TIME Italy

Watch Thousands of Tango Dancers Celebrate Pope Francis’s Birthday in Rome

The Argentinian has expressed fondness for his country's dance

There’s no better way to celebrate a birthday than with a dance party, and for Pope Francis’s 78th, that means a massive tango party in the streets of Rome. Thousands gathered in and around the Vatican City to sing happy birthday in Italian, Spanish and other languages and dance to tango music—an Argentinian import like Francis himself.

Before becoming the Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio gave an interview for the book The Jesuit by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti expressing his love for the tango. “I like it a lot,” he said. “It’s something that comes from within me.”

[Reuters]

TIME Soccer

Player Killed in Argentina’s 15th Soccer-Related Death This Year

A fan of Argentine soccer team Boca Juniors confronts police during riots after celebrations of Boca Juniors Fan Day in Buenos Aires
A fan of Argentine soccer team Boca Juniors confronts police during riots after celebrations of Boca Juniors Fan Day in downtown Buenos Aires December 12, 2013. Marcos Brindicci—Reuters

Soccer-related violence is rife in the South American country

An Argentine soccer player died on Wednesday after being attacked by a group of hooligans, an incident that highlights the South American country’s ever-present problem with violence around the sport.

Franco Nieto was attacked Saturday as he was getting into to his car with his wife and one-month-old daughter, the Associated Press reported. Nieto, the captain of Rosario-based team Tiro Federal, had just finished playing a match against Buenos Aires club Chacarita Juniors in which eight players were ejected by the referee for fighting.

The attackers punched and kicked the 33-year-old player before one of them hit him on the head with a stone, according to police in Aimogasta, some 750 miles northwest of the capital. He was taken to the hospital but succumbed to his injuries on Wednesday.

Nieto’s demise raises the death toll from soccer-related incidents in Argentina to 15 this year, according to an NGO called Salvemos al Football (Let’s Save Football). In a country where the sport is seen as a way out of poverty, and rags-to-riches stars like Diego Maradona and Carlos Tevez are revered, being a part of the Barras Bravas — the gangs that control the streets around stadiums — is considered almost as prestigious.

The gangs, aside from carrying feuding with rival clubs, are also involved in the trade of illegal drugs and weapons as well as money laundering, according to the BBC. This often leads not just to incidents like Nietos death, but often to drive-by-shootings and gunfights in the streets.

The Argentina Football Association has taken steps to curb soccer-related violence, including preventing those with criminal records from entering stadiums and even banning away fans across the country. But many say the widespread corruption among local police and politicians, which has allowed the Barras Bravas to thrive, makes this a somewhat futile endeavor.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 4

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Reimagine your school library as a makerspace.

By Susan Bearden in EdSurge

2. New materials could radically change air conditioning.

By The Economist

3. Ambassadorships are too important to hand out to political donors.

By Justine Drennan in Foreign Policy

4. There’s a better way: Using data and evidence — not politics — to make policy.

By Margery Turner at the Urban Institute

5. The tax-code works for the rich. Low-income households need reforms that make deductions into credits and stimulate savings.

By Lewis Brown Jr. and Heather McCulloch in PolicyLink

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Argentina

Judge Holds Argentina in Contempt of Court

The South American country's showdown with the U.S. court continues

A U.S. judge found Argentina to be in civil contempt of court as it continues to defy his rulings that the country repay some $1.6 billion to holdout creditors–largely American hedge funds–before it pays other bondholders, Bloomberg reports.

Most recently, the country has moved to shift control of its structured debt payments to Buenos Aires from New York, despite the judge’s rulings.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan said that move is “illegal and cannot be carried out.”

Griesa did not rule on a penalty, but the holdout creditors have asked him to fine Argentina $50,000 a day until it complies.

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the contempt ruling undermines “the dignity of foreign states,” according to Bloomberg. “The decision by Judge Griesa has no practical effects beyond providing new elements in the defamation campaign being waged against Argentina by vulture funds.”

[Bloomberg]

TIME Archaeology

Researchers Find Dinosaur Species That Weighed More Than a Jumbo Jet

Dreadnoughtus
This undated artist rendering provided by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History shows the Dreadnoughtus. Mark A. Klingler—Associated Press

Bones found in Argentina's Patagonia region

A team of researchers said Thursday that they have found a species of dinosaur that was 85 feet long and weighed as much as 12 elephants, making it one of the largest animals known to have walked the Earth.

The team unearthed the fossilized skeleton of the giant herbivore in Argentina’s Patagonia region and say that some 70 percent of the skeleton is represented. They published their findings in Scientific Reports on Thursday, calling it the most complete skeleton of a titanosaur — a group of giant long-necked dinosaurs that existed roughly 75 million years ago — ever found.

