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ECONOMY | 21-12-2021 14:52

Argentina and the IMF: still bound in a love-hate relationship

Argentina has long had a stormy relationship with the International Monetary Fund. Twenty years after a deep economic, political and social crisis shook the country, the nation is again traversing a tense financial patch.

Argentina has long had a stormy relationship with the International Monetary Fund, which many in the country see unfavourably, even though it has provided a credit lifeline after decades of what experts call "very poor management of public finances."

Twenty years after an economic, political and social crisis that shook the country – and was felt around the world – Argentina is now traversing a tense financial patch, having never fully regained the confidence of world markets.

With four in 10 Argentines still living in poverty, the country is anxious to avoid a replay of the 2001 debacle.

Argentina finds itself struggling to refinance its latest loan – contracted with the agency in 2018 – amid economic recession, with yearly inflation surpassing 50 percent and with depleted monetary reserves.

The country has gone to the IMF 21 times since it became a member in 1956, "so the new programme supposedly being negotiated [to restructure a credit of US$44 billion] will be the 22nd in 65 years," said Arturo Porzecanski, a researcher with the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University in Washington.

"It's like saying that a bar owner has had to call the fire department 22 times over the last 65 years," he said.

 

A serial defaulter

"Rather than control its own general indebtedness, Argentina has for years borrowed excessively at home and abroad," said Mark Sobel, US chairman of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF).

"The Central Bank is forced to finance deficits, which generates inflation and public distrust in the government and the currency." 

"Unable to pay its foreign debt, Argentina is a serial defaulter," he added.

Experts agree that blaming the IMF for Argentina's financial woes would be a mistake.

"The cost, the terms and the amount of any new programme the IMF approves for Argentina will be much more favourable than the government could hope to obtain from the financial markets or from other multilateral entities," Porzecanski said.

Afterall, the Fund's interest rates are low. 

"Now it is two percent and, in the case of high debt it could hit four percent, but keep in mind that the interest rate at which Argentina could borrow in the market is perhaps 15 percent," said Claudio Loser, a former IMF director for the Americas and CEO of the Centennial Group Latin America consultancy. 

Resentment against the financial agency is widespread among Argentina's population of 45 million, including President Alberto Fernández, who has demanded more time to pay back the debt.

 

'The villain'

"Although the IMF has rescued Argentina repeatedly, it is a villain to many Argentines," said Benjamin Gedan, deputy director of the Latin American Program at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, who said the agency is blamed "for imposing painful budget cuts and precipitating the economic collapse of 2001."

Last weekend, thousands of protesters chanted "Out with the IMF!" in the streets of Buenos Aires.

"Argentines always focus on the Fund and blame it for the problems of Argentina," said Sobel. "But the decades and decades of bad economic policy for Argentina were made in Buenos Aires, not in Washington DC."

Gedan agreed, saying, "Argentina's fundamental problem is overspending, and the IMF cannot ignore the country's failure to responsibly manage its national budget."

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