Argentina debates debt restructuring, reawakening old fears

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday began discussing a bill to restructure Argentina’s external public debt, which officials say is unpayable amid a deep recession that has reawakened old fears of financial crises.

With the support of the main opposition parties, the government of President Alberto Fernández appeared to have passage of the bill assured. Some leftist groups demonstrated outside congress to protest the plan.

If the legislation should pass the lower house, it would go to the Senate for debate next week.

The center-left government’s handling of the bill in a special session highlighted the importance it attaches to the South American country’s large debt. Argentina owes the International Monetary Fund and private creditors some $100 billion.

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Economy Minister Martín Guzmán has warned that Argentina needs “a sustainable solution” to paying its debt.

“Today the situation is critical, the debt burden cannot be sustained,” he said.

Argentina periodically faces financial crises and liquidity problems that have led it to refinance its debt. At the end of 2001, it declared a record default on just over $100 billion in debt during the worst economic crisis in its history. It is currently dealing with a contracting economy, high inflation and a weakened currency.

The bill would declare the sustainability of external public debt a “priority” and authorize the government to carry out a “restructuring of interest maturity services and capital amortization of public securities issued under foreign law.” It would give the executive branch power to determine the nominal amounts.

The legislative debate was taking place as the economy minister begins talks with the IMF to renegotiate the payment of some $44 billion transferred to Argentina under a 2018 credit agreement worth more than $56 billion. The talks will continue in February.

Carlos Heller, head of the Chamber of Deputies’ Committee on Budget and Finance, said before the start of the debate that there was a consensus on the need to renegotiate the debt and recalled that the 2015-2019 government of conservative President Mauricio Macri acknowledged it was unpayable.

Macri’s opposition party, Together for Change, agreed to support the bill in exchange for creating a working table to analyze the sustainability of the debts that Argentina’s provinces have with the federal government.

Leftist lawmaker Nicolás de Caño criticized the pact between

the Fernández’s government and the opposition to “pay the fraudulent debt that Macri left us.”

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