a week.

A milonga is a dance as well as an event, a forerunner to the tango that mixes Cuban, African and European influences. In tango’s heyday, some 70 years ago, milongas attracted thousands of dancers. Club Huracán in the city’s south had seven dance floors. Some cling to tradition. A man must invite a woman to dance with a cabeceo (nod). If she accepts, the pair will dance anti-clockwise to a tanda, or set of three or four songs. A cortina, a few seconds of music, signals the end of a set, during which the man escorts his partner back to her seat.

Few milongas are so conservative now. Young milongueros prefer modern tango, which mixes the music of classical composers like Carlos Gardel, who died in 1935, with electronic beats. But the young come less often. In an age of dating apps, fewer find mates in milongas.

Tango itself is in no danger. Glitzy shows are a daily event in Buenos Aires. But campaigners say neighbourhood milongas are tango’s spiritual home. On December 7th the city council passed a “milonga promotion law”. It sets up a registry and offers tax exemptions and 9m pesos a year of financial aid from the budget. Like it or not, taxpayers will help keep milongas alive.

10. ARGENTINA, CHILE ADVANCE TOWARDS GAS, POWER SWAPS: MINISTER (Platts)
By Tom Azzopardi
19 Jan 2017

Chile and Argentina are advancing in talks to agree on reciprocal exchanges of electricity and natural gas between the two countries, Chilean Energy Minister Andres Rebolledo said Thursday.

Speaking to correspondents in Santiago, the minister said he will present Argentine counterpart Juan Jose Aranguren next week with a draft proposal for regulations allowing such swaps.

“It would be very interesting to have a model that would allow you to sell electrons or molecules of electricity or gas at one point and import them at another,” Rebolledo said.

A decade ago, Chile was a major importer of natural gas from its neighbor, but flows along the pipelines were reversed last year as Argentina struggles with a lack of capacity in its energy infrastructure.

Between May and August last year, Chile exported 361 million cu m of natural gas to Argentina, which had been imported as LNG from Trinidad and Tobago and the US.

State energy firm ENAP is currently in talks with its Argentine counterpart ENARSA to repeat the exports this year.

Chile also exported 101 GWh of electricity to its neighbor along an existing line to northwest Argentina.

But greater synergies could be gained by balancing imports and exports at different points along the border.

“This is super attractive as our country breaks up in the south we are not physically integrated,” Rebolledo said.

ENAP has discovered significant reserves of unconventional gas in Chile’s southernmost Magallanes region, which is much closer to Argentina’s Patagonia than the Chilean capital Santiago, 2,000 km to the north.

Argentina could export gas from its Neuquen field to southern Chile via the Gas del Pacifico pipeline as it lacks sufficient internal domestic capacity to move that gas to Buenos Aires.

Chile is also keen on developing an interconnection between its northernmost city Arica and the Peruvian city of Tacna, 50 km away. The line would also allow Chile to export excess solar power to its neighbor during the day, receiving electricity generated from Peruvian natural gas at night.

Broader energy integration across the region would require the development of a lateral regulatory framework. But Rebolledo said recent economic and political developments made it a favorable time for such a deal.

Argentina, Brazil and Peru have also gained new pro-business presidents since the end of 2015.

11. ARGENTINA ON TRACK TO HIT 3.5 PCT GROWTH TARGET -TREASURY MINISTER (Nasdaq)
January 20, 2017

LONDON, Jan 20 – Argentina is on track to meet its 3.5 percent growth target this year, and should remain immune to the rising tide of protectionism in the United States, Treasury Minister Nicolas Dujovne told Bloomberg TV on Friday. “We are pretty confident that the economy will grow in 2017 close to 3.5 percent, that’s the figure that was included in the budget, with 17 percent inflation, and we are on track to achieve those two objectives,” Dujovne said from the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He added that there were likely to be some moves towards protectionism under incoming U.S. President Donald Trump but the impact on Argentina would be marginal because it remains a relatively closed economy. Dujovne also expects Argentina’s bond yield spreads to compress further, citing the country’s fiscal consolidation as the government’s reforms gain traction. “The economy is showing signs of recovery,” he said.

