By Larry Neumeister

October 30, 2015

NEW YORK — Argentina cannot pay some bondholders while refusing to pay $6.1 billion in claims by creditors who refused to swap their bonds for steeply discounted replacements in the South American nation after it defaulted in 2001 on $100 billion in bonds, a judge said Friday.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa’s written ruling means Argentina would owe about $8 billion to creditors who refused the swaps that were accepted by about 93 percent of Argentina’s bondholders in 2005 and 2010.

Griesa said the republic must pay all bondholders who refused to swap their bonds if it chooses to pay those who did. With the bond swaps, Argentina invited creditors to exchange their old bonds for newly issued bonds worth between 25 percent and 29 percent of the original bonds’ value.

The Manhattan judge said Argentina has violated its promise to treat the $6.1 billion in bonds equally with bonds distributed during the discounted swaps.

“The republic has made clear its intention to defy any money judgment issued by this court, and plaintiff has no other means to enforce its rights,” Griesa said.

An Argentina lawyer did not immediately comment.

But in court papers, lawyers for the republic had urged Griesa to reject adding the $6.1 billion in claims to money owed by Argentina, saying it would raise to a “staggering amount” of $8 billion the amount owed to bondholders who refused the swaps and would threaten the nation’s Central Bank reserves.

“Those reserves are vital to maintaining the healthy functioning of the Republic’s economy, and the requested orders would subject the Republic to an unacceptable degree of catastrophic risk,” the lawyers said.

After the 2001 default, U.S. hedge funds including NML Capital scooped up Argentina’s bonds, but refused the swap offers, choosing to sue to enforce the contracts they signed.

In a statement Friday, NML lawyer Robert Cohen said Griesa’s ruling does not change Argentina’s obligations but instead confirms that Argentina must treat its creditors equally.


By Andres Oppenheimer

31 October 2015

Here’s a scenario that seemed highly unlikely only a few weeks ago, but that has a 50 percent chance of happening in light of the political earthquakes that are rocking Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela, and that could mark the end of a 15-year-old leftist populist cycle in South America.

It would go like this:

Argentina’s center-right opposition leader Mauricio Macri, bolstered by his unexpectedly strong performance in the Oct. 25 first-round presidential elections, wins the Nov. 22 runoff elections. Macri would lure an avalanche of foreign investments and spur hopes of a dramatic economic recovery after several years of economic downturn.

An open critic of populist authoritarian regimes, Macri has said that if elected, he would demand that Venezuela abide by regional commitments to democratic rule. His election would make big headlines everywhere, and turn him into an important regional figure.

(A milder version of this scenario would take place in the event of a victory by Argentina’s government-backed candidate Daniel Scioli. He is more moderate than outgoing president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and would not be as close to Venezuela as she is.)

Meanwhile, in Brazil, prosecutors might link beleaguered President Dilma Rousseff, whose popularity has sunk to 9 percent, to the Petrobras oil company corruption scandal. Congress might decide to impeach her, and the country would plunge into a constitutional succession, or early presidential elections. Brazil would shift toward more market-friendly economic policies, and take greater distance from Venezuela and its leftist allies.

(A less dramatic version of this scenario would be if Rousseff decided to weather the storm by convening a “national unity” government with opposition parties to remain in office during the remainder of her term.)

These major changes in South America’s political map would have a major impact on Venezuela’s key Dec. 6 legislative elections. They would deprive Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from the support of the region’s biggest countries if he decided to rig the vote. With the economy shrinking by 8 percent this year, a 200 percent inflation rate — the world’s highest — and widespread food shortages, Maduro’s party would almost surely lose a free election, pollsters say.

In recent Venezuelan elections, Brazil and Argentina had immediately accepted official results, which were disputed by Venezuela’s opposition. That may not happen this time around.

Maduro, who has refused to allow electoral observers from the European Union or Organization of American States, could call for an urgent presidential summit of UNASUR, an Ecuador-based South American group that has often supported him, to validate a rigged election result on election night. He could still count with Argentina’s outgoing president Fernández, whose term expires Dec. 10.

But moderate UNASUR members, such as Chile and Colombia, would most likely schedule such a meeting for after Dec. 10, once the outgoing Argentine president is out of the picture. Without unconditional support from Argentina and with a skeptical Brazil — whose electoral tribunal has already announced that it will not send electoral observers to Venezuela because of concerns over that country’s electoral process — the Venezuelan government would only count with the support of smaller allies such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

If Maduro’s party loses the Dec. 6 election and he refuses to concede, there could be enough consensus within the OAS to invoke the group’s Democratic Charter, which calls for the collective defense of democracy in the region.

Diego R. Guelar, head of Macri’s party’s international relations office, told me that a Macri administration would not validate a fraudulent election in Venezuela. Furthermore, it would seek to team up with Brazil to sign a free-trade deal with the European Union and the Pacific Alliance made up of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile.

Macri’s election “would mark a significant regional shift, and end of our region’s isolation from the world’s biggest trading blocs,” Guelar said.

My opinion: An opposition victory in Argentina’s runoff vote would change Latin America’s political map, ending 15 years of corrupt leftist populist governments that have left their countries bankrupt. I’m not yet willing to bet that this regional scenario will come true, but there’s an even chance that it will.


