January 15, 1999
Latin neighbors watch Brazil cautiously

                  BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNN) -- Brazil's financial turmoil has
                  raised concerns that economies from Argentina to Venezuela could be
                  dragged into a recession this year.

                  The decision by Brazil, Latin America's largest economy, to
                  devalue its currency by about 8 percent sent shudders throughout the
                  region and reignited fears that the global economic crisis, which broke
                  out in Thailand in 1997, is far from over.

                  Analysts raised the possibility Thursday that other countries would be forced
                  to slice the value of their currencies, that their economies would contract and
                  that jittery investors would pull money out of the region.

                  "Brazil controls whether things go well or bad," said Argentine economist
                  Mario Vicens.

                  "If this gets out of control all of Latin America could suffer," said Sung Won
                  Sohn, chief economist at Wells Fargo and Co. in Minneapolis. "When Brazil
                  sneezes, the rest of Latin America catches a cold."

                  No country worries more about Brazil's economic ills than its southern
                  neighbor, Argentina.

                  Nearly 30 percent of Argentine exports go to its giant neighbor. Cars made
                  in Argentina are sent to Brazil. Many of the dairy products coming from the
                  vast Argentine Pampas go north to Brazil. So do oil products.

                  A continued drop in Brazil's currency would make those products more
                  expensive for the Brazilian consumer and dampen demand.

                  Regional economies intertwined

                  The two countries' economies are intertwined through the Mercosur trading
                  bloc, which also includes Paraguay and Uruguay. As an indication of
                  Argentina's link to Brazil, Argentine stocks tumbled 10 percent Wednesday
                  following the announcement that the Brazilian real was devalued. It was the
                  biggest drop in the region and stocks continued to falter on Thursday,
                  closing down 4 percent.

                  The last time that Latin America underwent a regional economic crisis,
                  following the collapse of the Mexican peso in late 1994 and early 1995,
                  Argentina's economy contracted 4.6 percent as investors ran for cover.

                  But since then, the government of Carlos Menem has introduced a string of
                  economic reforms, making the economy much better prepared to cope with
                  external crisis.

                  Its banking system -- the weakest link in 1995 -- is transformed and foreign
                  currency reserves are at record highs thanks to its efforts. Meanwhile,
                  investor confidence has been boosted sharply by the government's policies,
                  including a budget deficit of just over 1 percent of gross domestic product,
                  compared with 7.45 percent in Brazil.

                  While other Latin American countries are less closely linked to Brazil, the
                  consequences of persisting economic woes there have many worried.

                  A continued devaluation of Brazil's currency would threaten the stability of
                  Venezuela's currency, the bolivar, at a time when the economy is reeling
                  from the low price of petroleum, its main export. Many analysts already
                  believe the bolivar is overvalued and in need of adjustment, but any hint of
                  devaluation would cause investors to head for more stable areas.

                  Mexico better prepared to weather looming storm

                  Should foreign investors continue to withdraw their money from Brazil, it
                  would also dampen Mexico's economic health. Many investors hold
                  Brazilian and Mexican stocks in the same portfolio.

                  Bruce Steinberg, a chief economist at Merrill Lynch in New York, said
                  Mexico was better prepared than other countries to weather any looming

                  "Mexico might squeak by with weak growth because of its close trade links
                  to the U.S. but that will depend on how the contagion effects play out," he

                  Peru has already slipped into a recession, and should the troubles in Brazil
                  drag out, it would exacerbate an already severe debt crunch.

                  "We are anxiously waiting to see how the exchange rate will react. Who
                  doesn't owe money in dollars here?" said Peruvian journalist Igancio

                            The Associated Press contributed to this report.