The Miami Herald
January 18, 2002

Argentines reaffirm commitment to market economy


 Argentina's bankrupt government put a positive spin on President Bush's warnings about the dangers of a return to protectionism and statism in that country, expressing on Thursday its "absolute agreement'' with the U.S. president's words.

 Foreign Minister Carlos Ruckauf said in a telephone interview that Argentina welcomes Bush's address Wednesday at the 34-country Organization of American States, in which the president linked U.S. support to Argentina's continued adherence to free market policies, democracy and respect for human rights.

 "We thank President Bush for his support, and we consider ourselves friends and allies of the United States,'' Ruckauf said.

 In sharp contrast with President Eduardo Duhalde's earlier criticism of what he called the pervasive U.S.-supported free-market policies applied in Argentina for the past decade, Argentine officials stressed on Thursday the view that recent governments did not have true free market reforms.

 "Ours is not a protectionist or statist government,'' Ruckauf said. "It inherited a system of fixed exchange rate that was strangling our domestic production.'' He added that Argentina will not depart from its generally pro-American foreign policy.

 "We will support three very concrete things: political freedom, economic freedom and the defense of human rights,'' Ruckauf said.

 "And we will oppose three very concrete things; international terrorism, drug trafficking and violations of human rights.''

 Hours earlier, presidential spokesman Eduardo Amadeo had said Argentina ``wants to express its absolute agreement with the essence of President Bush's message . . .
 For there to be economic growth, there has to be a market economy, sound monetary and fiscal policies and integration to the world economy.''

 Argentina's largest newspapers emphasized the positive lines of Bush's speech, but downplayed what many U.S. diplomats interpreted as a dire presidential warning to Argentina.

 The mass circulation daily Clarin carried the report with the headline, ``Bush said that if Argentina presents a plan, there will be [U.S.] support.'' La Nación's headline was, ``The United States is ready to help Argentina.''

 But much of Bush's speech Wednesday sounded like a warning to Argentina not to change course following its suspension of payments on its $132 billion foreign debts.

 ``Those who promise painless protectionism or security through statism assure a bleak and stagnant future for their people,'' Bush said.

 The U.S. president added that ``once Argentina has committed to a sound and sustainable economic plan, I will support assistance for Argentina.''

 But while both the Argentine government and leading politicians in that country welcomed Bush's speech, many officials said that the United States should also practice free trade and open its markets to Argentina's agricultural products.

                                    © 2002