By John Paul Rathbone

November 1, 2015

Volatile times ahead in region as popular expectations remain high

The commodity supercycle ended and in the Americas the political repercussions have followed swiftly. Almost everywhere, the status quo is being upended. Citizens are agitating for change. Their ends are sometimes revolutionary.

In Argentina, pro-business presidential candidate Mauricio Macri may well end 12 years of populist rule at an electoral run-off on November 22. In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, elected president last year, is now the most unpopular leader in national history, while her Workers Party is in disgrace.

In Venezuela, the long-ruling socialist party will likely be trounced in December’s mid-terms; the only question is by how much. In Guatemala, a television comedian with no political experience has been elected president while his predecessor has been indicted for corruption.

The list of political reversals goes on. Nor is this only a Latin phenomenon: it extends to Anglo-Saxon commodity countries in the hemisphere, too.

Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, was toppled from office last month. Like his Latin counterparts, Mr Harper had happily ridden the commodity super-cycle. During his election campaign, he imagined a fourth term. Instead, voters swung against his divisive “prairie conservatism” and unexpectedly chose the inexperienced social democrat Justin Trudeau instead.

What is going on? Are there common themes linking these events?

In South America, it seems that voters have grown tired of a decade of mostly leftist rule, the so-called “pink tide”, and are now moving back to the centre. But in Canada the pendulum has swung the other way. That suggests more complex underlying reasons.

One common theme is that the stability of the recent past is now associated with stagnation. Another is popular disgust with incumbents who overstayed their time in power, becoming arrogant and often corrupt. Brazil’s $2bn corruption scandal at Petrobras, the state owned-energy company, is a striking example. But it is far from the most venal. For that look to Venezuela; its government has become a byword in the region for intransigence and criminality.

This new middle class has lofty personal aspirations and high expectations of what government should be: modern, transparent and open to creating opportunity. These are reasonable goals but many are also quick to mobilise in pursuit of them, especially the young

What is striking is how citizens now feel empowered to challenge the status quo. Sometimes that is testament to stronger institutions, especially the judiciary. But it may also be due to Latin America’s “new middle class”, which has doubled to 200m people since 2001, according to the World Bank.

This new middle class has lofty personal aspirations and high expectations of what government should be: modern, transparent and open to creating opportunity. These are reasonable goals but many are also quick to mobilise in pursuit of them, especially the young.

This can have positive outcomes, but not always. Sometimes it just generates “corrosive social conflict, government paralysis and political instability”, notes Moisés Naim of the Carnegie Endowment.

That is especially so now that economic growth has slowed, discontent is rising and governments are looking for ways to re-ignite growth. Some policies are easy to discern: more investment in decayed infrastructure (one of Mr Trudeau’s promises for Canada); and improved productivity (a central plank of Mr Macri’s pro-business agenda in Argentina.) Less easy is how to maintain the social gains of the recent past while also balancing government books.

Argentina dramatises this tension, which is why its election is such an important harbinger. Outgoing president Cristina Fernández doubled state-spending in only five years. That bout of free-spending populism explains her relatively high popularity.

But it also leaves behind a mess that will be politically difficult for her successor to fix, especially as austerity is associated with “neoliberal” policies that led to Argentina’s economic collapse and debt default of 2002.

Cynicism clouds the debate. In Brazil, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has criticised needed spending cuts. But his criticism may have less to do with social concerns, and more to do with rallying his political base amid the Petrobras probe. Last week, police raided the offices of one of his sons; the week before, another was accused of receiving Real2m ($518,000) in kickbacks.

In South America, popular expectations remain high. There are also fewer means to meet them. That makes for a dangerous mix. Volatile times surely lie ahead.


By Bob Van Voris and Katia Porzecanski

October 30, 2015

* Default bondholders must be paid before restructured debt

* U.S. judge has blocked payments on $28 billion in new debt

Holders of more than $6.1 billion of defaulted Argentine debt were added by a U.S. judge to a group of bondholders who must be paid before the South American country can pay its restructured debt.

The ruling Friday by U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan puts additional pressure on Argentina to settle with holders of the defaulted debt, led by Paul Singer’s NML Capital. The decision means Argentina must reach a deal or pay $7.9 billion in defaulted bonds before it can resume interest payments on $28 billion of restructured debt.

Argentina claimed Griesa’s decision would make it harder to negotiate a settlement with bondholders.

At a hearing Wednesday, Carmine Boccuzzi, a lawyer for Argentina, had argued that adding to the list of investors blocking payments on the restructured debt would mean “spreading the veto power among hundreds of bondholders.”

A lawyer for NML argued that Argentina has showed no interest in discussing a possible settlement.

Record Default

Argentina defaulted on a record $95 billion in sovereign debt in 2001. It restructured most of the debt in 2005 and 2010. The holdouts, which include U.S. hedge funds, sued for full payment, citing an equal treatment — or “pari passu” — clause in the bond documents, which prevents Argentina from favoring later bondholders.

Griesa blocked Argentina from paying the restructured bondholders before holders of $1.7 billion of its defaulted debt, triggering the nation’s second default in 13 years in July 2014, when President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner refused to comply. A group of 530 so-called me-too bondholders asked Griesa to add their claims to the group that must be paid in full.

