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   Vol.65/No.9            March 5, 2001 
Castro comments on crisis facing Argentina
At a February 3 news conference in Havana Cuban president Fidel Castro said the U.S. government has been seeking a government in Latin America willing to sponsor a motion condemning human rights violations in Cuba at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland. "They are trying to use Argentina for these adventures," he asserted. "They have sent envoys to several Latin American countries in an effort to recruit someone to present the motion against Cuba."

The UN meetings have been a regular arena for Washington to try to advance its campaign of slander and assault against the Cuban revolution.

Castro pointed to the economic crisis in Argentina and said Argentine foreign minister Adalberto Rodriguez was visiting Washington that week to "implore U.S. government aid in exchange for a vote against Cuba in Geneva." The regime, which voted for a similar motion last year, recently signed a deal with the U.S.-based International Monetary Fund for a $40 billion bailout loan.

"Under those circumstances it is impossible for a government to hold up dignity and respect," said Castro. "Now they need $40 billion more--that is tantamount to licking the boots of the Yankees."

The Cuban president noted that Argentina's foreign debt, which at one point was $61 billion, has ballooned to more than $123 billion. Last fall, as Argentina was edging close to defaulting on payments of its foreign debt, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other imperialist financial institutions packaged nearly $40 billion in "emergency aid" in order for Argentina to pay interest on its debt to U.S. and other international banks. The IMF loans were conditioned on the government imposing "fiscal reforms" that included cuts to pensions and wages.

The Argentine government responded to Castro's remarks by recalling its ambassador to Cuba, Oscar Torres, and canceling a planned trade delegation to Cuba.

Cuban foreign minister Felipe Roque said Cuba was not recalling its ambassador to Argentina. Roque said Rodriguez was responsible for escalating tensions between the two countries "not only because last year he instructed his diplomatic representation in Geneva to join the U.S. maneuver against Cuba, but because this year evidently he is preparing conditions to repeat the Argentine vote against Cuba," which he said helps in "legitimizing [Washington's] blockade against Cuba."

Argentina's stagnating economy, the third largest in Latin America, is stoking nervousness among capitalists in the United States and elsewhere. "Investors remain wary that a deteriorating political landscape in Argentina could unravel the country's economic reform program and with it, the country's economic recovery," wrote Thomas Catán for the Financial Times. Washington and other imperialists worry that the "fractious political environment" confronting the regime of Fernando de la Rúa is an obstacle to mustering solid governmental support for pressing through austerity measures, he wrote.

Meanwhile, huge layers of the middle class have been socked by the country's economic crisis. "Hard Times Squeeze Millions of Argentines Out of the Middle Class," read a February 1 headline in the Wall Street Journal. The article noted that some 4 million people, or more than 10 percent of the population, "have fallen from the middle into severe financial distress."

The Journal article pointed to the "accumulated frustrations" that "have bred a growing middle-class militancy," and described an incident at the home of a small factory owner who rounded up a group of 100 friends and neighbors to chase off bank officials when they came to repossess his property. "Such debtor-activist groups are flourishing," the Journal warned.

In addition to these actions, protests by jobless workers have erupted throughout the country. The General Federation of Labor (CGT) has called for a 36-hour national general strike March 1-2 to oppose the regime's austerity policies.
Thousands of jobs eliminated
Argentina's economy has been mired in a recession for more than two and a half years with an unemployment rate of around 15 percent.The poverty rate has soared and now 25 percent of the residents in Buenos Aires are classified as poor. The government's austerity measures, which included cuts in entitlement programs and doubling the rates for basic services, has had a deep impact on working people. The sell-off of the state-owned electricity, telephone, and health systems has eliminated thousands of government jobs.

In 1991, the administration of former president Carlos Menem tied the Argentine peso to the U.S. dollar on a one-to-one ratio, resulting in higher prices and devastation of workers' living standards. Since that time the U.S. Federal Reserve Board has in effect controlled Argentina's monetary policy.

As the dollar increased in value relative to other currencies--which devalued in Asia, Europe, and Latin America--the high value of the peso became an albatross for the regime. Many businesses in Argentina crumbled under the weight of the overpriced peso, which reduced their exports. Small businesses have been hammered by the recession with some 35,000 companies shut down over the past decade. Homelessness has visibly increased, while the number of golf courses in the country expanded by 40 percent, the Wall Street Journal pointed out.

Meanwhile, the government is engulfed in a money-laundering scandal involving allegations that Central Bank president Pedro Pou lied about information concerning $10 billion worth of illegal transactions. Leading members of Congress and other politicians have called for Pou's ouster, which has sparked jitters among Wall Street investors.

"There is enough information out there to warrant strong doubts about Pou," the Washington Post opined February 14. "But [the government] wants to avoid the risk of provoking another financial crisis by removing the Central Bank president at a difficult time for the economy."  
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