Argentina: President Fernández visits Angola
President Cristina Fernández leads official visit to Angola, dollar controls tighten, and the Schoklender brothers are arrested.
President Cristina Fernández leads official visit to Angola
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner this week led an official visit to Angola, which aimed to strengthen political and economic ties between the two countries.
Arriving on Thursday morning, the president held a meeting with the Angolan Vice President, Fernando Da Piedade Dos Santos in the afternoon. Her planned schedule, which included the official opening of an Argentine trade fair in the country’s capital Luanda, was altered after delays in the preparation of that event.
On Friday, Fernández de Kirchner held a bilateral meeting with Angola’s President José Eduardo Dos Santos, and gave an address to Angola’s National Assembly.
The president spoke of the importance of democracy to global development, and congratulated the assembly on its high proportion of female members (40%). She also stated that Angola could be an excellent platform for Argentina’s businessmen to reach the international market.
Before returning to Argentina on Friday evening, Fernández de Kirchner visited the Argentine trade fair, where some 400 businessmen were presenting products ranging from foodstuffs to electrical goods.
The visit was hailed as success by official sources. The governor of Entre Ríos province, who travelled to Angola with the president, told media that sales agreements had been signed for irrigation equipment, foodstuffs and medical articles, and that there were further opportunities for Argentina to explore.
There was, however, criticism from some sectors. A photo showing a civil servant posing with barefoot Angolan children holding socks printed with the slogan ‘Clarín miente’ (Clarín lies) caused a significant stir on Twitter and in other media.
Clarín, Argentina’s biggest-selling newspaper, has in recent years been strongly critical of the current government.
Martín Redrado, a former governor of Argentina’s central bank who resigned after differences with Fernández de Kirchner, claimed that the visit was ‘an improvised media show’ and that ‘it did not produce increased sales for Argentina’.
Controls on buying dollars tightened
Restrictions on the purchase of US dollars, in place since last November, were tightened this week. They are widely viewed as an attempt to stop the flight of capital from the country, though official sources refuse to confirm this.
Since 9 May, the Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos (Federal Administration of Public Revenues – AFIP) has limited monthly dollar purchases to 25% of an individual’s salary. This was reduced from the previous limit of 40%, in force since November.
In practice, however, many have found buying dollars through official channels impossible in recent weeks, leading to a boom in transactions in the ‘informal’ exchange market, and a consequent hike in prices.
While officially the US dollar stood at 4.45 pesos on Thursday, the ‘arbolitos’ (street money-changers – lit. ‘little trees’) of Argentina’s city centres were offering it for around 5.60 pesos.
The 25% difference between the official and informal prices compares with a difference of 3.6% before the implementation of controls in November.
In the face of this trend, the AFIP this week began a crackdown on the ‘arbolitos’, whose practice, while illegal, had hitherto been tolerated. Police officers, gendarmes and naval prefects patrolled Buenos Aires’ financial centre, with teams of dogs trained to detect large quantities of dollars.
The increased police presence led to the arrests this weekend of two ‘arbolitos’ in the Argentine capital. Terra Argentina reports that the crackdown has affected business transactions, and immobilised the Argentine property market, which operates exclusively in dollars.
Schoklender brothers arrested over corruption charges
Sergio Schoklender, the former financial administator for human rights organisation Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, was arrested this week.
He resigned from the organisation last year after being accused of misappropriation of funds. He is currently being investigated by federal judge Norberto Oyarbide for allegedly creating a illicit association to redirect some 280 million pesos (62.7m US dollars) of public money which were earmarked for a social housing project.
To that end, he is accused of forging invoices, as well as the signature of Hebe de Bonafini, the president of the organisation.
Schoklender’s brother Pablo was also arrested. He is accused of managing the network which redistributed the misappropriated funds.
Pablo is reported to have stated to Oyarbide upon his arrest that de Bonafini was the one who made all the decisions within the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo.
While she is not accused of any wrongdoing, her daughter Alejandra, who works for the organisation, is accused of redirecting part of the stolen funds. She has been cited to declare before the judge on 31 May.
Pablo Schoklender also stated that he would name government officials involved in the organisation’s financial activities. The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo has had a very close relationship with the governments of Néstor Kirchner and his widow, the current president.