Argentina was subject to military dictatorship (alternating with weak, short-lived democratic governments) for many years, resulting in a number of significant economic problems. During the National Reorganization Process (1976–1983), huge debt was acquired for money later lost in unfinished projects, the Falklands War, and the state’s takeover of private debts. The Neoliberal economic platform was introduced during this period. By the end of the military government the country’s industries were severely affected-unemployment, calculated at 18% (though official figures claimed 5%), was at its highest point since the Great Depression.
In 1983, democracy in the country was restored with the election of president Raúl Alfonsín. The new government’s plans included stabilizing Argentina’s economy and the creation of a new currency (the austral, the first of its kind not to carry the word peso as part of its name), for which new loans were required. The state eventually became unable to pay the interest of this debt and confidence in the austral collapsed.
Inflation, which had been held between 10 and 20% per month, spiraled out of control. In July 1989, Argentina’s inflation reached 200% that month alone, topping 5,000% for the year. During the Alfonsin years, unemployment did not substantially increase, but real wages fell by almost half (to the lowest level in fifty years). Prices for state ran utilities were increased substantially, as well as costs for telephone service and gas for cars. Amid riots in 1989, President Alfonsín resigned five months before ending his term and Carlos Menem, who was already President-elect, took office.
Following a second bout of hyperinflation, in late 1990 Domingo Cavallo was appointed Minister of the Economy. In 1991 he took executive measures that fixed the value of Argentine currency at ₳10,000 per U.S. dollar. Furthermore, any citizen could go to a bank and convert any amount of domestic currency to U.S. dollars. To secure this “convertibility” the Central Bank of Argentina had to keep its U.S. dollar foreign exchange reserves at the same level as the cash in circulation. The initial aim of such measures was to ensure the acceptance of domestic currency because, after the 1989 and 1990 hyperinflation peaks, some people had started to reject it as payment and demanded U.S. dollars instead. This regime was later fixated by a law (Ley de Convertibilidad) which restored the peso as the Argentine currency with a monetary value tied to the value of the U.S. dollar.
As a result of the convertibility law inflation dropped sharply, price stability was assured and the value of the currency was preserved. This raised the quality of life for many citizens who could now afford to travel abroad, buy imported goods or ask for credit in dollars at very low interest rates.
Argentina still had external debts to pay and needed to borrow more money for these. The fixed exchange rate made imports cheap, producing a constant flight of dollars away from the country and a progressive loss of Argentina’s industrial infrastructure which led to an increase in unemployment.
In the meantime, government spending continued to be high and corruption was rampant. Argentina’s public debt grew enormously during the 1990s and the country showed no true signs of being able to pay it. The IMF, however, kept lending money to Argentina and postponing its payment schedules. Massive tax evasion and money laundering explained a large part of the evaporation of funds toward offshore banks. A congressional committee started investigations in 2001 over accusations that the Central Bank of Argentina’s governor, Pedro Pou, as well as part of the board of directors, had failed to investigate cases of alleged money laundering through Argentina’s financial system. Clearstream was also accused of being instrumental in this global financial process.
Other countries, such as Mexico and Brazil (both of which also happen to be important trade partners for Argentina), faced economic crises of their own leading other countries to mistrust Latin American countries moneywise and affecting the overall economy of the region. The influx of foreign currency provided by the privatisation of state companies had dried up. After 1999 Argentine exports were harmed by the devaluation of the Brazilian real and a considerable international revaluation of the dollar effectively revaluing the peso against its major trading partners, Brazil (30% of total trade flows) and the euro area (23% of total trade flows).
By 1999, newly elected President Fernando de la Rúa faced a country where unemployment had risen to a critical point and the undesirable effects of the fixed exchange rate were showing forcefully. In 1999 Argentina’s gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 4% and the country entered a recession which lasted three years ending in a collapse. Economic stability became economic stagnation (even deflation at times) and the economic measures taken did nothing to avert it. In fact the government continued the contractive economic policies of its predecessor. The possible solution (abandonment of the exchange peg, with a voluntary devaluation of the peso) was considered political suicide and a recipe for economic disaster. By the end of the century, a spectrum of complementary currencies had emerged.
