Argentine economic crisis (1999–2002)
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The Argentine economic crisis (1999–2002) was a major downturn in Argentina's economy. It began in 1999 with a decrease of real Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The crisis caused the fall of the government, default on the country's foreign debt, widespread unemployment, riots, the rise of alternative currencies and the end of the peso's fixed exchange rate to the US dollar.
By 2002 GDP growth had returned, surprising economists and the business media. As of 2012, the default had not been completely resolved, although the government had repaid its IMF loans in full.
Argentina's many years of military dictatorship (alternating with weak, short-lived democratic governments) caused significant economic problems. During the so-called National Reorganization Process (1976–1983), the country went into debt for never-finished projects, the Falklands War, and state 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 was restored with the election of president Raúl Alfonsín. The new government intended to stabilize the economy and create a new currency (the austral, the first of its kind without peso in its name), for which new loans were required. The state eventually became unable to service this debt and confidence collapsed.
Inflation, which had stayed between 10 and 20% per month, spiraled out of control. In July 1989, Argentina saw 200% inflation for the month, peaking at 5,000% for the year. During the Alfonsin administration, unemployment did not substantially increase, but real wages fell by almost half (to the lowest level in fifty years). Prices for state-run utilities, telephone service, and gas increased substantially. Amid riots, President Alfonsín resigned five months before the end of his term and President-elect Carlos Menem took office early.
After a second bout of hyperinflation, Domingo Cavallo was appointed Minister of the Economy in late 1990. In 1991, he fixed the value of Argentine currency at ₳10,000 per U.S. dollar. Australs could be freely converted to dollars at banks. 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, Argentines had started to demand payment in U.S. dollars. This regime was later modified by a law (Ley de Convertibilidad) which restored the Argentine peso as the national currency.
The convertibility law reduced inflation sharply and thereafter preserved the value of the currency. This raised the quality of life for many citizens who could again afford to travel abroad, buy imported goods or ask for credit in dollars at traditional interest rates.
Argentina still had external public debt that it needed to roll over.
Government spending remained too high and corruption was rampant. Argentina's public debt grew enormously during the 1990s without showing that it could service the debt. The International Monetary Fund kept lending money to Argentina and extending its payment schedules. Massive tax evasion and money laundering contributed to the movement of funds toward offshore banks. A congressional committee started investigations in 2001 over accusations that Central Bank governor (Pedro Pou) and members of the board of directors had overlooked money laundering within Argentina's financial system. Clearstream was accused of being instrumental in this process.
Other Latin American countries, including Mexico and Brazil (both important trade partners for Argentina), faced economic crises of their own, leading to mistrust of the regional economy. The influx of foreign currency provided by the privatisation of state companies had ended. After 1999, Argentine exports were harmed by the devaluation of the Brazilian real and the dollar. A considerable international revaluation of the dollar directly weakened the peso relative to Argentina's 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 with critically high unemployment and economic damage due to the continued borrowing. In 1999, Argentina's GDP dropped 4% and the country entered a three-year long recession. Economic stability became economic stagnation (even deflation at times) and the economic measures taken did nothing to avert it. The government continued its predecessor's economic policies. Devaluing the peso by abandoning the exchange peg was considered political suicide and a recipe for economic disaster. By the end of the century, complementary currencies had emerged.
While the provinces had always issued complementary currency in the form of bonds and drafts to manage shortages of cash, the scale of such borrowing reached unprecedented levels during this period. This led to their being called "quasi-currencies". The strongest of them was Buenos Aires's Patacón. The national government issued its own quasi-currency—the LECOP.
In a 2001 interview, journalist Peter Katel identified three factors, converging at "the worst possible time", to explain why the Argentine economy unraveled:
- The fixed exchange rate between Argentine peso and the US dollar (created at the start of the 1990s by the Economy Minister at the time, Domingo Cavallo).
- The large amounts of borrowing by former Argentine president, Carlos Menem.
- An increase in debt due to reduced tax revenues.
Rates, riots, resignations and default 
Since the early 1990s, Argentina had relied on the IMF to provide the country with reliable access to credit and to guide its economic reforms. When the recession began, the national 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 to balance its budget by implementing austerity measures to sustain investor confidence. The De la Rúa administration 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, austerity was furthered by US$938 million in spending cuts and US$2 billion in tax increases. Following 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 required paying 16% interest (up from 9% in July); this was the second highest rate of any country in South America at the time..