“Today’s decision does not change the size of Argentina’s obligations,” Robert Cohen, an attorney for NML, said in a statement. “It merely confirms Argentina’s promise under the pari passu clause to treat its creditors equally.”

Argentina’s bonds have surged on the expectation that Fernandez’s successor, whose term is to begin in December, will resolve the holdout dispute and bring the country back to international capital markets.

Argentina’s presidential elections on Oct. 25 deepened investors’ optimism when Mauricio Macri, who has publicly vowed to settle the litigation, surprisingly finished in a near-tie with the ruling party candidate. The two are now slated to face each other in a runoff on Nov. 22.

The case is NML Capital v. Republic of Argentina, 14-cv-08601, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).


By Jonathan Stempel

Oct 30, 2015

The U.S. judge overseeing litigation stemming from Argentina’s $100 billion default in 2002 ordered the country to pay holders of several billion dollars of its defaulted bonds whenever it pays holders of bonds issued in two debt restructurings.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan ruled on Friday in favor of plaintiffs in 49 lawsuits seeking the same relief as holdout bondholders, including Elliott Management Corp’s NML Capital Ltd, which won a court ruling that directed Argentina to pay it $1.33 billion plus interest.

Argentina has not complied with that ruling, and defaulted again in July 2014 as a result. The additional plaintiffs are known as “me-too” plaintiffs because their bonds are similar to those owned by the holdouts.

Carmine Boccuzzi, a lawyer for Argentina, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Argentina swapped 92 percent of its defaulted debt at a steep discount in 2005 and 2010 restructurings. But it has refused to pay holdout bondholders, who it calls “vultures” for seeking full payment on their unswapped bonds.

Like the holdouts, the “me-too” plaintiffs’ bonds contain a clause requiring Argentina to pay them whenever it pays investors who own bonds that were swapped.

Griesa said that clause must be enforced, saying it was in the public interest, and citing Argentina’s having “escalated its scheme” to pay holders of restructured bonds even as it refuses to pay holders of unrestructured bonds.

He also rejected Argentina’s argument that an injunction requiring equal treatment could impede settlement talks with the holdouts, overseen by court-appointed mediator Daniel Pollack.

“The Republic’s reluctance to entertain meaningful settlement discussions before the special master should not prevent plaintiffs from vindicating their rights,” Griesa wrote. “If anything, the equities cut the other way.”

Argentinians voted on Sunday to choose a successor to President Cristina Fernandez, a leading critic of the holdouts. A runoff between ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli and opposition candidate Mauricio Macri is scheduled for Nov. 22.


By Andrew Scurria

Oct 30, 2015

Argentina’s recovery from a 2001 debt default is still tangled up in court, stymied by a determined group of hedge funds who broke with other creditors and refused to take a negotiated haircut. Now, states and cities facing unsustainable pension costs across the U.S. are facing their own holdout problem.

For municipal bond issuers stretching from Chicago to Rhode Island, Atlanta to Dallas, cost-saving pension deals hammered out with public unions are in jeopardy because of legal challenges by small, dissenting employee groups.

Pensioners enjoy strong legal guarantees under many state constitutions, so prying concessions loose at the bargaining table represents the only way of getting out from under crushing retirement bills without turning to Chapter 9 bankruptcy. But legal precedent in states like Illinois and Pennsylvania make it nearly impossible to bind workers to a pension cut they don’t want.

The objectors pushing these lawsuits are drawing ire not just from their government employers but also from their fellow workers, leaving policymakers searching for a way to silence them.

Chicago became the highest-profile victim in July when a judge struck down a pension agreement forged in 2013 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Municipal market watchers expect more to come.

“Even if there are changes that are not wholesale diminutions of people’s pensions, but just tweaking to safeguard the financial risk or somehow make it a little more financially sound, it’s going to get challenged by someone and it’s going to end up in the courts,” said Alaine Williams, a labor attorney with Philadelphia-based Willig Williams & Davidson.

Consider Chicago. Faced with two retirement systems scheduled to go broke before 2030, the mayor convinced 28 of the city’s 31 municipal labor unions to accept benefit cuts for both midcareer and future workers; in exchange, the city took on new pension funding mandates and empowered the unions to force those payments in court.

Much to the chagrin of the proponents, three unions would not play ball. Their subsequent legal victory came in part because Chicago did not negotiate through collective bargaining, likely because city officials were not sure they would prevail on a straight worker vote, according to sources involved in the litigation.

Judge Rita Novak found “no evidence that, in reaching an agreement with the city, the union officials followed union rules and bylaws in such a way as to bind their members as true agents.” The city has since appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Submitting the deal for a stakeholder vote would have made a holdout challenge harder because the holdouts may have been bound by the collective bargaining process, said Karol Denniston of Squire Patton Boggs;. The objectors theoretically could have claims against their bargaining units, but not against the city.

In Illinois, the problem has some reconsidering the very idea of negotiated pension deals. There may be ways to reduce liabilities outside of the group setting, but the parade of lawsuits has kept those ideas in their infancy. One, introduced this month by Illinois Rep. Mark Batinick, would offer a voluntary pension buyout to individuals. Those who take the up-front payment would receive less than the full present value of their accrued benefits, with the savings accruing to the state.