Despite the dinosaur’s enormous size, which is nearly as large as the estimated sizes of other, less-complete fossilized titanosaurs, the researchers say this one was likely still growing when it died.

“I look at this dinosaur every day now and I still can’t believe it exists,” researcher Kenneth Lacovara, of Drexel University in Philadelphia, told the Wall Street Journal. The fossils are on loan to the U.S. but are slated to be returned to Argentina next year.

The dinosaur, formally called the Dreadnoughtus schrani, is believed to have weighed 65 tons, well above the weight of a Boeing 737-900 and nearly 10 times the weight of a T. rex, the Journal notes. Its neck was 37 feet long and its tail extended another 29 feet.

“We are seeing something that is pushing the envelope of how big you can get on this planet,” Lacovara told the Journal.

TIME Economics

What Everyone Gets Wrong About Argentina

Argentina Seeks to Skirt U.S. Ruling by Paying Bonds Locally
Axel Kicillof, economy minister for Argentina, speaks during a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Grossly oversimplified versions of history are regularly used as econ class morality tales

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I woke up a couple of weeks ago to an Argentina that had, against its will, defaulted on its sovereign debt. For those unversed in international finance terminology, that basically means a country is failing to make payments due to bondholders. These situations are often accompanied by economic chaos, but, fortunately, the day was anti-climactically lacking in catastrophe. The New York Times wondered if we were in denial.

Not a chance. National headlines proclaimed imminent disaster, while the minister of economy’s announcement of failed negotiations received reality-TV-worthy audiences. Every conversation since has hinged on the “default,” and whose fault it is. Government officials have taken flak for parsing definitions of default, but they have a point: more than broke, Argentina is caught in a judicial Catch-22. This isn’t denial, but it is uncharted territory. In Buenos Aires, where I have lived most of my life, some people have taken to calling the unique situation a “Griefault,” in honor of the New York judge, Thomas Griesa, who got us into this mess.

To make a long story short, after Argentina’s history-making default in 2002, the country successfully renegotiated terms with 93 percent of its bondholders, and has been meeting those obligations. But “hold-out” hedge funds in possession of some of the bonds demand full payment and convinced Judge Griesa to force Argentina to pay them in full if anyone was going to be paid at all. That is an untenable solution for Argentina’s government, which points out that the vast majority of bondholders agreed to renegotiate terms on condition that no one else get a better deal – which is what the New York court asked Argentina to provide the hedge fund plaintiffs. In the end, a deal that maximized the interest of almost all parties is how being held hostage by a small number of bondholders. (More detailed explanations of the convoluted story can be found here and here.)

Maybe when you’ve already lived through every sort of default, devaluation, inflation, hyperinflation scenario imaginable (all that and I am still only 31!), you start developing a thicker skin. You follow and opine on arcane financial developments with passion generally only reserved for our national soccer team during World Cup season. Competing inflation indices and their differing methodologies are legitimate dinner conversation fodder here. I can hardly understand my credit card statement, but I have spent the past month in heated debate with friends about obscure debt-restructuring contract clauses governed by New York law.

Our history also leaves us with a healthy fear of economic instability, because it eventually affects every aspect of our life and everybody around us, even if the immediate effects of “default” haven’t yet had an effect on people’s day-to-day lives. Though the jury is still out on exactly how it will affect individuals, the decline in international credibility caused by a default would reduce access to foreign credit for provincial and private enterprise, as well as lessen foreign investment in the country. These could cause a downturn in the general economy. Argentina has mostly been locked out of international capital markets for more than a decade, so what’s really a shame is that all the painstaking economic reconstruction over that period in this country of 40 million people is now in jeopardy.

Beyond its financial travails, Argentina remains stuck in the tiresome role of case study and cautionary tale to the rest of the world. Argentina is the smart teen who went off the track, the high school pothead parents warn you about.

Grossly oversimplified versions of Argentina’s history are regularly used as econ class morality tales: one of the early 20th century’s wealthiest countries that failed to develop, the International Monetary Fund poster child that blew up, the country that in 2002 committed the most spectacular sovereign-debt default in history and, now, the country that somehow was forced into another default by a judicial order.

But these vignettes are more interested in making the point that Argentina detonated its unbelievably bright future through some intrinsic character flaw than including all the relevant details about Argentina’s history. A Roger Cohen op-ed in the New York Times last February is fairly illustrative of the genre: they always start with a lamentation of what we could have been. The author compares our wealth 100 years ago to Sweden, France, and Italy. Then, tragedy strikes. He argues it came in the form of Juan Perón, who shaped “an ethos of singular delusional power.” That’s pretty dismissive of a thrice-elected president whose party continues to win democratic elections and define national politics to this day. Imagine talking about FDR that way.