Rising bond yields forced the country to turn to 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 the accompanying conditions. Several more rounds of belt-tightening followed. José Luis Machinea resigned as Minister of Economy in February 2001. He was replaced with Ricardo López Murphy, who lasted 8 days in the office before being replaced with 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—De la Rúa's seventh austerity round—triggering nationwide strikes, and, starting in August, it paid salaries of the highest-paid employees in I.O.U.s instead of money. This further depressed the weakened economy. The unemployment rate rose to 16.4% in August 2001 up from a 14.7% a month earlier, and it reached 20% by December. In October 2001 , public discontent with the economic conditions was expressed in the nationwide election. President Fernando de la Rúa's alliance lost seats in both chambers of the Argentine National Congress, leaving it in the minority. Over 20% of 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 Argentine government to reach previously agreed-upon budget deficit targets, and demanded further budget cuts, amounting to 10% of the federal budget. On 4 December, Argentine bond yields stood at 34% over U.S. treasury bonds, and, by 11 December, the spread jumped to 42%.
By the end of November 2001bank accounts, turning pesos into dollars and sending them abroad, causing a bank run. On 2 December 2001 the government enacted 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 $250 a week., people began withdrawing large sums of dollars from their
December 2001 riots and political turmoil 
The freeze enraged many Argentines who took to the streets of important cities, especially Buenos Aires. They engaged in protests 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-owned privatized companies, and especially big American and European companies.
Confrontations between the police and citizens became a common sight, and fires were set on Buenos Aires avenues. De la Rúa declared a state of emergency, but 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 was next in the line of succession in the absence of president and vice-president. Accordingly, Ramón Puerta took office as a caretaker 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.
Debt default 
During the last week of 2001, the Rodriguez Saá government defaulted on the larger part of the public debt, totalling US$132 billion. The amount approximately represented one seventh of all the money borrowed by the Third World.
Politically, the most heated debate involved the date of the following elections—proposals ranged from March 2002 to October 2003 (the end of De la Rúa's term).
Rodríguez Saá's economic team came up with a scheme 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 denominated in pesos or dollars but not in Argentinos) and would be partially guaranteed with federally managed land—to counterbalance inflationary tendencies.
Argentinos having legal status would be used to redeem all complementary currency already in circulation—whose acceptance as a means of payment was quite uneven. It was hoped that 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. 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 well-known being perhaps Martín Redrado, a former central bank president) citing technical arguments. However, it was not implemented because the Rodríguez Saá government lacked the required political support.
Rodríguez Saá, lost the support of his own party and resigned before the end of the year. The Legislative Assembly convened again, appointing Peronist Eduardo Duhalde—then a Senator for the Buenos Aires province—in his place.
End of fixed exchange rate 
After much deliberation, in January 2002 Duhalde abandoned the 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 an official rate. This measure angered most savings holders and attempts were made to declare it unconstitutional.
After a few months, the exchange rate was left to float more or less freely. The peso further depreciated, which prompted increased inflation (since Argentina depended heavily on imports, and had no means to replace them locally at the time).
Inflation and unemployment worsened during 2002. By that time the exchange rate had reached nearly 4 pesos per dollar, while the accumulated inflation since the devaluation was about 80%; considerably less than predicted by most orthodox economists. 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 supply of pesos did not meet the demand for cash (even after the devaluation) complementary currencies kept circulating alongside them. Fears of hyperinflation as a consequence of devaluation quickly eroded their attractiveness, originally stated in convertible pesos. Their acceptability now ultimately depended on the State's irregular willingness to take them as payment of taxes and other charges.
While the Patacón was frequently accepted at the same value as the peso, Entre Ríos's Federal was among the worst-faring, discounted by an average 30% as even the provincial government that had issued them was reluctant to accept them. 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.
Immediate effects 
Several thousand newly homeless and jobless Argentines found work as cartoneros, or cardboard collectors. A 2003 estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people scavenged the streets for cardboard to sell to recycling plants. Such desperate measures were common given the unemployment rate of nearly 25%.