While the provinces had always issued complementary currency in the form of bonds and drafts to brave shortages of cash, the maintenance of the convertibility regime led to this being done in an unprecedented scale. This led to their being called “quasi-currencies”, the strongest of them being Buenos Aires province’s Patacón. The national state also issued its own quasi-currency—the LECOP.
Since the early 1990s, Argentina had been closely engaged with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the body providing the country with a reliable access to credit and guiding its economic reforms. When its economy entered in recession the federal government deficit widened to 2.5% of GDP in 1999 and its external debt surpassed 50% of GDP. Seeing these levels as excessive, the IMF advised the government that it needed to address the issue of investor confidence, and that the government had to balance its budget by implementing austerity measures to do so. Complying with IMF’s requests, De la Rua administration committed to a sustained effort of fiscal consolidation and implemented US$1.4 billion in cuts in its first weeks in office in late 1999. In June 2000, with unemployment at 14% and projections of 3.5% GDP growth for the year, that move was furthered by a package of US$938 million in spending cuts and US$2 billion in tax increases. Following De la Rúa’s vice president Carlos Álvarez resignation in October 2000 over bribery suspicions in the Upper House, the crisis accelerated.
GDP growth projections proved to be overly optimistic (instead of growing, real GDP shrank 0.8%), and lagging tax receipts prompted the government to freeze spending and cut retirement benefits again in November 2000.[not in citation given] In early November, Standard & Poor’s placed Argentina on a credit watch, and a treasury bill auction resulted in yields reaching 16% (up from 9% in July); this was the second highest rate of any country in South America at the time.
Rising bond yields left Argentina with no choice but to borrow from major international lenders, such as the IMF, World Bank, and the U.S. Treasury, which would lend to the government at below-market rates, and to comply with their conditions. Several more rounds of belt-tightening followed. José Luis Machinea resigned as the Minister of Economy in February 2001. He was replaced with Ricardo López Murphy, who lasted 8 days in the office before being replaced with Domingo Cavallo. In July 2001, Standard and Poor’s cut the credit rating of the country to B–.
In July 2001 the government instituted an unpopular across-the-board pay cut of up to 13% to all civil servants and an equivalent cut to government pension benefits – seventh austerity plan implemented since President Fernando de la Rua took office in 1999, triggering nationwide strikes, and, starting in August, it was forced to pay salaries of highest-paid employees in I.O.U.s instead of money. This further depressed the economy, which was already weak after a three-year recession. The unemployment rate rose to 16.4% in August 2001 up from a 14.7% a month earlier, and it stood at 20% by December.
In October 2001, public discontent with the economic conditions was expressed in the nationwide election. President Fernando de la Rua’s alliance lost seats in both chambers of Argentina’s congress, leaving it in the minority. Over 20% of all voters chose to enter so-called “anger votes”, returning blank or defaced ballots rather than indicate support of any candidate.
The crisis intensified when, on 5 December 2001, the IMF refused to release a US$1.3 billion tranche of its loan, citing the failure of the Argentinean government to reach previously agreed-upon budget deficit targets, and demanded further budget cuts, amounting 10% of the federal budget. On 4 December, Argentinean bond yields stood at 34% over U.S. treasury bonds, and, by 11 December, the spread jumped to 42%.
By the end of November 2001, people fearing the worst began withdrawing large sums of money from their bank accounts, turning pesos into dollars and sending them abroad, causing a run on the banks. On 2 December 2001 the government enacted a set of measures, informally known as the corralito, that effectively froze all bank accounts for twelve months, allowing for only minor sums of cash to be withdrawn, initially announced to be of just $250 a week.
