By RICHARD W. STEVENSON
WASHINGTON -- Fearful of being swept up in the financial turmoil
that has devastated Asia and Russia, officials from nine Latin
American nations said Thursday that their economies were
basically sound and should not be penalized indiscriminately by panicky
the start of a two-day meeting with the International Monetary
Fund, the officials said that they were not seeking any international financial
help, and that they were taking the difficult steps needed to weather a
storm that is threatening to batter much of the world.
is doing its homework," the Finance Minister of Mexico,
José Ángel Gurria, said. "Markets are certainly overreacting and not
discriminating at all. Everyone is thrown in the same basket."
The Clinton Administration
praised the progress of many Latin American
countries. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, arriving for the meeting,
said that what transpires in the region was profoundly important to the
United States and that many Latin governments had "accomplished a great
little heed to those messages. Financial markets across Latin
America fell sharply Thursday, one day after Colombia devalued its
currency. Moody's Investors Service, the credit-rating agency, downgraded
its rating of Brazil's foreign-currency debt, setting off an 8.6 percent decline
in the main stock-market index there.
The worries about
Latin America are growing as Rubin prepared to meet
on Friday in San Francisco with Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa of
Japan. Rubin is expected to keep the pressure on Japan to strengthen its
banking system and do more to pull its economy out of the doldrums and
help the rest of Asia.
To the degree
that the global financial unrest spreads through Latin
America, it will only increase the risks to the American economy and to
investors on Wall Street, where there is wide concern that corporate
earnings will suffer as growth slows or evaporates in Brazil, Mexico,
Argentina and other big markets.
the combination of Latin America's checkered economic
history and the current turmoil in global markets all but assured that the
region was in for a bumpy ride at a time when investors are looking for the
safest places to put their money.
"This is a region
with high external debt numbers and a history of default in
a world that's currently experiencing a flight to quality," Phil Suttle, an
international economist at J.P. Morgan in New York, said. "In that
situation it's a tough world for Latin America."
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay
and Venezuela attended the meeting, along with Rubin and Finance
Minister Paul Martin of Canada.
said the fund's unstated agenda might have been to warn the
Latin nations not to expect much help if they ran into trouble, because the
I.M.F. has been warning for months that it is running short of money to
finance further bailouts.
But I.M.F. officials
said they would make clear to the Latin nations that
money would be there to support countries that took the necessary difficult
steps to whip their economies and financial systems into shape.