Making the buyout optional, not forcible, avoids some of the constitutional problems that doomed the state’s last stab at pension reform.

The next holdout fight could be in Pennsylvania, where Governor Tom Wolf (D) is furiously horse-trading with Republicans who want pension reforms baked into an overdue 2016 budget. Alas, unlike Pennsylvania cities, the state itself is barred from bargaining with its workers over pensions. Rounding up support from 100% of the affected workers is impossible, and without some binding process in place the holdouts will continue to have the upper legal hand. When the stalemate breaks, as it always seems to, it will only take one worker and one lawyer to send the state back to square one.


By Belén Marty

October 30, 2015

Mariano Obarrio: Mauricio Macri Promises Critical Boost for International Commerce

Opposition leader Mauricio Macri shocked the nation with his performance in the Argentinean presidential election this past Sunday. The days following the polls were filled with celebrations and media appearances, but now Marci must prepare to face the ruling Front for Victory coalition candidate, Daniel Scioli, in a runoff on November 22.

Scioli won the first round on October 24, but by a much narrower margin than expected. Heading into the runoff, Scioli promises to be “more Scioli than ever,” and plans to debate Macri on November 11, even though he refused to take part in the first debate prior to the initial round of voting.

As we near the final stage of the election, internal divisions threaten to undo the ruling coalition. During Sunday’s polls, the radical Kirchnerist faction of the party, La Cámpora, did not show up to Scioli’s campaign headquarters, and instead rallied behind President Cristina Kirchner’s candidate for the governorship of Buenos Aires, Aníbal Fernández. Nevertheless, Fernández lost the election to opposition candidate María Eugenia Vidal.

The PanAm Post sat down with Argentinean political journalist Mariano Obarrio to discuss the internal collapse of Kirchnerist forces, how a change in leadership may affect Argentina’s foreign relations, and the virtues and deficiencies of the two competing presidential candidates.

Why did pro-Kirchner youth group La Cámpora withdraw its support for Scioli? Will it affect his chances of winning the runoff?

Within La Cámpora, there were conflicting views. Its leader, national Congressman Andrés Larroque, and Máximo Kirchner, the president’s son, were more against Scioli than Wado De Pedro, secretary general to the presidency, and Mariano Recalde, president of state-owned Aerolíneas Argentinas.

The reasons were ideological: they don’t share Scioli’s political goals and view him as an economic-establishment figure. They didn’t like Scioli distancing himself from President Kirchner, but most importantly, they are certain that Scioli wouldn’t give them a single government position, and that he may very well fire many state employees who are members of La Cámpora.

La Cámpora won’t sway the results one way or the other; they don’t seem to hold that kind of power. Yet, they could damage Scioli by causing his supporters to withdraw financial support, as well as generating conflicts which would do nothing to help his cause. They are punishing Scioli.

If he wins, what would be the virtues and defects of a Macri administration?

As for virtues, his government would be more rational, conservative, with economic ideas more akin to capitalism with industrial development. He would negotiate with the holdout bondholders, lower government spending, let the economy adjust to reality, address inflation, and encourage investment.

As for defects, he has little political experience, lacks a majority in Congress, and has a tendency to disregard proposals or ideas not coming from his “narrow circle” of allies. He would need to come to an agreement with other parties to ensure governance, and he has very few political agents to negotiate controversial topics with the Peronists.

How would Macri shift Argentina’s foreign relations? What about Argentina’s stance regarding Venezuela and Leopoldo López’s incarceration?

Macri has been very critical of López’s arrest and conviction.

He has no allegiance to Chavismo, and is a strong critic of populist regimes in Latin America.

He would improve relations with Mercosur, the United States, and the European Union, especially Italy and Spain, since Argentina has let these relations grow cold.

How would Macri improve the economy without assuming the political cost of readjustment? Will he lift foreign-exchange controls?

As announced, he would immediately lift all foreign-exchange controls.

He would seek large sums of US dollars via reductions in export taxes and, although he hasn’t admitted it, a renewal in exchange rates, which would improve the nation’s fiscal profile.

He would also attract investors and credit using a comprehensive pro-market and pro-investment plan.

Why couldn’t Scioli win outright in the first round? Was it the internal conflict among pro-Kirchner groups, or his inability to win Buenos Airies?

It was, without a doubt, a combination of the two. However, in order of relevance, I would list the following:

1.Cristina Kirchner’s grave mistakes in appointing candidates for Congress.

2.His support for Aníbal Fernández for governor of Buenos Aires, a candidate with a bad public image who faces accusations of drug

trafficking; he’s even been questioned by the Church, and you must remember that the current pope is Argentinean.

3.Naming Carlos Zannini as his running mate, which moved him away from an independent candidacy and linked him to hard-line Kirchnerism.

4.President Kirchner’s overwhelming presence in his campaign, with dozens of national TV broadcasts that saturated the public airwaves, many of which with Scioli at her side.

5.Lack of innovation and reform in his proposals.

6.The discrepancies in political discourse between Scioli and other pro-Kirchner groups: Scioli’s image became worn out after continuously associating with Kirchner, thus making him appear as someone who bows down to the president’s wishes.