December 2001 riots and political turmoil
Main article: December 2001 riots in Argentina
Because of this allowance limit and the serious problems it caused in certain cases, many Argentines became enraged and took to the streets of important cities, especially Buenos Aires. They engaged in a form of popular protest that became known as cacerolazo (banging pots and pans). These protests occurred especially in 2001 and 2002. At first the cacerolazos were simply noisy demonstrations, but soon they included property destruction, often directed at banks, foreign privatized companies, and especially big American and European companies. Many businesses installed metal barriers because windows and glass facades were being broken, and even fires being ignited at their doors. Billboards of such companies as Coca Cola and others were brought down by the masses of demonstrators.
Amid rioting, President Fernando de la Rua resigned on 21 December 2001.
Confrontations between the police and citizens became a common sight, and fires were also set on Buenos Aires avenues. Fernando de la Rúa declared a state of emergency, only to get the situation worsened, precipitating the violent protests of 20 and 21 December 2001 in Plaza de Mayo, where clashes between demonstrators and the police ended up with several people dead, and precipitated the fall of the government. De la Rúa eventually fled the Casa Rosada in a helicopter on 21 December.
Following presidential succession procedures established in the Constitution, the Senate chairman is the one in the line of succession in the absence of both president and vice-president in office. Therefore, Ramón Puerta took office as caretaker’s head of state, and the Legislative Assembly (a body formed by merging both chambers of the Congress) was convened. By law, the candidates were the members of the Senate plus the Governors of the Provinces; Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, then governor of San Luis, was eventually appointed as the new interim president.
During the last week of 2001, the interim government led by Rodríguez Saá, facing the impossibility of meeting debt payments, defaulted on the larger part of the public debt, totalling no less than US$132 billion, what approximately represented the seventh portion of all the money borrowed by the Third World.
Politically, the most heated debate involved the time for the following elections—the spectrum ranged from March 2002 to October 2003 (the original date for the ending of De la Rúa’s office).
Rodríguez Saá’s economy team came up with a project designed to preserve the convertibility regime, dubbed the “Third Currency” Plan. It consisted of creating a new, non-convertible currency called Argentino coexisting with convertible pesos and U.S. dollars. It would only circulate as cash (checks, promissory notes or other instruments could be nominated in pesos or dollars but not in Argentinos) and would be partially guaranteed with federally managed land—such features were expected to counterbalance inflationary tendencies.
Argentinos having legal currency status would be used to redeem all complementary currency already in circulation—the acceptance of which as a means of payment was quite uneven. It was hoped that preservation of convertibility would restore public confidence, while the non-convertible nature of this currency would allow for a measure of fiscal flexibility (unthinkable with pesos) that could ameliorate the crippling recession of economy. Critics called this plan merely a “controlled devaluation”; its advocates countered that since controlling a devaluation is perhaps its thorniest issue, this criticism was a praise in disguise. The “Third Currency” plan had enthusiastic supporters among mainstream economists (the most notorious being perhaps Martín Redrado, a former president of the central bank) citing sound technical arguments. However, it could never be implemented because the Rodríguez Saá government lacked the political support required.
Rodríguez Saá, utterly incapable of dealing with the crisis and unsupported by his own party, resigned before the end of the year. The Legislative Assembly convened again, appointing Peronist Eduardo Duhalde—then a Senator for the Buenos Aires province—to take his place.
End of fixed currency exchange rate
Further information: Fixed exchange-rate system and Floating exchange rate
Monthly inflation in Argentina, 2002 (the peak is 10.4%, in April).
After much deliberation, Duhalde abandoned in January 2002 the fixed 1-to-1 peso–dollar parity that had been in place for ten years. In a matter of days, the peso lost a large part of its value in the unregulated market. A provisional “official” exchange rate was set at 1.4 pesos per dollar.
