The Good Life Is No More for Argentina

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Feb 18 07:10:42 MST 2003

LA Times, Feb. 18, 2003

The Good Life Is No More for Argentina
The nation rode high on a free-market system, backed by the IMF and tied 
to the dollar. Then the global economy spun it into disaster.
By Héctor Tobar, Times Staff Writer

SAN ISIDRO, Argentina -- More than any other developing nation in the 
1990s, Argentina embraced the free market and the global economy.

For top officials at the International Monetary Fund and economic gurus 
of the American right, Argentina was a star pupil. It sold off most 
government enterprises and loosened banking restrictions and controls on 
foreign investment. The IMF backed the strategy with billions of dollars 
in loans.

For a few years, people lived better than ever. Many Argentines believed 
that their country, already the most prosperous in Latin America, was 
finally graduating into the First World.

Then, in December 2001, the bottom fell out, causing a run on the banks 
that wiped out billions of dollars in deposits.

Nearly six months later, on a May morning that happened to be her 59th 
birthday, Norma Albino stepped into her bank branch in this Buenos Aires 
suburb of cobblestone streets, famous for its affluence and the tall 
spires of its 100-year-old church. She asked — for the third or fourth 
time since December — for her family's money. When the teller told her 
that he couldn't help her, she blurted out: "I'm going to kill myself."

As horrified bank employees looked on, she poured a bottle of rubbing 
alcohol over her head and snapped at a cigarette lighter.

Albino became, at that instant, a symbol of the rage and hurt smoldering 
inside millions of Argentines. Rushed to a hospital, she survived with 
third-degree burns. Months later, she has found that the best therapy is 
simply to forget.

"The politicians robbed us," she said. "But I don't care anymore. I try 
not to think about it."

Argentina's official unemployment rate stands at 22%, about the same as 
in the United States during the Great Depression. Poverty afflicts 53% 
of Argentines, triple the rate of just five years ago.

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