WASHINGTON – The heads of three major international lending organizations said Monday they were deeply concerned about continuing social and economic distress in Argentina and again offered their help to overcome the difficulties.
The International Monetary Fund said that IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler, World Bank President James Wolfensohn, and Inter-Ameriocan Development Bank President Enrique Iglesias met at the fund's headquarters to discuss Argentina and then issued a rare joint statement.
"We wish to express our deep concern about the continuing economic and social distress in Argentina and to reiterate the readiness of the IMF, the World Bank and the IDB to help the Argentine people overcome the daunting challenges they face," the statement said.
The current crisis, which has forced Argentina to default on its massive foreign debt and devalue its currency, was triggered last month when the IMF refused to extend a new $1.2 billion loan to Argentina that the country had been counting on to meet interest payments coming due on the $141 billion debt.
Social unrest toppled the government of President Fernando de la Rua and his successor Eduardo Duhalde is now trying to produce a new economic plan to qualify for renewed IMF assistance.
In their statement, the leaders of the Washington-based financial institutions said that Argentina is already receiving technical assistance from the IMF. They said that the World Bank and IDB are prepared to speed the delivery of loan installments once a new — and credible — economic program is in place.
"The IMF will continue to work rapidly with the Argentine authorities in the definition and formulation of a sound and comprehensive economic plan to overcome the crisis," the joint statement said. "The goals of the plan, which the IMF could support with financial assistance, are to rekindle activity, to preserve macroeconomic stability, and to set the basis for growth."
Claudio Loser, the IMF's top Latin American specialist will visit Buenos Aires this week to establish a framework for negotiations on new financial aid to assess Argentina's economic and financial situation, the IMF said.
Carlos Ruckauf, Argentina's foreign minister, is scheduled to meet U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and IMF First Deputy Managing Director Anne Krueger on Tuesday.
O'Neill has said that the United States will support Argentina through the IMF once it has established a new economic plan but has rejected providing any bilateral funds.
Duhalde, in office for three weeks, pleaded Saturday for calm — and time — after a nationwide protest over his handling of the economic crisis turned violent when police clashed with demonstrators outside the government palace.
"We can't solve all of the country's problems in three weeks," Duhalde, who took office Jan. 2, said in a radio address hours after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators and at least 13 people were injured in downtown Buenos Aires.
Beset by swelling protests over a banking freeze and his decision to devalue the peso by more than 30 percent, Duhalde pledged his government would present a new economic program to end four years of recession.