By John Hopewell

30 October 2015

MAR DEL PLATA — Opening with Arnaud Desplechin’s lauded “My Golden Years” – Variety’s Justin Chang called it “marvelously vivid” – Argentina’s 30th Mar del Plata Festival sees obvious change: A new executive management duo in artistic director Fernando Martin Peña and general producer Ignacio Catoggio. After backing on to Ventana Sur in a late November berth last year, fest runs Oct. 30-Nov. 7, to avoid a clash with potential second-round voting in Argentina’s upcoming general elections.

Overall however, the 30th edition of Latin America’s only “A”-grade fest aims for continuity, and continuity in growt, in its international interface and industrial heft.

Welcoming Johnnie To, Desplechin and Peter Sohn, in town to sneak peek extracts from “The Good Dinosaur,” at one at the same time, Mar del Plata is opening up to its own city, making use of a pristine multiplex, which looks set to boost fest attendance.

Continuity: José Martinez Suarez is now in his ninth year as Mar del Festival president. For the eighth year running, Festival is backed by Argentina’s powerful INCAA Film Institute, also partner with the Cannes Festival and Cannes Film Market in Ventana Sur, Latin America’s biggest film mart-meet. That backing dovetails Mar del Plata into INCAA bigger picture strategic international, federal and regional vision, which has helped fire up Argentine filmmaking at home and abroad.

Also still in place: Mar del Plata’s hallmark left-of-field selection. 2015’s International Competition is a case in point. Some titles are eminently known: Atom Egoyan’s road movie come suspense thriller “Remember,” a Venice competition player produced by Robert Lantos, sold by IM Global; “Starlet” Sean Baker’s “Tangerine,” set in the L.A. demi-monde; Stephane Brize’s social drama “The Measure of a Man,” which won Vincent Lindon best actor at Cannes.

But there are, as often, a clutch of lower-profile titles: Slovac Ivan Ostrorochovsky’s docu-fiction “Koza,” a boxer comeback tragicomedy that played Berlin’s Forum; Sergio Oksman’s “O Futebol,” a frustrated father-son reunion drama, in Locarno competition; above all, “The Island of Wind,” from Spaniard Manuel Menchon Romero, which recreates the last years of principled Spanish philosopher Miguel Unamuno who, in an act of notable courage, raised his voice against Francisco Franco’s murderous new regime.

Big fest laureates pack out the line-up: Pablo Larrain’s chamber drama “The Club,” about unpunished Catholic Church abuse, a Berlin 2105 Grand Jury Prize winner; Ciro Guerra’s “Embrace of the Serpent,” a testament to the West’s destruction of Amazon civilizations, which topped Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight; “The Apostate,” from Federico Veiroj, which won a special mention at San Sebastian, a comedic drama steeped in Madrid culture about one man’s battle to find his own path to maturity.

However mainstream in some elements, they weigh in – in highly disparate ways – on the often-edgier side of arthouse. Symptomatically too, fest opens with a title not from International Competition but fest’s vast and rich Authors sidebar that features, among many others, Guy Maddin’s “The Forbidden Room,” Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s “The Assassin,” Frederick Wiseman’s “In Jackson Heights,” Miguel Gomes’ “Arabian Nights,” Jia Zhanke’s “Mountains May Depart” and Johnnie To’s own “Office.”

Fest’s International Competition also frames three Argentine titles, one Pablo Aguero’s “Eva Doesn’t Sleep,” which played at San Sebastian, a surrealistic true-fact based reimagining of the 25-year odyssey of Eva Peron’s embalmed corpse.

Set in the 60s and shot in b/w, “Incident Light,” from Ariel Rotter, (“The Other,” a Berlin Grand Jury Prize winner) pictures a young widow, already courted for second marriage. Another world premiere, and a thesping three-hander, “Popular Mechanics,” from Alejandro Agresti (“The Lake House”) pits a literary editor who’s seen it all against a young writer aiming for the literary bigtime.

This year, Mar del Plata received 2,800 film submissions for its competitions, a historical high, said Catoggio.

That is recognition of an “established festival line which is increasingly popular,” he added.

Of 2015 growth moves, the biggest is LoboLab, Mar del Plata’s first co-production forum.

Projects run the broadest of gamuts, per Catoggio. Highlights include a move into production by both celebrated auteur Lisandro Alonso (“Jauja”) with Constanza Novick’s femme friendship drama “The Future Ahead” and by Chilean helmer Dominga Sotomayer (“Thursday Through Sunday”) with Felipe Galvez’s genocide exposé “The Settlers” to “The Bums,” the potential directorial debut of Gustavo Biazzi, d.p. on Santiago Mitre’s “The Student” and Cannes Critics’ Week winner “Paulina.”

But as important is the presence of projects from lesser-known but building national cinemas, Catoggio argued. One example: Ecuador. Javier Izquierdo’s “Panama” is a LoboLab project; a 10-strong Ecuador delegation will attend. LoboLab also features Chile Factory, the Giancarlo Nasi and Dominique Welinski-produced new talent showcase from Chile, a country which punches way above its weight in cinema.

Lobolab looks set to spark synergies with INCAA/Cannes’ Ventana Sur. “We wanted the projects to be from people who normally don’t make markets. Mere attendance aids participants’ professionalization, readies them to participate in consolidated markets such as Ventana Sur,” Catoggio observed. One LoboLab prize is indeed a Ventana Sur invite.

