A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Cablevisión CEO Carlos Moltini for my day job. You can read all about it here.
The article looks at Cablevisión’s investment plans and sheds light on how Argentina’s political context is affecting the company. For example, government import barriers forced the company to temporarily stop offering WiFi modems and other equipment last year.
But one thing that didn’t make it into the published article was the company’s plans for its high-speed Internet service, Fibertel.
Moltini said Cablevisión plans to raise its popular 6-megabit broadband service to 10-megabits, possibly as early as March though no date has been set. That’s good news for most surfers those who feel the need for speed.
Fans of the company’s high-end broadband product, Evolution, which offers 30-megabit download speeds, may not be so pleased, however, since the company has no plans to increase the speed.
Moltini said that while Cablevisión has the technical capacity to raise speeds to 100MB, Argentina’s market simply doesn’t demand higher velocities. Argentine companies and consumers don’t yet use enough video and other multimedia products to warrant flying at a faster pace.
So while Evolution has been a big breakthrough for Argentines wanting to surf the Internet at a quicker clip, the country’s speedsters will have to keep waiting before they can browse, download and stream as fast as people can in Asia, the U.S. and Europe.
Argentina has fallen seven notches in an international index of press freedoms, ranking 57th globally, according to the latest report from Reporters Without Borders.
The organization said the decline stems from “growing tension between the government and certain privately-owned media about a new law regulating the broadcast media.”
That tension, of course, relates mainly to the ongoing war between President Cristina Kirchner and the multimedia conglomerate Grupo Clarin, which would be dismantled if Kirchner is able to fully implement the three-year-old media law.
Clarin has challenged the constitutionality of the law and its implementation is now held up in courts. The outcome will likely be decided this year by Argentina’s Supreme Court.
Kirchner accuses Clarin of being a monopoly that uses its influence to undermine her government and its policies. Clarin, in turn, says Kirchner is simply trying to crush independent media voices and silence criticism of her government.
Whatever the case, the government clearly has a very antagonistic relationship with the media. Top government official rarely, if ever, offer press conferences and almost never grant open, on the record interviews.
The president herself is famous for avoiding the press, making her one of the least accessible democratic leaders in Latin America and in the Western Hemisphere.
The topic de jour in the United States these days is gun control. With the recent massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, people are debating the issue as they haven’t done in decades.
The U.S. is a gun-loving nation is there ever was one. With an estimated 270 million civilian guns in the country, the U.S. has the world’s highest gun ownership rate. There are about nine guns for every 10 people in the U.S.
Even so, the U.S. does not have the highest gun death rate in the world. It is roughly the same as Argentina’s, with about 3 gun deaths for every 100,000 people.
The above chart, published here in The Atlantic, offers an interesting look at how gun death rates in different countries, including Argentina, compare with those of various U.S. cities.
Why compare cities with countries? For one thing, some of these countries have populations similar to those of U.S. cities. For another, it’s just interesting.
So, check out The Atlantic post for a better look at the issue. For a related post, click here to see how the murder rate in Buenos Aires compares with that of other major world cities.
*Hat tip to E for this post
Axel Kicillof, Argentina’s deputy economy minister, is said to wield considerable sway over President Cristina Kirchner, influencing her thoughts on everything from gasoline prices to trade and housing policy.
But the 41-year-old Keynesian economist is deeply unpopular in Argentina’s oil industry, which he oversees.
Kicillof requires oil and gas companies to submit excruciatingly detailed Microsoft Excel spreadsheets divulging information about sales, costs, investment plans and pricing strategies. Oil executives refer to him privately as “Excel” instead of Axel.
Given the industry assumption that he’s a Marxist – something his colleagues deny – executives also mock his initials and call him as “AK47″ – “because this kid is a lethal weapon; he destroys everything that gets near him,” says one executive. (more…)
President Cristina Kirchner toured the famous Cu Chi tunnels while on a state visit to Vietnam over the weekend. The tunnels, used by Viet Cong forces during the Vietnam War, proved to be a nightmare for U.S. soldiers throughout the conflict.