In addition to the corralito, the Ministry of Economy dictated the pesificación, by which all bank accounts denominated in dollars would be converted to pesos at official rate. This measure angered most savings holders and appeals were made by many citizens to declare it unconstitutional.
After a few months, the exchange rate was left to float more or less freely. The peso suffered a huge depreciation, which in turn prompted inflation (since Argentina depended heavily on imports, and had no means to replace them locally at the time).
The economic situation became steadily worse with regards to inflation and unemployment during 2002. By that time the original 1-to-1 rate had increased to nearly 4 pesos per dollar, while the accumulated inflation since the devaluation was about 80%; these figures were considerably lower than those foretold by most orthodox economists at the time. The quality of life of the average Argentine was lowered proportionally; many businesses closed or went bankrupt, many imported products became virtually inaccessible, and salaries were left as they were before the crisis.
Since the volume of pesos did not fit the demand for cash (even after the devaluation) huge quantities of a wide spectrum of complementary currency kept circulating alongside them. Fears of hyperinflation as a consequence of devaluation quickly eroded the attractiveness of their associated revenue, originally stated in convertible pesos. Their acceptability now ultimately depended on the State’s willingness to take them as payment of taxes and other charges, consequently becoming very irregular.
Very often they were taken at less than their nominal value—while the Patacón was frequently accepted at the same value as peso, Entre Ríos’s Federal was among the worst-faring, at an average 30% as the provincial government that had issued them was reluctant to take them back. There were also frequent rumors that the Government would simply banish complementary currency overnight (instead of redeeming them, even at disadvantageous rates), leaving their holders with useless printed paper.
Depositors protest the freezing of their accounts. Their mostly dollar-denominated accounts were converted to pesos at less than half their new value.
Many private companies were affected by the crisis: Aerolíneas Argentinas, for example, was one of the most affected Argentine companies, having to stop all international flights for various days in 2002. The airline came close to bankruptcy, but survived.
Most barter networks, viable as devices to ameliorate the shortage of cash during the recession, collapsed as large numbers of people turned to them, desperate to save as many pesos as they could to exchange for hard currency as a palliative for uncertainty.
Several thousand newly homeless and jobless Argentines found work as cartoneros, or cardboard collectors. The 2003 estimation of 30,000 to 40,000 people scavenged the streets for cardboard to eke out a living by selling it to recycling plants. This method accounts for only one of many ways of coping in a country that at the time suffered from an unemployment rate soaring at nearly 25%.
Agriculture was also affected: Argentine products were rejected in some international markets, for fear they might arrive damaged from the poor conditions they grew in, and the USDA put restrictions on Argentine food and drugs arriving at the United States.
Producers of television channels were forced to produce more reality shows than any other type of shows, because these were generally cheap to produce as compared to other programmes. Virtually all education-related TV programmes were canceled.
Evolution of the Argentine GNP, 1999–2004.
Foreign currency reserves of Argentina’s central bank, in millions of USD.
Eduardo Duhalde finally managed to stabilise the situation to a certain extent, and called for elections. On 25 May 2003 Néstor Kirchner took office as the new president. Kirchner kept Duhalde’s Minister of Economy, Roberto Lavagna, in his post. Lavagna, a respected economist with centrist views, showed a considerable aptitude at managing the crisis, with the help of heterodox measures.
The economic outlook was completely different from that of the 1990s; the devalued peso made Argentine exports cheap and competitive abroad, while discouraging imports. In addition, the high price of soy in the international market produced an injection of massive amounts of foreign currency (with China becoming a major buyer of Argentina’s soy products).
The government encouraged import substitution and accessible credit for businesses, staged an aggressive plan to improve tax collection, and set aside large amounts of money for social welfare, while controlling expenditure in other fields.
As a result of the administration’s productive model and controlling measures (selling reserve dollars in the public market), the peso slowly revalued, reaching a 3-to-1 rate to the dollar. Agricultural exports grew and tourism returned.