Mar del Plata will also add six new screens, thanks to a Paseo Aldrey six-plex, opened Oct. 28, plus a screening room at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art for retrospectives and restorations.

New sites boost Mar del Plata’s screen count from 13 to 21, allowing the programming and sessions to breath, Catoggio said. The 21st screen will be on the beach, “a model we took to a certain extent from Cannes.”

In a departure, the Intl. Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF), the fest regulator, will hold its annual meeting at Mar del Plata over fest’s first weekend.

Cancelled four times from 1954, but running every year since 1996, fest can now play off the energy and exponential growth of Latin American cinema in general and Argentina’s in particular. In 2014, Argentina punched a 17.8% national film market share, a modern record, thanks to “Wild Tales.” With $17.2 million through Oct. 25, Pablo Trapero’s “The Clan,” a Venice best director winner, is another reminder that one of the biggest film phenomena of modern times is the build of national film industries around the world. Mar del Plata affords an entry to many of its Argentine and Latin American players.


“Eva Doesn’t Sleep,” (Pablo Agüero, Argentina, France, Spain)

“Incident Light,” (Ariel Rotter, Argentina, Uruguay, France)

“Popular Mechanics,” (Alejandro Agresti, Argentina)

“Remember,” (Atom Egoyan, Canada)

“The Club,” (Pablo Larraín, Chile)

“Embrace of the Serpent,” (Ciro Guerra, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina)

“Koza,” (Ivan Ostrochovsky, Slovakia, Czech Republic)

“The Apostate,” (Federico Veiroj, Spain, France, Uruguay)

“O Futebol,” (Sergio Oksman, Spain)

“The Island of Wind,” (Manuel Menchón Romero, Spain)

“Tangerine,” (Sean Baker, United States)

“The Measure of a Man,” Stéphane Brizé, France)


“Samuray-S,” (Raúl Perrone, Argentina)

“Campo Grande,” (Sandra Kogut, Brazil, France)

“Beyond My Grandfather Allende,” (Marcia Tambutti Allende, Chile, Mexico)

“The Monument Hunter,” (Jerónimo Rodríguez, Chile)

“600 Miles,” (Gabriel Ripstein, Mexico)

“What We Never Said,” (Sebastián Sanchez Amunátegui, Mexico, Argentina)

“Evilness,” (Joshua Gil, Mexico)

“Santa Teresa & Other Stories,” (Nelson Carlo De Los Santos Arias, Mexico, Dominican Republic, United States)

“I Promise You Anarchy,” (Julio Hernández Cordón, Mexico, Germany)

“Suspended Time,” (Natalia Bruschtein, Mexico)

“From Afar,” (Lorenzo Vigas, Venezuela, Mexico)


“The Spider’s Lullaby,” (José Celestino Campusano, Argentina)

“Road To La Paz,” (Francisco Varone, Argentina, Netherlands, Germany, Qatar)

“How Most Things Work,” (Fernando Salem, Argentina)

“Docile Bodies,” (Matías Scarvaci and Diego Gachassin, Argentina)”

“Easy Ball,” (Juan Fernández Gebauer and Nicolás Suárez, Argentina)

“Hortensia,” (Diego Lublinsky and Alvaro Urtizberea, Argentina)

“Kryptonite,” (Nicanor Loreti, Argentina)

“El movimiento,” (Benjamín Naishtat, Argentina, South Korea)

“Paula,” (Eugenio Canevari, Argentina, Spain)

“Pequeño diccionario ilustrado de la electricidad,” (Carolina Rimini and Gustavo Galuppo, Argentina)

“The Football Boys,” (Jorge Leandro Colás, Argentina)

“Our Last Tango,” (Germán Kral, Argentina, Germany)


By John Hopewell and Emilio Mayorga

1 November 2015

MAR DEL PLATA: On the first leg of a jet-setting promo tour, Peter Sohn, director of “The Good Dinosaur,” unveiled a never-seen-before scene from Disney-Pixar’s big Thanksgiving Day play at a master class delivered Sunday at Argentina’s Mar del Plata Festival.

He also spoke from the heart about inspiration for his career and film – his mother, for instance – which he called “a coming of age” and “survival tale” which, when asked to sum up in one phrase, is about “overcoming one’s fears.”

The excerpt, about five minutes long, also says much about the character/background animation contrast that gives “The Good Dinosaur” much of its style.

As the first teaser for “The Good Dinosaur” made clear, Sohn’s debut feature turns on two premises: that the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed the earth; the dinosaurs evolved: Sohn’s film pictures Arlo, a talking Apatosaurus who befriends Spot, a dog-like cave boy who manages to grunt but doesn’t speak. After tragedy for Arlo, they embark on a journey. In its middle, they happen upon a family of three T-Rex ranchers who’ve had their cattle – longhorn buffalo – stolen by rustlers. Spot has a great sense of smell, which leads them to the herd, and their rustlers. The scene has Arlo terrified twice: by the T-Rex daddy, and second when the T-Rexes force him to walk down to stolen herd and holler for his life to draw out the rustlers: He can only manage a whisper until Spot bites him on the leg.