You can read more about the tunnels here. As noted in a Widipedia entry:
"The 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, and turned into a war memorial park. The tunnels are a popular tourist attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system. Some tunnels have been made larger to accommodate the larger size of Western tourists, while low-power lights have been installed in several of them to make traveling through them easier and booby traps have been clearly marked. Underground conference rooms where campaigns such as the Tết Offensive were planned in 1968 have been restored, and visitors may enjoy a simple meal of food that Viet Cong fighters would have eaten."
President Cristina Kirchner was given a toy doll made in her image. It was a gift from the Argentine toy industry chamber, given to her while on a trip to Indonesia.
The U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires put out this video ahead of this Sunday’s “Súperclásico” soccer match between Boca Juniors and River Plate.
What do you think of the video?
Though she doesn’t speak with journalists or offer press conferences in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s president this week offered two press conferences in the U.S.
Both were with students: first at Georgetown University, then at Harvard.
The students asked many of the questions people in Argentina would like to ask:
How high is inflation? Why don’t you answer questions in Argentina? How is it that Argentina’s neighboring economies can grow quickly without experiencing high inflation or limits on the purchase of U.S. dollars? How did you become so wealthy since taking office?
Cristina Kirchner answered these questions and others. In doing so, she offered a controversial defense of her policies and economic statistics. She denied that inflation is high and said she “permanently” interacts with journalists in Argentina.
Immediately following her claim that she speaks with local journalists, the association of journalists that cover her from the Casa Rosada issued a statement rejecting this claim as false.
Her Georgetown conference went smoothly and Mrs. Kirchner adroitly answered questions the way she wanted to. The Harvard Q&A was different. She angered visibly toward the end and appeared to be particularly contemptuous of one student who said he felt “privileged” to be among the few people able to ask her a question.
U.S. history buffs will note the president’s gaffe at Georgetown. While there she said George Washington won the Civil War (which ended in 1865, when the South’s General Lee surrendered to the North’s General Grant). In fact, Washington won the Revolutionary War and died in 1799, more than half a century before the Civil War began.
You can read my coverage of her comments here and here.
For live, ongoing coverage of Mrs. Kirchner and Argentina, follow on me Twitter: @taos
The Q&A sessions are well worth watching. Enjoy.
In a bizarre, rambling speech Tuesday, President Cristina Kirchner said the “majority of Europeans are xenophobic.”
Here’s the verbatim script from the relevant part of the speech, in which the president appeared exceptionally, inexplicably elated:
“You, where are you from, Coqui (she’s referring to Chaco Province Governor Jorge Capitanich), you’re dark but you’re not indigenous, right? You’re from Montenegro. Where are you from? This dark guy, and he looks kind of indigenous, but don’t be fooled, alright, he’s from Europe, from the Europe that’s pretty xenophobic. Alright, let’s see, where are you from? Well, the europeans are, the majority are xenophobic. Uuuhh, man, I’m going to have to clarify this because if not tomorrow this is gonna turn into to a big stinking mess. Alright, alright, tell us where you’re from, Coqui.”
In the original Spanish:
“¿Vos de dónde venís, Coqui, vos sos morocho pero no sos de pueblo originario? Vos venís de Montenegro. ¿De dónde venís vos? Este es morochón y parece medio indígena pero no se engañen, eh, este viene de Europa, de la Europa media xenofóbica. A ver, dale, ¿de dónde venís? Si los europeos son…la mayoría son xenofóbicos. Uy, a ver, voy a tener que aclarar esto porque si no mañana se va a armar una podrida total. Dale, dale, decí de dónde sos, Coqui.”
You can see her comments starting at about the 10-minute mark.
President Cristina Kirchner said Wednesday that she had asked the national tax agency, AFIP, to investigate a man after a newspaper quoted him saying the real estate market is in bad shape.
The man, who reportedly runs a real estate agency and was quoted Sunday in Clarin, told the paper that the government’s latest limits on the purchase of U.S. dollars have rattled the nerves of potential buyers and caused them to think twice before agreeing to buy property.