The clichés about Argentina – surely you’ve seen the musical – make for a good finger-wagging, “Don’t-be-like-Argentina” admonition that might keep impressionable countries in line, even if they say very little about Argentina’s reality. The caricature is predicated on flashes of fact: export riches, a wealthy elite, and massive immigration. Left out are the thornier questions of political culture, adverse international trading patterns, Cold War realpolitik and the like. Researching why Argentina couldn’t be more like Canada is like trying to figure out why a tadpole failed to develop into fish.

Yet, the misguided and dismissive commentary from abroad is mirrored by Argentina’s own domestic obsession with identifying the “wrong turn” in our history – a more nuanced sport than the one played at our expense by outsiders, but equally corrosive.

The never-ending quest for the source of our decline is nothing but a red herring. There’s no moment when our golden future came tumbling down, because the whole story is a fairytale. Alejandro Grimson, an Argentine anthropologist who explores this misguided belief, places the roots of Argentina’s delusion of grandeur and European-ness in the beliefs of Argentina’s 19th century elites who were, indeed, fantastically wealthy, although nobody else was. “As time passed, this idea took root, that Argentines had a magnificent destiny that we had not been able to reach, for some mysterious reason or through the fault of one group or another. Each decade we were further from that illusion,” he writes in his book on Argentine myths. A sense that we were powerless to stop this loss took hold even though Argentinians helped contribute to the decline by supporting a weak democracy, a trigger-happy military, and a polarized, highly politicized society.

And this is our own form of exceptionalism. American exceptionalism is predicated on the idea that Americans are number one; Argentine exceptionalism is predicated on the idea that we should have been number one, but were robbed (or blew it, depending on how you want to play the game).

Buenos Aires boasts impressive French-style façades and a tremendous cosmopolitan culture, making it easy for outsiders to continue being fooled, assuming we’re a nation comparable to Sweden. Argentina’s history and trajectory start to seem less exceptional and aberrational when you compare it to its neighbors: Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, though of course each country’s history has its own unique circumstances.

But no one, certainly not a people known for its quirky attachment to hyperbole, wants to be just another “normal” country. As Grimson argues, if we can’t be the best country in the world, we’re determined to make the case that we’re somehow the worst. And, of course, we’re quick to be offended when outsiders start making the same case and playing our “how-could-this-all-have-gone-so-wrong” game.

I myself refuse to keep playing. No matter what some New York judge says, and no matter what we could have, should have, might have been in the imagination of certain pundits, the Argentina I know is making its own future, with all the contradictions and difficulties endemic to democracy and our history. We’re not the French or the Swedes by a long shot – but that’s a good thing. I think we’re way better.

Jordana Timerman, a Buenos Aires native, is a member of La Fábrica Porteña, a Buenos Aires policy platform. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic’s City Lab, Foreign Policy, and The Nation. Ms. Timerman’s father, Héctor Timerman, is the foreign minister of Argentina.The views expressed in this piece are purely her own. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Argentina

3 of Pope Francis’ Relatives Killed in Car Crash

Pope Francis Visits South Korea - Day Five
In this handout image provided by the Committee for the 2014 Papal Visit to Korea, Pope Francis attends a Mass for peace at Myeong-dong cathedral in Seoul, South Korea Handout—Getty Images

The pope's 8-month-old and 2-year-old grand-nephews were killed in Argentina accident

Three members of Pope Francis’ family were killed in a car accident in Argentina Tuesday, CNN reports, including his 8-month-old and 2-year-old grand-nephews and their mother.

A Cordoba police spokesperson told news outlets that the pope’s nephew, Emanuel Horacio Bergoglio, crashed into a truck on the highway at 12:30 a.m. Bergoglio is currently in the hospital under serious condition.

The Pope’s spokesperson said he was “profoundly saddened” by news of the accident, BBC reports.

On a flight back to the Vatican from South Korea Tuesday morning, the Pope had been lightheartedly discussing his own mortality with the press, saying he expected to be in “the Father’s house” in some two or three years.

[CNN]

TIME Economy

Last Tango in Buenos Aires

Argentina’s debt snarl tells us how risky the global financial system still is

There’s a legal adage that goes, “Hard cases make bad law.” A recent U.S. court ruling against Argentina, which pushed the country into a new technical default on its sovereign debt, is a case in point. In 2001, Argentina defaulted on $80 billion worth of sovereign debt, the bonds that a country issues to raise money. It had to restructure, just as Greece had to more recently, and over the years, some 93% of creditors went along with the cut-rate deals, taking “exchange” bonds that paid 30¢ on the dollar. But some, like Elliott Management, the hedge fund started by Wall Street titan Paul Singer, held out. Tens of millions of dollars in legal fees later, Elliott won its case.