Arlo is soft-featured, leaf-green, still spindly on his legs, with pronounced eyes and knees, utterly non-threatening; the herd and the breeze-caught grassland around it, by contrast – as Peter Debruge noted when reacting to another scene from “The Good Dinosaur” at June’s Annecy Animation Fest in France – is shot with a near photo-realism, as if Pixar was producing a prehistoric documentary.

And the movie’s leitmotif – overcoming one’s fears – surfaces at two moments: Arlo is terrified first by the T-Rex family, but they turn out to be a good working family; when asked to shimmy down from a knoll to the herd and bellow, so as to bring the rustlers out of hiding, he can merely manage a gasp, until Spot helpfully bites him on the leg. Then he bellows in pain.

In its original manifestation, “Up’s” Bob Peterson had imagined Arlo as older, pictured the Arlo-Spot relationship as that of a neo-father-son. Sohn said at the Mar del Plata Fest Sunday in contrast that Arlo and Spot are like “brothers.” Voiced by child actor Raymond Ochoa, Arlo, indeed, looks younger on screen and in at least in one item of merchandising –a long-necked, clumpy-footed plant-sprout green toy Arlo plumped on the table in front of Sohn – than his 11 years, a fact which will allow him to appeal squarely to tykes.

The photo-realism of “The Good Dinosaur” is not just a stylistic flourish, however. An engaging speaker, Sohn also provided some intriguing details about the different directorial styles of Pixar icons whom he has worked with, as a scratch actor: Pete Docter on “Up,” “Inside Out,” Andrew Stanton, on “Finding Nemo.”

“Pete Docter would always hit the heart. He would always say: ‘What’s inside you? What are you feeling?’ He would always push for that.”

There’s a larger emotional dimension to “The Good Dinosaur,” indeed dinosaurs in general, Sohn argued in Argentina. “There was something kind of fun about the scale of dinosaurs, about a farming dinosaur that was very sincere,” Sohn said. “But there’s also an emotional connection. When you’re called a dinosaur, you’re old and stuck.”

Arlo suffers terrible tragedy in “The Good Dinosaur.” “So emotionally he is stuck. But with the help of his friend, he’s able to move forward.”

“The Good Dinosaur” bows Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. Being a Pixar movie, it is already being talked up as an Academy Award candidate in the animation category.


By Hugh Thomson

Oct 30, 2015

The religious settlements that once provided a utopian refuge for indigenous people are re-emerging.

Jesuit ruins at Santa Ana in Misiones, Argentina

The province of Misiones in Argentina is an anomaly — a long finger of land sneaking out from the north-east of the country between Paraguay and Brazil, covered in dense forest and far removed from the wide-open pampas roamed by gauchos and cattle. Most people come here for the Iguazu Falls, which straddle the border with Brazil and have become a stopping-off point on any fast-track gringo trail across the continent, with good flight connections to both Lima and São Paulo. Flying in, you can already see from the plane the huge spumes of spray rising above the jungle as the Iguazu river takes its dramatic plunge.

But further south lie the far less visited ruins that gave the province its name: the Jesuit missionary settlements that for 150 years provided a utopian, if controversial, alternative for native Indians to the slaughter enacted elsewhere on the continent.

Driving down from the falls to visit them, I was struck by how much better preserved the forests of this region are on the Argentine side than the Brazilian. Aside from one police patrol car — whose occupants were too busy drinking mate tea to bother with our speeding taxi — there was hardly any traffic.

Such is their worldwide influence, it is sometimes forgotten that the Jesuits were founded with the express purpose of spreading Christianity to the New World. In the mid-1530s, a young Spaniard, Ignacio de Loyola, learnt that an expedition was to be sent to colonise the lands of the river Plate, so he gathered friends and created the Society of Jesus.

When it proved difficult for the Spanish forces to hold down the area around Buenos Aires against local Indians, they moved inland towards Paraguay and the Jesuits went with them. The Guaraní tribe they found there, whose territory extended across the Atlantic forests, proved unusually susceptible to Christianity, and they made many converts. Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, one of the leading Jesuits, is said to have baptised 100,000 Indians.

There followed one of the most remarkable assisted migrations in history. Brazilian slave traders were continually trying to capture the Guaraní, so Ruiz de Montoya decided to move them south to safety in new Jesuit settlements along the river Paraná. Sailing downstream in hundreds of canoes, the men, women and children of the tribe had to bypass the great waterfalls of Guairá and escape the traders who attacked them from behind palisades.

The eminent historian of the Amazonian Indians, John Hemming, has described what a magisterial sight this must have been as they “glided down the broad grey rivers of the Paraná, each canoe filled with white-robed Indians, some with a black-gowned Jesuit under an awning amidships, with the congregation breaking into religious song to raise its spirits and inspire the rowers”.

On arriving at San Ignacio Mini, the most restored of the surviving mission settlements, I was struck by the scale and vision of the Jesuits. In addition to a central church, they built workshops and carved orchards out of the jungle. The Indians working on the plantation had relatively short working days of six to seven hours compared to the near perpetual servitude in mines and fields elsewhere on the continent. All this was done with the close co-operation of the Guaraní — indeed often there were just two Jesuit priests in a settlement of thousands of Indians and administration would take place jointly between priests and local caciques (rulers).

