Dunning Argentina to death

On Monday, June 16, 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court declined a case between the Argentine Republic and hedge funds Aurelius and NML Capital. This relates to proposed deals allowing Argentina to restructure debt with creditors who control huge debt from the country’s 2001 default. The Obama administration voiced support for Argentina with no action. The State Department and House of Representatives received pleas from Argentina with no action taken. The Press is silent on this serious issue for Argentina and the world.

In Argentina there are problems paying teachers and police a living wage, not just fast food workers as in the U.S. Cops and educators have gone on strike, causing looting and missed school days. How is the government to repay foreign debts when they cannot pay their police and teachers?

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Grocery prices (like other necessities) are now erratic in Argentina. Toilet paper recently cost about 3 Argentine Pesos. Yesterday, a roll cost 10 Argentine Pesos. Imagine being unsure whether you could afford a roll of toilet paper.

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner acknowledges the massive debt is owed, stating publicly she has no intention of defaulting. NML and Aurelius seem determined to force Argentina to do so. Impacts of such a default would be detrimental for this economically fragile nation.

Interestingly, neither firm ever loaned Argentina money. They bought the debt from other creditors for as little as nickels on the dollar, setting precedents for creditors to treat poorer countries the same way as poorer US citizens. There is talk of these two “vulture funds” seizing Argentinian property, military equipment and resources as repayment, a crippling move for obvious reasons

This debt restructuring denial is “all-or-nothing”, not simply an impact to NML and Aurelius. The other 93 percent of the funds, that directly loaned money to Argentina and agreed to debt reductions, can demand their former amounts. This month Argentina owes three times what they owed last month because two vulture funds refused any reduction. No help from the Supreme Court, the Obama administration or Congress.

These firms would still make profits from this deal, losing no money. They never loaned Argentina money and managed a 95 percent-off deal on the debt. Their kids aren’t starving; nobody loses their Ferraris, summer homes or bonuses. But profits aren’t enough, they need ENORMOUS profits, no matter who gets hurt. A lot of people are getting hurt.

People within Argentina’s government put the country in this situation by defaulting on debt in 2001. Since then Argentinian citizens have attempted to pull themselves up, elect positive leaders, maintain pride and rise as a First World society. How many mistakes have previous U.S. administrations (and other countries’) made that later leaders had to make up for?

It’s just business, right? Sure, except every other creditors agreed to the reduction (mostly reducing interest, not principal). All funds would earn profits and help a sovereign nation to participate greatly in the global economy. Argentina never asked for amnesty from debt, only for restructuring. That request (agreed to by all but two creditors) included reduction, not amnesty.

There has been little magazine or cable TV punditry on this subject as few in the U.S. are aware. Google “Argentina” and find copious news on their standing in the World Cup, not in negotiations. This story, so humiliating and damaging to a country (with whom the U.S. has had friendly relations since January of 1823) has been buried.

The success of these firms means Argentina must pay exorbitant amounts of cash they don’t have or face debt default again. Nobody wants default, including, one hopes, NML and Aurelius. Or do they win regardless by claiming Argentina’s resources?

It’s a no-win scenario for Argentina, who risks confiscated resources and properties while citizens can’t afford groceries. Otherwise, Argentina faces another default, destroying any chance for international loans for decades and ruining international trade for a country that needs trade to survive. No nation is isolated. Bad for one economy equals bad for the world economy.

When U.S. banks and auto makers faced financial catastrophes, the U.S. government printed money for bailouts. When a sovereign nation tries to fix its own economy, repaying loans sensibly, the U.S. Supreme Court refuses the case. Although “backing” Argentina in their fight against predatory lenders there is no interest from the Obama administration in dialogue or negotiation help. Conversations with Congress produced similar results.

Two years ago the U.S. suspended trade benefits (which helped Argentina’s economy by reducing trade-debilitating tariffs) due to their debts to these funds. Are we surprised that this same government has ignored Argentina while TWO creditors extort their money and resources?

Perhaps not. We can expect that if Aurelius’ or NML’s fortunes turn each would approach the U.S. government requesting bailouts. They might get them. It’s just business.

Macek has been a professional journalist since 2003, working for such publications as PopMatters. He holds a degree in English Literature from Louisiana State University and currently resides in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @Kneumsi"