The huge trade surplus ultimately caused such an inflow of dollars that the government was forced to begin intervening to keep the peso from revaluing further, which would ruin the tax collection scheme (largely based on import taxes and royalties) and discourage further reindustrialisation. The central bank started buying dollars in the local market and stocking them as reserves.
By December 2005, foreign currency reserves had reached US$28 billion (they were greatly reduced by the anticipated payment of the full debt to the IMF in January 2006). The downside of this reserve accumulation strategy is that the dollars have to be bought with freshly issued pesos, which may induce inflation. The central bank neutralises a part of this monetary emission by selling Treasury letters[clarification needed]. In this way the exchange rate has been stabilised near a reference value of 3 pesos to the dollar.
President Néstor Kirchner and Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna discuss policy, August, 2004.
The currency exchange issue is complicated by two mutually opposing factors: a sharp increase in imports since 2004 (which raises the demand of dollars), and the return of foreign investment (which brings fresh currency from abroad) after the successful restructuring of about three quarters of the external debt. The government has set up controls and restrictions aimed at keeping short-term speculative investment from destabilising the financial market.
Argentina’s recovery suffered a minor setback in 2004 when rising industrial demand caused a short-lived energy crisis. The prospect of future energy shortages are not discounted.
Argentina has managed to return to growth with surprising strength; the GDP jumped 8.8% in 2003, 9.0% in 2004, 9.2% in 2005, 8.5% in 2006 and 8.7% in 2007. Though average wages have increased 17% annually since 2002 (jumping 25% in the year to May 2008), consumer prices have partly accompanied this surge; though not comparable to the levels of former crises, the inflation rate was 12.5% in 2005, 10% in 2006 and is believed by private economists to have approached 15% in 2007 and to exceed 20% during 2008(even if the Ministry of Economy refuses to acknowledge inflation greater than 10%). This has prompted the government to increase tariffs for exporters and to pressure retailers into one price truce after another in a bid to stabilize prices, so far with little effect.
While unemployment has been considerably reduced (it has been hovering around 8.5% since 2006), Argentina has so far failed to reach an equitable distribution of income (the wealthiest 10% of the population receives 31 times more income than the poorest 10%). This disparity, nevertheless, compares quite favorably to levels seen in most of Latin America.
Worker-owned cooperatives and self-management
During the economic collapse, many business owners and foreign investors drew all of their money out of the Argentine economy and sent it overseas. As a result, many small and medium enterprises closed due to lack of capital, thereby exacerbating unemployment. Many workers at these enterprises, faced with a sudden loss of employment and no source of income, decided to reopen businesses on their own, without the presence of the owners and their capital, as self-managed cooperatives.
Worker managed cooperative businesses range from ceramics factory Zanon (FaSinPat), to the four-star Hotel Bauen, to suit factory Brukman, to printing press Chilavert, and many others. In some cases, former owners sent police to remove workers out of these workplaces; this was sometimes successful but in other cases workers defended occupied workplaces against the state, the police, and the bosses.
A survey by an Argentina newspaper in the capital found that around 1/3 of the population had participated in general assemblies. The assemblies used to take place in street corners and public spaces, and generally gathered to discuss ways of helping each other in the face of eviction, or organizing around issues like health care, collective food buying, or conducting free food distribution programs. Some assemblies started to create new structures of health care and schooling, to replace the old ones that were not working. Neighborhood assemblies met once a week in a large assembly to discuss issues affecting the larger community. In 2004, Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein (author of No Logo) released the documentary The Take, about these events.
Some businesses have now been legally purchased by the workers for nominal fees, others remain ‘occupied’ by workers who have no legal standing with the state (and in some cases reject negotiation with the state on the grounds that working productively is its own justification). The Argentine government is considering a Law of Expropriation that would transfer some occupied businesses to their worker-managers.