Argentine agricultural products were rejected in some international markets, for fear they might arrive damaged by the chaos. The United States Department of Agriculture put restrictions on Argentine food and drug exports.
Duhalde eventually stabilised 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 and discouraged imports. In addition, the high price of soy in the international market produced 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 allocated large sums for social welfare, while controlling expenditure in other fields.
The peso slowly rose, 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 rising further, which would break the tax collection scheme (largely based on import taxes and royalties) and discourage further reindustrialisation. The central bank started rebuilding its dollar reserves.
By December 2005, foreign currency reserves had reached US$28 billion (they were later reduced by the payment of the full debt to the IMF in January 2006 ). The downside of this reserve accumulation strategy is that the dollars had to be bought with freshly issued pesos, which risked inflation. The central bank sterilized its purchases by selling Treasury letters. In this way the exchange rate stabilised near 3:1.
The currency exchange issue was complicated by two mutually opposing factors: a sharp increase in imports since 2004 (which raised the demand for dollars), and the return of foreign investment (which brought fresh currency from abroad) after the successful restructuring of about three quarters of the external debt. The government set up controls and restrictions aimed at keeping short-term speculative investment from destabilising financial markets.
Argentina's recovery suffered a minor setback in 2004 when rising industrial demand caused a short-lived energy crisis. Argentina managed to return to growth: GDP jumped 8.8% in 2003, 9.0% in 2004, 9.2% in 2005, 8.5% in 2006 and 8.7% in 2007. Though wages averaged a 17% annual increase from 2002-2008(jumping 25% in the year to May 2008), inflation ate away at these increases: 12.5% in 2005; 10% in 2006; nearly 15% in 2007 and over 20% during 2008. The government was accused of manipulating inflation statistics leading for example, The Economist magazine to turn to private sources instead. This prompted the government to increase export tariffs and to pressure retailers into one price freeze after another in a bid to stabilize prices, so far with little effect.
While unemployment has been considerably reduced (it hovered around 8.5% after 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 level of inequality compares favorably to levels in most of Latin America.
During the economic collapse, many business owners and foreign investors sent their money 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 the closed facilities on their own, as self-managed cooperatives.
Worker managed cooperative businesses include 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 from 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 Buenos Aires newspaper 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 discussed ways of helping each other in the face of eviction, or organizing around issues such as health care, collective food buying, or food distribution programs. Some assemblies created new structures of health care and schooling. Neighborhood assemblies met once a week in a large assembly to discuss issues affecting the larger community. In 2004, a documentary covering these events was released.
Some businesses were legally purchased by the workers for nominal fees, while others remain occupied by workers who have no legal standing (and in some cases reject negotiations). 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 grew consistently and quickly after 2003, it only reached the levels of 1998 (the last year before the recession) in late 2004. Other macroeconomic indicators 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.
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.
Debt restructuring 
When the default was declared in 2002, foreign investment stopped and capital flow ceased almost completely. The Argentine government faced severe challenges trying to refinance its debt.
The government reached an agreement in 2005 by which 76% of the defaulted bonds were exchanged for others, with a nominal value of 25–35% of the original and at longer terms. In 2008, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced she was studying a reopening of the negotiations to gain agreement from the remaining 24% of the debt.
Criticism of the IMF 
The International Monetary Fund accepted no discounts in its part of the Argentine debt. Some payments were refinanced or postponed on agreement. However, IMF authorities 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 creditors, increase its primary budget surplus to slow debt increases, and impose structural reforms to prove to the world financial community that it deserved loans and investment.
In 2005, turned its primary surplus into an actual surplus, Argentina began paying the IMF on schedule, with the intention of regaining financial independence. 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. The payment was made on January 6, 2006.
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 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.
- Memoria del Saqueo, by Pino Solanas
- Un Día de suerte
- The Take
- Nueve Reinas
- Documentary 52': Que Justice soit Faite
- "i" Indymedia, Argentina, and the Questions of Communication
- Video documentary Argentine economic crisis
See also 
- 1999 in Argentina
- 2000 in Argentina
- 2001 in Argentina
- 2002 in Argentina
- Popular assemblies
- South American economic crisis of 2002
- Argentine debt restructuring
- Vulture fund
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- "Workers Struggles: The Americas". World Socialist Web Site. 21 August 2001. Retrieved 2011–11–29. "Argentina’s unemployed number 2.3 million, 16.4 percent of the workforce."