In recent months the government has severely limited access to the foreign exchange market, making it virtually impossible for many people and companies to buy dollars and other currencies. Given that almost all home sales in Argentina are done in dollars, the crackdown has hurt the real estate market.
“Dollars are just a collector’s item now. The feeling people have is that if they let go of their dollars (to buy a house), they’ll never see them again,” Rodrigo Saldaña was quoted as saying. “Because of this, when we suggest to people that they accept pesos, 90% of them resoundingly say no.” As a result, Saldaña said, deals fall apart immediately. People selling homes want dollars while people buying homes are afraid to give them up.
Saldaña’s real estate agency typically closes between 12 and 15 deals a month, but last month they closed just two, according to the article.
Kirchner, who became a millionaire thanks to the real estate business, said she personally called AFIP Director Ricardo Echegaray and asked him to look into the matter. He did.
It turns out, Kirchner said, that Saldaña hasn’t filed taxes since 2007.
“He either lied to the newspaper or he lied to AFIP,” she said.
Whatever the case, for the purposes of this post, it’s immaterial whether Mr. Saldaña or the real estate agency paid its taxes.
What matters for this post is that Argentina’s president admitted in public — in a nationally televised speech which broadcast networks were forced to carry — that she has used the tax agency to investigate people for saying things that she finds questionable. (more…)
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner is better known for her politics than for her musings on theology. But she broke with custom Tuesday and offered some thoughts on the latter.
“I am absolutely sure that God loves everyone. Because of that, if there’s life, it’s because God wants there to be life. If things happen, it’s because God wants those things to happen. And God blesses all of us. He doesn’t just bless those who think one way. He blesses even those who don’t pray to him and he also blesses those who curse him. Because of that, he’s God and because of that we continue believing in him and because of that we continue having the strength to move forward as Argentines.”
Of course, if Kirchner is correct, then her political opponents, as well as the journalists she often criticizes, are simply behaving the way God wants them to behave. But if that’s the case, how can they be blamed for simply acting in accordance with God’s will?
Labor union boss Hugo Moyano led a national strike last week, against the government — because God wanted him to do it? Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri rejects Kirchner’s plans to turn the subway system over to his district — because God wants him to do so?
Taking it to the extreme, could we explain the actions of Hitler, Mao and Stalin the same way?
What about other things happening around the world? Kirchner has said “the world is falling on top of us” in reference to global economic and financial problems. But these too, in this theological worldview, are happening because God wants them to happen.
The theistic preordination of affairs — and what some would call its atheistic counterpart, mechanistic determinism — have long stirred debate among philosophers of religion. If events are determined in advance, either by the mind of God or by the physical nature of the universe, then we must grapple with numerous logical questions, not the least of which is the famous problem of free will. How can we have it if we’re simply doing what God wants us to do? At what point do our own wants and desires enter into the equation, if at all?
Kirchner didn’t delve into any of this on Tuesday and it seems unlikely she will in the future. But who knows. Her speeches are unpredictable. Perhaps God wants it that way.
You can watch her make the comments above, starting at minute 13:00.
President Kirchner said Monday she will send a bill to Congress to nationalize the oil and gas company, YPF. Kirchner blames the company for falling oil and gas output, as well as the government’s growing need to import expensive fuel.
But it’s unclear how nationalizing the company will solve Argentina’s energy problems. Critics say the government itself is responsible for declining production. They cite unpredictable government policies and price caps, among other things, for the problems.
Raising production will require billions of dollars of investment in exploration and extraction. Where will that money come from now that the government will own the company?
Kirchner didn’t say.
Meanwhile, YPF’s parent company, Spain’s Repsol YPF, said it will fight the government’s decision, ensuring a lengthy and messy legal, political and economic battle over how the government will compensate Repsol for expropriating its top asset.
Within hours of the announcement, government officials were already in YPF’s building, located in Puerto Madero, taking over management of the company.
My colleagues and I wrote about the issue here for The Wall Street Journal.