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Maradona’s World Cup roller coaster ends with an octopus and a near scuffle with Germans.The foreign minister resigns, while an ex-dictator faces trial. China blocks Argentine soy oil imports, causing a windfall for the US. BP is selling Argentine assets to pay for the Gulf oil spill. And has anyone seen Mark Sanford?
Top News: The emotional rollercoaster — aka the World Cup — has sadly come to an end for this soccer-crazed country. After months of speculation as to whether a team with some of the world’s most talented players could be led by the world’s most unpredictable coach, Argentina sailed through to the quarterfinals undefeated. Argentines apologized for having ever doubted Diego Maradona. So did the world’s media. Thankfully, Maradona won't need to make good on his promise of a naked victory lap.
But then came a psychic octopus, foretelling Argentina’s defeat to Germany (although you didn’t need to be psychic to see the weakness in Argentina’s defense). Germany took the match with four goals and Argentina’s famed strikers were unable to score.
Immediately following the loss, a distraught Maradona nearly started a fight with German fans — one last Maradona episode in what has been a virtual soccer sitcom these last few months. In his closing press conference, Maradona speculated whether he’llstep down as coach. Yet the thousands of fans who greeted the team at the airport Sunday expressed nothing but adoration for their Diego, holding banners begging him to stay on. “La novela sigue?” Perhaps, the drama will continue.
While Argentines wonder if Maradona will step down, Argentina’s foreign minister actually did step down. Citing irreconcilable differences with President Cristina Fernandez, Taiana resigned amidst diplomatic negotiations with Uruguay regarding the disputed pulp paper mill on the Uruguay river and the Argentine protestors who have continued to blockade access between the two countries. Hector Timerman, Argentina’s ambassador to the United States and a loyal “Kirchnerist,” has been appointed in his place.
Meanwhile, Timerman has made progress negotiating with the Argentine protestors who have blocked the bridge between Argentina and Uruguay for the last three years. They’ve agreed to lift their blockade so long as a joint monitoring system is put in place within the next 60 days to ensure the Finish paper mill is not polluting the river.
The trial of former Argentine dictator, Jorge Rafael Videla began last week. Considered one of the architects of the Dirty War that resulted in over 30,000 deaths, the 84-year-old Videla faces life in prison. Videla was already found guilty of crimes against humanity in a historic 1985 trial, but was pardoned after three years by-then President Carlos Menem.
As military dictatorship-era human rights trials continue across the country, startling new evidence has started to surface. During a provincial trial in Tucuman last week, a survivor of a detention camp presented 259 pages of documents, including lists naming the disappeared. The list, which bears the stamps of both police and military agencies and officials, is the first evidence of system-wide human rights abuses under the dictatorship. Until now, official investigations have been based on missing-persons reports and first-person accounts.
After China halted shipments of Argentine soybean oil in retaliation for Argentina’s antidumping measures, the world’s biggest user of cooking oils is now buying it from the United States. That could be big blow to Argentina, the world’s biggest exporter of soybean oil. Until two months ago, China was its biggest customer.
If China doesn’t buy Argentina’s soybean oil, it may get diverted to fuel vehicles back home. The Argentine government is considering a proposal to increase the mandatory mix of biodiesel in domestic fuels from 5 to 10 percent. That increase would represent almost a third of the country’s soybean oil exports this season.
Meanwhile, British Petroleum is trying to raise $10 billion to pay for the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP’s oil asset garage sale could include Pan American Energy, Argentina’s fastest growing oil and gas company. Argentine oil and gas company Brindas Energy Holdings (BEH) would have first right of refusal according to industry insiders.
Money: Argentina’s $18.3 billion dept swap fared better than expected, with a 66 percent acceptance by international creditors. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for Argentina to return to international credit markets yet.
Over $6 billion is still owned by “holdout” investors, including the “Paris Club” group of creditor nations. Argentina refuses to negotiate with the Paris Club if the International Monetary Fund has oversight of the process.
Meanwhile, with unofficial inflation running around 30 percent by some estimates, Argentine labor leaders are demanding the biggest wage increase in more than 15 years to cope. Economists and politicians have challenged official data, which lists the current inflation rate at around 10 percent, since former President Nestor Kirchner started to replace personnel at the Buenos Aires-based statistics institute in January 2007. Analysts say a cycle of price increases may be hard to avoid, with Argentines expecting prices to rise 25 percent within the next 12 months.
Elsewhere: Scientists concerned about the fatal strandings of Southern right whales off the coast of Argentina’s Valdes Peninsula, presented their concerns to the International Whaling Commission in Morocco last week. Mortality rates among first year calves have soared since 2003. While unsure as to precisely why the whales appear to be dying in such great numbers, scientists believe decreased availability of food, high concentrations of bio-toxins, and infectious disease could all be culprits.
And has anyone in Buenos Aires seen Mark Sanford, per chance? Yep, one year after the South Carolina governor went on a mysterious “camping” trip to see his Argentine soul mate, Sanford has gone AWOL again it seems. I’ll let you know if I see him.