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Budget brawling and airline pilots punching

A fiscal debate gets physical in the Upper House. China and Argentina make up over the soy oil saga. The economy reaches record (nominal) growth, although inflation is rising. Plus, the nation watches the rescue of a girl trapped in a well, and the president declares wine the national drink.

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Argentine President Cristina Kirchner greets supporters during a political rally at Huracan stadium in Buenos Aires on March 11, 2010 where almost 20,000 supporters supported her reelection in the upcoming elections. (Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images)

A congressional budget battle ended in a brawl last week. Opposition legislator Graciela Camano slapped fellow lawmaker Carlos Kunkel on the mouth during Upper House's debate over the contentious government budget bill. Two television channels broadcast the slap live.


Kunkel, a close ally of President Cristina Fernandez, was mid-rant during a session of the Upper House's constitutional affairs commission when Camano socked him in the mouth and stormed out of the chamber.  "He wore me out because I have been putting up with him all year long. He kept shouting without making a single proposal," said Camano.


Tension has been mounting in Congress amidst debate on Argentina's 2011 budget bill, which includes plans to tap central bank reserves to pay debt as well as provide the current administration with broad powers to expand spending in a key election year.


After 14 hours of debate, lawmakers voted to return the 2011 budget to the committee which approved it. The party says the 2011 budget includes projections of inflation, growth, and tax collection that are "implausible."  If Congress cannot approve a budget  by the end of the month, the 2010 budget will be remain in force -- meaning President Cristina Fernandez's government will still have broad powers to redirect and expand spending.


China's farm minister came to make-up with Argentina last week after many months of strained relations between the two countries over soy oil exports. In a recent bid to bolster trade relations with Argentina, agriculture Minister Han Changfu announced plans to also resume beef purchases, which have been on hiatus since a hoof-and-mouth scare. 


There is also speculation in the grain markets that China will also start purchasing corn from Argentina, the world's second biggest producer, though most say trading won't start without a formal bilateral agreement.  


With surplus soy and record car sales, Argentina's economy is achieving record growth. But the President Kirchner has decided to try a new tactic to stimulate the economy — declaring new holidays. This long weekend marks the first "Sovereignty Day," in Argentina one of three new holidays President Kirchner declared last month. In a speech last month, the President said that studies show people spend more money during holiday periods, though with 15 official non-working days in the calendar, many wonder how not working ends up being more productive.


Air travel over the holidays has been chaotic this month with the closure of Argentina's main domestic airport, Aeroparque Jorge Newbery. The country's main international airport has been struggling to absorb nearly 20,000 additional travelers and has been plagued with delays, backlogs, flight cancellations, and stranded passengers. 


The chaos reached a feverpitch at the very start of the transition, when two pilots from rival unions started a fistfight. The fight reportedly started when one discovered that the other was carrying a camera to document any problems on their flight, and it became so violent that airport police hauled them off the plane in front of their passengers. Both unions proceeded to go on strike, resulting in a complete shutdown of Aerolineas Argentinas, the country's main carrier. But the union strikes didn't stop there. Flight attendants from LAN Argentina, the country's second largest carrier, also went on strike, resulting in additional cancellations. Business has slowly returned to normal, but passengers can expect the unexpected until renovations finish in the Aeroparque in December.