Argentine acts on reforms, pay caps, new jobs
Leader seeks aid from U.S., Spain
BY PAUL BRINKLEY-ROGERS
BUENOS AIRES -- In a series of rapid moves to save his bankrupt
country, Argentina's populist new president Monday asked the United States
and Spain for aid,
announced the creation of 100,000 federal jobs, capped governmental salaries and put the presidential jet up for sale.
President Adolfo Rodríguez Saá rolled up his sleeves and went to work Christmas Eve to start creating one million new jobs and keep foreign creditors at bay. His promise of 100,000 jobs was among the first details of a jobs program expected to be unveiled over the Christmas holidays.
``I promise to tackle our problems,'' said Rodríguez Saá after emerging from a marathon Cabinet meeting at mid-afternoon. ``There will be many new jobs. We are trying to make money available. We ask for your patience, and we will get the job done.''
Rodríguez Saá, 54, took office on Sunday in the aftermath of violent anti-government demonstrations with a declaration that his country would stop making payments on its $132 billion debt -- the largest such default in world financial history.
He was getting a good approval rating already from many ordinary Argentines, who said they were jubilant to see the end of the Fernando de la Rúa administration. The protests forced de la Rúa to resign on Saturday.
In a series of announcements, Rodríguez Saá:
Asked the United States and Spain for financial aid to help it tackle its financial crisis, and said Argentina intended to live up to its obligations once it got its economy in order.
``I will ask President Bush and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar for economic help,'' he told the magazine Gente. He did not say how much money he would seek.
There was no immediate reaction from either capital. But the U.S.
State Department said Bush earlier told Argentina's new leader that he
intended to maintain good
relations between the two nations.
Said more than 100,000 Argentines will get federally financed jobs this week. The jobs will involve the building of new infrastructure and forestry programs. Anibal Ibarra, a Buenos Aires official, said Buenos Aires would create 11,000 new jobs paying $200 monthly for four hours' work per day.
Declared no one in government would earn more than $3,000
per month, which is his salary. Many people who took part in last week's
demonstrations complained of corruption and said they had lost faith in politicians.
Said the presidential jet would be sold, and that other executive perks would be ended. He reminded all 19 provincial governors that their first duty was to work hard to create jobs to help lower Argentina's 18.3 percent unemployment rate.
Revoked the ban on extradition of members of the military-led
government that held power until 1983 and that caused an estimated 30,000
political opponents to
``disappear.'' He accepted a letter from a mother's group asking for the release of most of the 3,400 protesters arrested last week.
Streamlined federal bureaucracy by saying that for the moment there will be only three ministries -- labor, interior and a combined ministry of foreign affairs and defense. He said the streamlining measure will help speed up government.
In other action, the government announced Monday that it will launch a third currency in January to help jump-start the economy.
The currency would circulate alongside the dollar and the peso but would not be convertible.
As if buoyed by their president's get-to-work attitude, porteños -- as Buenos Aires residents are called -- opened their wallets and began long-delayed Christmas shopping Monday.
Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, is the traditional time for family gatherings, parties and gift exchanges.
At the World of Toys store on Florida Avenue, Susana De Vincenzo, 38, said she changed her mind about not spending money this holiday season after Rodríguez Saá took office.
``I like this governor from San Luis,'' the bank accountant and mother of three sons said of the blunt-talking Rodríguez Saá, who ran the province for 18 years and kept it solvent. ``He knows how to run an economy. Maybe he will be honest too.''
Eduardo Duhalde, a powerful Peronist senator, said the president was setting a compelling example.
``This crisis, and the people,'' he said of last week's protests against unemployment, pension freezes and curbs on access to bank accounts, ``are moving at 80 kph. The government has been moving at only 20 kph. We have to move faster to avoid chaos.''
Rodríguez Saá became president to the rousing cheers
of fellow members of his Justicialista Party. His political group is dominant
in both houses of Congress, and its
legacy is the strongman days of pro-labor nationalist Juan Peron.
Argentines were divided on Monday over the promises of Rodríguez
Saá and the plan for new presidential elections on March 3. Several
Buenos Aires newspaper
editorials said the people were the heroes, not the politicians, and the newsmagazine La Primera named the demonstrators as ``Persons of the Year'' in imitation of Time magazine.
The Peronists -- the majority in both houses -- were able to have their way in an all-night congressional session that ended Saturday morning. Deputies voted to allow each party to field multiple candidates.
The Peronist-backed ``Ley de Lemas'' -- once tried in neighboring Uruguay -- shortens the election process by combining party primaries with the general election.
Each voter selects a candidate, but the person who gets the most votes is not necessarily the winner. The ultimate victor must come from within the party that wins the most votes.
Some opposition leaders are planning to challenge the Ley de Lema system in court.
``This is clearly unconstitutional and will cast doubt on the legitimacy of the next president,'' declared Elisa Carrió, a leftist deputy who says she will be a candidate for president from her minority party.
``It is possible,'' she said, ``that our country [of 36 million people] could be governed by someone who gets less than two million votes.''
At John F. Kennedy University, Mario Monzon, 21, said he felt uneasy about the surge in Peronist popularity. ``Juan Domingo Perón was before my time,'' he said. ``But I know I don't want a dictatorship.''
Felipe Taboada, 48, a lineman for the Telefonica phone company, said he welcomes the new president's style.
But he said he does not think it was appropriate for Peronist lawmakers to sing their party's hymn swearing allegiance to the late dictator instead of the country's national anthem.
``Because of Juan Perón, the world has the saying, `Don't cry for me, Argentina,' '' he said.
This report was supplemented by Herald wire services.