12. MEDICINE SHORTAGES POSE A THREAT TO HIV POSITIVE ARGENTINES (Americas Quarterly org)
By Brendan O’boyle
January 19, 2017

Activists say recurring shortages of crucial drugs are partly due to administrative struggles at the national health ministry.

For nearly a year, HIV positive Argentines have endured what advocates call a “crisis” and a “national emergency.” Shortages and delays in the delivery of antiretroviral drugs have beleaguered many who depend on them to stay healthy, sparking public outcry and a protest outside the Health Ministry in Buenos Aires in December.

Since then, officials from the ministry have met with representatives from groups at the front lines of the fight against HIV, and promised that the shortages have been addressed. However, reports of missing medication persist. On Jan. 17, the health minister of Chubut province, in southern Argentina, said in an interview that the national Health Ministry had not sent shipments of drugs for HIV, cancer and tuberculosis. While Argentina has received due applause for providing universal free HIV treatment, advocates of citizens living with the virus are wary of the ministry’s continued assurances in light of the recurrent crisis, which they say is evidence of burdensome bureaucracy and poor leadership.

“We’ve had shortages in the past, but never of this magnitude,” said Lucas Gutiérrez, a member of the National Front for the Health of People with HIV, a coalition of five HIV, women’s and LGBT advocacy groups that formed in response to the lack of medication, which has primarily affected those who aren’t covered by private insurance. “We want solutions.”

After meeting with the National Front group on Jan. 10, Dr. Carlos Zala, the Health Ministry’s AIDS program director, told AQ that there were no actual shortages of HIV drugs in the country. He said reports of missing medication were due to supplier delays and bureaucratic roadblocks, such as shipments of drugs to government pharmacies falling behind as they await various signatures of government officials.

“There isn’t a lack of economic means or political will to purchase the medication,” Zala told AQ. “There have been some administrative delays in its purchase, with some of that responsibility being ours and some not.”

For Marcela Romero, a regional coordinator for the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender People, such delays can be dangerous. Romero told AQ that delays result in patients receiving only a fraction of their prescribed dosage at a time. This heightens the risk of an interrupted dose, which diminishes the drug’s effectiveness.

Romero and other HIV advocates say much of the problem is administrative. Kurt Frieder, executive director of Fundación Huesped, a human rights group focused on HIV/AIDS prevention, told AQ that shortages were partly due to disorganization at the health ministry, noting that the purchase of necessary drugs had “not been made in due time.” Others say the government’s response once shortages have become apparent has been too slow. Matías Muñoz, a national coordinator for the Argentine Network of Positive Young People (RAJAP), said that it took months – and eventually the December protest – for the ministry to respond to their complaints of shortages that they began seeing in March 2016.

While not without its challenges, Zala told AQ that the Health Ministry has been able to provide regular treatment for more than 95 percent of the some 55,000 Argentines with HIV who don’t get treatment through private insurance or social security. The ministry was “very satisfied” with that percentage, Zala said.

For Muñoz, from RAJAP, the goal should be 100 percent.

“Whether it’s one person or a million, Zala’s responsibility is to make sure we all have our treatment,” Muñoz told AQ.

HIV advocates aren’t the only ones to suggest missteps at the Health Ministry in light of recurring scarcity. Dr. Daniel Gollán, the health minister under former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, recently called the current ministry the “worst in the country’s history,” criticizing what he said were steps to “shrink and privatize” the country’s healthcare system.

Zala, meanwhile, attributed some of those complaints in part to the country’s political polarization and attempts to discredit the Macri administration.

Most Argentines living with HIV, meanwhile, are probably more concerned with getting their medicine than politics. There may be reason to believe that a recent restructuring at the Health Ministry could help reverse the trend of medicine delays. The resignation of deputy health minister Néstor Pérez Baliño was officially announced on Jan. 9. According to Argentine newspaper Página 12, the departing official said his resignation was part of a division of his Community Health department, which he oversaw and manages 70 percent of the ministry’s budget, into two smaller units. Time will tell whether this will decreases the kind of bureaucracy observers say has hindered the provision of medicine. If not, shortages may keep returning, which could prove a tough pill for everyone to swallow.

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