The World Today for April 19, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

No ‘Plan B’

Argentinian President Mauricio Macri has pushed the country down an ambitious path of reforms since his election win in 2015.

The measures introduced by Macri – the former mayor of Buenos Aires and a well-known businessman – have so far included floating Argentina’s currency, the peso, lifting capital controls and returning the country to international credit markets after a long court battle with American investors over the country’s 2001 debt default.

Macri says drastic reforms are necessary to tackle the rampant inflation and growing fiscal deficit his government inherited from his populist predecessor.

His efforts seem to be paying off for now. The country – South America’s second-largest economy – emerged from a year-long recession in March, according to economists.

Investors seem to be responding positively to Macri’s market-oriented reforms, too.

Argentina’s investment promotion agency predicted last week that domestic and foreign companies would invest $14 billion into the Argentinian economy this year.

That’s a remarkable turnaround given that foreign investors largely shied away from Argentina during the decade of populist policies of former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, noted Reuters. Macri envisions Argentina playing a larger role on the global stage as well.

In early April, Argentina hosted the World Economic Forum’s Latin American summit – CNN said it was Argentina’s “welcome back” party to the world stage. Argentina’s massive agricultural sector might benefit from proposals to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, too.

But some significant obstacles remain in Macri’s way.

Poverty and unemployment remain high, and inflation – while down from a peak of 40 percent last year – is still expected to clock in around 20 percent for 2017.

Even runaway inflation might prove easier to tame than the cash-strapped Argentinians who are increasingly fed up with the impoverishing effects of Macri’s austerity course.

Their furor erupted in early April, when Argentina’s labor unions brought the country to a virtual standstill with a 24-hour-long strike, shutting down everything from schools to public transport.

Unions demanded higher wages to compensate for the punishing inflation rates that have driven 1.5 million Argentinians into poverty, noted the Wall Street Journal.

It was the first major organized demonstration against Macri’s government.

But Macri says he has no intention of buckling to pressure to water down his market-friendly reforms.

The day before the strike, he told Bloomberg there was “no Plan B” for his economic policies and goal of reviving growth while reining in inflation.

In what could be an unfortunate reckoning for Macri, frustrated Argentinians will soon have an opportunity to explore their alternatives when the country holds what could be pivotal midterm elections in October.

WANT TO KNOW

The Gamble

British Prime Minister Theresa May called for snap elections in a bid to win a bigger mandate for her plan to pull the United Kingdom out of the European Union.

A reversal of prior claims that she wouldn’t call for new polls, May’s proposal to hold early elections June 8 could potentially strengthen her thin majority in parliament and thus put her in a stronger position for negotiating the terms of the so-called Brexit, the New York Times reported.

However, it will also give a new opportunity for opponents of the move to reopen the debate – though nobody expects the election to undo the decision. Having triggered Brexit negotiations last month, May faces divisions within her Conservative Party about the potential terms of the deal. She’s hoping a better showing at the ballot box will help pull the party together.

At least one poll suggested that voters are behind the decision to hold early elections. Moreover, that poll showed the Conservatives could match an all-time high vote share of 46 percent – last attained in the 1992 general election, the Guardian reported.

A Standoff

The desperate measures adopted by a hundred unarmed South Sudanese refugees in east Congo ended without tragedy on Tuesday, when they released 13 hostages from the United Nations mission staff unharmed.

Among some 530 refugees living in the Munigi base, outside Goma, since fleeing South Sudan in August, they had demanded that they be relocated to a third country, Reuters reported. Most are former fighters loyal to erstwhile vice president Riek Machar, whose supporters have been fighting President Salva Kiir’s forces since July 2016.

A UN official said the camp occupants had been demanding such a move for months, but no country would agree to take them. Meanwhile, Congo is keen to push the refugees out. Eight camp residents agreed to go back to South Sudan on Friday, prompting others to question why they cannot be relocated to a third country where they would not face the threat of violence.

The UN estimates about 3 million South Sudanese have been displaced by the ongoing civil war.

Pension Tension

Brazil’s Congressional police donned riot gear and deployed teargas to disperse hundreds of members of federal police unions who tried to invade the country’s Congress on Tuesday.

Protesting President Michel Temer’s plans to reduce pension benefits in a bid to reduce debt, the demonstrators broke glass doors before being pushed back in a violent clash with their fellow cops, the Guardian reported. The lower Chamber of Deputies, where debate on the bill will begin Wednesday, said in a statement that no injuries were reported due to the clash.

The proposed reform initially suggested increasing the retirement age to 65 for public sector employees who today on average stop working at 54. But the government had already reduced the proposed age of retirement for police officers to 60 from 65 as a concession.

In other worrying signs for his economic plan, the lower house on Tuesday voted down an effort to fast-track Temer’s proposed labor reforms, which would make work contracts more flexible.

DISCOVERIES

The World’s Coolest Race

Sub-zero temperatures can’t freeze these marathon runners.

Some 50 daring and dedicated athletes gathered on the frozen ice of the Arctic Ocean in early April to compete in what’s probably the world’s coolest race – the North Pole Marathon.

Participants wearing balaclavas, thermal clothing and other winter-weather gear ran a full 26.2 miles on the barren white landscape of the Barneo Ice Camp – completing 12 laps in harsh conditions, from soft snow to ice pressure ridges.

The winner of the race was Poland’s Piotr Suchenia, who crossed the finish line in under 4 hours and 7 minutes. France’s Frederique Laurent won the women’s race with a time of 6 hours 21 minutes 3 seconds.

Runner Gareth Evans told Reuters it was “probably mentally the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.”

Still, Evans said he has no regrets.

“(I) wouldn’t change it for the world,” he added. “…but a beach in Miami sounds good right now.”

Check out a video of the North Pole Marathon here.

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