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- David Litterick (11 December 2001). "Argentina bond yields hit 42pc". The Telegraph. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
- Carlos Ares (16 February 2002). "El 'corralito' asfixia la economía argentina" [The "corralito" suffocates the Argentine economy]. El País (in Spanish). Retrieved 14 March 2011.
- "La Corte Suprema dictó nuevas medidas en favor del corralito" [The Supreme Court ruled out new measures backing the corralito]. La Nación (in Spanish). DyN. 10 January 2002. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
- Andrew Walker (2 December 2002). "Argentina lifts cash restrictions". BBC News. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
- Carlos Ares (24 November 2002). "El fin del 'corralito' en Argentina será efectivo a partir del 2 de diciembre" [The end of the "corralito" in Argentina will be effective from 2 December]. El País (in Spanish). Retrieved 14 March 2011.
- Clifford Krauss (3 December 2001). "Argentina Limits Withdrawals as Banks Near Collapse". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
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- "Accommodating an army of garbage pickers" - CNN.com
- Ministerio de Economía y Producción - República Argentina
- "Official statistics: Don’t lie to me, Argentina". The Economist. 2012-02-25. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- Benjamin Dangl, 'Occupy, Resist, Produce: Worker Cooperatives in Argentina' http://upsidedownworld.org/coops_arg.htm
- Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina, by Marina Sitrin
- "Americas Program | Citizen Action in the Americas | Worker-Run Factories: From Survival to Economic Solidarity". Americaspolicy.org. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
- "Poverty headcount ratio at urban poverty line (% of urban population) | Data | Table". Data.worldbank.org. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
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Further reading 
- "Guillermo Nielsen exclusive: Inside Argentina’s financial crisis" An insider's account, by Guillermo Nielsen, until recently the Secretary of Finance in Argentina, about his tenure there and specifically about the fraught negotiations the country had regarding its debt with the IMF, investment banks and bondholders. It goes into detail about the negotiations, the people involved. Euromoney March 2006.
- Banco Central de la República Argentina (Argentina's central bank website, with various economic statistics available on the fly)
- Argentina: Life After Default Article looking at how Argentina has recovered from the crisis
- Video: "Argentina's Economic Recovery: Four Years After the Meltdown" featuring CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot and former IMF Research Director Michael Mussa, November 30, 2005
- Mindmapping for Economic Crisis of Argentina
- A Look at Argentina’s 2001 Economic Rebellion and the Social Movements that Led It - video report by Democracy Now!
- F. Bortot, "Frozen Savings and Depressed Development in Argentina", Savings and Development, ISSN 0393 - 4551, Vol. XXVII, n. 2, 2003.
- Mussa, Michael (2002). Argentina and the Fund: from triumph to tragedy. Peterson Institute.
- Argentina Didn't Fall on Its Own (Global Exchange)
- Argentina's debt restructuring: A victory by default? (The Economist)
- Argentina’s Economic Disaster (The Free Market)
- How Argentina Got Into This Mess (The Cato Institute)
- Confiscatory Deflation: The Case of Argentina (Joseph T. Salerno, Ph.D. Professor of Economics)
- No Tears for Argentina (Antony P. Mueller, Ph.D. Professor of Economics)
- Report of the External Evaluation of the Independent Evaluation Office (International Monetary Fund)
- The Crisis that Was Not Prevented: Lessons for Argentina, the IMF, and Globalisation (Jan Joost Teunissen and Age Akkerman)
- The Empty ATM (PBS, Wide Angle)
- What went wrong in Argentina? (Steve H. Hanke, Ph.D. Professor of Applied Economics and Kurt Schuler, Ph.D. Economics)
- Jutta Maute: Hyperinflation, Currency Board, and Bust: The Case of Argentina, (Hohenheimer Volkswirtschaftliche Schriften) (Paperback), Peter Lang Publishing; 1st edition (September 2006), ISBN 0-8204-8708-2, ISBN 978-0-8204-8708-3.