BUENOS AIRES (AFP) – Recession-hit Argentines are flocking to buy dollars, nervous over the government’s latest debt default and pressure from the business community to devalue the peso for the second time this year.
Officially, a dollar is worth 8.42 Argentine pesos.
But it takes 14.26 pesos to buy one on the black market, a gap that only shows signs of widening.
President Cristina Kirchner has tried to convince Argentines to stop hoarding greenbacks and spend their pesos instead.
“You have to invest in things you can touch and see. The rest is just fairytales,” she said recently.
But her appeals have largely fallen on deaf ears in a country that still bears the scars of its 2001 financial crisis, when the government froze $70 billion in deposits in a bid to stop a run on the banks. Limited to withdrawals of $250 a day, Argentines flooded the streets, venting their wrath by banging pots and pans.
Rioting and the government crackdown that followed left 33 people dead.
Instead of retreating, the memory has grown more raw in recent months as the government again defaulted on the debt it restructured after the crisis.
Despite persuading the vast majority of its creditors to accept 70-per-cent losses on the face value of their bonds, Argentina lost a court battle against two US hedge funds demanding full payment. A US federal judge barred the country from paying its restructured debt until it settles the $1.3-billion row, forcing it into a new default on July 30.
After the 2001 default – the largest in history at the time, at $100 billion – Argentina shut itself out of global capital markets.
That has exacerbated its foreign currency crunch. And with annual inflation of more than 30 percent and exports sagging, businesses are pressuring Kirchner’s administration to devalue the peso again, after an 18-per-cent devaluation in January.