I wandered around the large central plaza past swallowtails and yellow flycatchers. My local guide, Marcelo Sanchez, told me that one of the most startling consequences of the Jesuit conversions was the Guaraní adoption of monogamy; although he added that the Jesuit policy of insisting on early marriages at about 15 in order, as they wrote, “to avoid many evils”, was problematic.

Sanchez and I went together to the nearby settlement of Nuestra Señora de Loreto, less restored than San Ignacio but the largest mission in the region. By 1700, Loreto had overtaken Buenos Aires in size, with a population of about 7,000. Only the three central hectares of this site that once sprawled across 72 have been recovered from the jungle, although work has picked up now thanks to renewed funding and there is a new museum. As Sanchez drily commented, it helps that the Catholic world has for the first time a Pope who is both Argentine and Jesuit.

The deserted ruins had tremendous atmosphere. When I visited it was pouring with rain, and the giant trees and lianas that had grown up over the buildings were shining. Sanchez told me that he was of mixed blood, like many in the region: mainly Guaraní but with German and Portuguese ancestry as well. “We’re like a salad in this state — all mixed up.”

He stopped to show me a small herb he called isipo growing over a set of circular steps leading up to a ruined gate. “This herb was a favourite of my grandmother’s. It was an aphrodisiac. She needed it as she was 16 when she married my 65-year-old grandfather. And it worked — they had four children.”

Were the Jesuits preserving the Guaraní or exploiting them? Many natives resisted their approaches

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I nodded politely. It was hard to know quite what to say in response.

In the grass near the ruins was a small memorial stone to Antonio Ruiz de Montoya — much loved by the Guaraní for leading them to safety and petitioning Spain for their continued legal protection. It was here at Loreto that the first printing press was established in Latin America.

The Jesuits ensured that some books were printed in Guaraní. Ruiz de Montoya himself compiled a comprehensive dictionary of the language that is still acclaimed by linguists.

When I visited a third settlement nearby, Santa Ana, the sheer ambition of the civilisation brought here by the Jesuits became apparent — each mission settlement had a huge central plaza and fine baroque architecture, often with native Guaraní elements woven into sculptures. Where else would you see a carved angel playing the maracas?

Nevertheless, the Jesuit settlements were controversial. Were they preserving the Guaraní or exploiting them? Many natives resisted the approaches of the Jesuits, preferring to take their chances in the jungle against the slave traders but keep their ancient customs.

Voltaire — a lifetime opponent of the order since his education at their hands — wrote a caustic passage in which Candide travels to the area: “It is an admirable thing, this government. The kingdom is more than 300 leagues across. It is divided into 30 provinces. Los Padres [the Jesuits] own everything in it and the people have nothing; ’tis a masterpiece of reason and justice.”

The time came when the kings of Spain and Portugal were no longer happy with what they saw as the meddling interference of the Jesuits. The Treaty of Madrid in 1750 redrew the boundaries of Brazil and the Spanish territories, effectively cutting the mission lands in half. Those Guaraní assigned to Brazil rebelled at the thought of being taken for slaves and one of the last indigenous uprisings against Europeans, the Guaraní war of 1753-56, resulted in the slaughter of the battle of Caibaté: 1,400 Guaraní died compared with only three of their Spanish and Portuguese attackers. This war was later memorialised in The Mission (1986), although the film gives a hyperbolic view of events. By 1767, the Jesuits had been expelled from Spanish and Portuguese territories and the missions fell into disrepair.

Contemporary Argentine attitudes to the Jesuits are mixed. Not until 1940 was San Ignacio Mini, the most accessible site from the river, visited by some architects from Buenos Aires who initiated the slow process of restoration. But the majority of the other settlements have either been subsumed under new towns or lost in the jungle.

When I first visited the falls of Iguazú 20 years ago, I came with a friend, John Fernandes, who had long dreamt of establishing a guesthouse there in the jungle. That dream has since come to fruition and his Secret Garden is a small, exclusive place from which to visit both the falls and the missionary settlements. John has used his time to produce a small monograph on the history of the Jesuit missions and while we celebrated our reunion in his tropical garden with champagne and pizza, he told me how strange it was that the Jesuit legacy was still so undervalued and ignored.

The story of native Indians being treated badly by Europeans is hardly novel in Latin America. From Mexico to Patagonia the same thing happened. But what makes the story of the Guaraní so peculiarly heartbreaking is that for some 150 years the process was reversed. Until the Jesuits were expelled, the Guaraní did enjoy a standard of life high enough for them to rebel at the prospect of losing it due to the arbitrary redrawing of lines on a map in Europe.

One reason the Jesuits built the missions here was to exploit the nearby wetlands in the neighbouring province of Corrientes, where they could keep cattle as it was less disease-prone than the forests. I ended my trip with a visit to those wetlands, with their fabulous wildlife: capybara, caimans and kingfishers. As I glided along the canal of San Miguel, cut by the Jesuits, I reflected on how the jungle has always had a capacity to ruthlessly obscure the best attempts of man to cultivate it, whether it be the Maya in the Yucatán or Henry Ford in his Brazilian rubber plantation. The achievements of the Jesuits have been shrouded by both vegetation and prejudice for centuries — but, slowly, they are being revealed to the light once more.

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