Effects on wealth distribution
Although GDP has grown consistently and quickly since 2003, it was only in late 2004 that it reached the levels of 1998 (the last year before the recession). Other macroeconomic indicators have followed suit. A study by Equis, an independent counseling organization, found out that two measures of economic inequality, the Gini coefficient and the wealth gap between the 10% poorest and the 10% richest among the population, grew continuously since 2001, and decreased for the first time in March 2005.
Poverty in Argentina Date of
May 2001 11.6% 35.9%
October 2001 13.6% 38.3%
May 2002 24.8% 53.0%
October 2002 27.5% 57.5%
May 2003 26.3% 54.7%
2nd sem 2003 20.5% 47.8%
1st sem 2004 17.0% 44.3%
2nd sem 2004 15.0% 40.2%
1st sem 2005 13.6% 38.5%
2nd sem 2005 12.2% 33.8%
1st sem 2006 11.2% 31.4%
2nd sem 2006 8.7% 26.4%
2nd sem 2007 5.9% 20.6%
1st sem 2008 5.1% 17.8%
2nd sem 2008 4.4% 15.3%
The table on the left shows statistics of poverty in Argentina, in percent of the population. The first column shows the date of the measurement (note that the method and time changed in 2003; poverty is now measured each semester). Extreme poverty is here defined as not having enough money to eat properly. The poverty line is set higher: it is the minimum income needed for basic needs including food, clothing, shelter, and studies.
Similar statistics are available from the World Bank 
Main article: Argentine debt restructuring
When the default was declared in 2002, foreign investment fled the country, and capital flow towards Argentina ceased almost completely. The Argentine government met severe challenges trying to refinance the debt. The state had no spare money at the time, and the central bank’s foreign currency reserves were almost depleted.
The Argentine government kept a firm stance, and finally got a deal in 2005 by which 76% of the defaulted bonds were exchanged by others, of a much lower nominal value (25–35% of the original) and at longer terms. In 2008, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced she was studying a reopening of the 2005 swap to gain adhesion from the remaining 24% of the so-called “holdouts”, and thereby fully exit the default with private investors.
Criticism of the IMF
The International Monetary Fund suffered no discounts in its part of the Argentine debt. Some payments were refinanced or postponed on agreement. However, the authorities of the IMF at times expressed harsh criticism of the discounts and actively lobbied for the private creditors.
In a speech before the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 2004, President Kirchner said that “An urgent, tough, and structural redesign of the International Monetary Fund is needed, to prevent crises and help in [providing] solutions”. Implicitly referencing the fact that the intent of the original Bretton Woods system was to encourage economic development, Kirchner warned that the IMF today must “change that direction, which took it from being a lender for development to a creditor demanding privileges”.
During the weekend of October 1–2, 2004, at the annual meeting of the IMF/World Bank, leaders of the IMF, the European Union, the Group of Seven industrialised nations, and the Institute of International Finance (IIF), warned President Kirchner that Argentina had to come to an immediate debt-restructuring agreement with the speculative “vulture funds”, increase its primary budget surplus to pay more debt, and impose “structural reforms” to prove to the world financial community that it deserved loans and investment.
In 2005, as a large and consistently growing fiscal surplus made it possible, Argentina shifted to a policy of debt relief towards the IMF: paying the IMF in schedule, with no negotiation whenever possible, with the intention of gaining independence from it. On December 15, 2005, following a similar action by Brazil, President Kirchner suddenly announced that Argentina would pay the whole debt to the IMF. The debt payments, totaling 9.810 billion USD, were previously scheduled as installments until 2008. Argentina paid it with the central bank’s foreign currency reserves.
In a June 2006 report, a group of independent experts hired by the IMF to revise the work of its Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) stated that the assessment of the Argentine case suffered from informative manipulation and lack of collaboration on the part of the IMF; the IEO is claimed to have unduly softened its conclusions to avoid criticizing the IMF’s board of directors.
Source : Wikipedia