U.S. federal judge Thomas Griesa ruled earlier this summer that unless Argentina paid creditors like Elliott and other holdouts 100% of their claims, it couldn’t pay anybody else either. Paying Elliott in full would mean that, contractually, the country would also have to pay everyone else in full too–a $29 billion commitment. The case is full of gnarly legal and financial issues. But what it tells us is dead simple: the world financial order is still far too complex and opaque.

It’s tough to cry for Argentina–or the hedge funds. Elliott says Argentina’s claim that it has been victimized by “vulture funds” is a populist political strategy to drum up support for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s flagging party. “Argentina isn’t a poor country. It’s a G-20 nation,” says Jay Newman, Elliott’s Argentina-portfolio manager. “It’s chosen for political reasons not to negotiate a fair settlement with us or more than 61,000 other bondholders.” Certainly no one would argue that the Argentine government is a paragon of best practices; Argentina, which had the same per capita GDP as Switzerland in the 1950s, has defaulted eight times.

Then again, the vultures haven’t done so badly either. Many bought bonds postdefault for pennies on the dollar. Now they are eschewing an already rich return for a regal one, while setting a precedent that could make creditors reluctant to cooperate when nations default in the future. “This has become a morality play which has given rise to a host of new legal problems,” says Jonathan Blackman, the Cleary Gottlieb partner defending Argentina. Both sides are waging an ugly media war complete with ad campaigns, as thousands of other creditors and financial institutions around the world nervously await the final result.

The Argentine crisis says three important things about the global economy. First, the balance between creditors and debtors has shifted. As data from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) show, there’s more debt globally than there was before the 2008 financial crisis. But now, the largest portion of it consists of public-sector debt. “Debt in the economy is like a balloon,” explains Susan Lund, a partner at MGI. “When you squeeze it out of one place, it grows in another.” With the rise in public debt comes a greater risk of sovereign defaults, which can wreak havoc on the global economy. (Remember the euro crisis?)

Second, the global economy is becoming more fragmented. The fact that a federal court in New York City ruled in favor of the holdouts is a sign that the global economy is splitting along national and ideological lines: British courts tend to go with majority rule in sovereign cases, and local markets have any number of other ways of handling sovereign-debt deals. The BRIC nations, aside from increasingly cutting their own trade deals, have set up a new development bank, which may become a source of capital for countries like Argentina if they remain shut out of the Western credit markets. That could give Russia and China more leverage over, for example, Argentina’s natural resources. (The country has the world’s second largest shale-gas deposit.)

Finally, the case shows how much work remains to be done in making our financial system more transparent. In addition to establishing a single standard for sovereign default, we desperately need to make complex security holdings more visible. Academics like Joseph Stiglitz say Elliott Management actually stands to benefit from an Argentine default, since nearly $1 billion worth of credit-default swaps exist on the country; that’s insurance that will pay out now that Argentina has defaulted. While the Elliott subsidiary that went to court against Buenos Aires says it holds no such swaps, the hedge-fund firm as a whole doesn’t disclose trading positions, and the swaps holdings of individual companies aren’t public record. They should be. Knowing exactly who stands to gain–or lose–from fiscal turmoil that can affect all of us could help make the right fixes at least a little more apparent.

TO READ MORE BY RANA FOROOHAR, GO TO time.com/foroohar

TIME Argentina

Argentine Musician Finds Out His Biological Parents Were Killed by Country’s Dictatorship 36 Years Ago

Estela de Carlotto, Ignacio Hurban
Estela de Carlotto, president of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, right, and her grandson Ignacio Hurban, left, hug during a news conference in Buenos Aires, Aug. 8, 2014. Victor R. Caivano—AP

Ignacio Hurban's parents were killed by a ruling dictatorship, and he was raised by another family

It wasn’t until his thirty-sixth birthday two months ago that Ignacio Hurban was told he was adopted. But his was no regular adoption — it transpired instead under the most violent of circumstances.

His real parents, Oscar Montoya and Laura Carlotto, were arrested in November 1977 by Argentina’s ruling dictatorship because of their political activities, disappearing into the macabre system of death camps the military set up across Argentina. His father was secretly executed shortly after his arrest. But his mother, two months pregnant, was kept alive until Hurban was born in June 1978, after which she was also murdered.

Hurban’s case was by no means an isolated one. It’s estimated that some 500 infants suffered the same fate during the bloody 1976-83 Argentinian regime, during which some 20,000 mostly young left-wing political activists were murdered. The military made only one exception during its killing spree: Pregnant women were kept alive until they gave birth. Afterwards, the infants were handed over to military families or unsuspecting couples to be raised according to the “Western and Christian” values the military claimed to defend. These infants grew up completely unaware of their real identities.

“It’s a crime beyond all imagination,” says Robert Cox, a British journalist who lived in Argentina during those years, bravely reporting and even confronting top generals personally about the crimes they were committing. “I still don’t understand how men who are meant to be men of honor, military men, could fall so low. It’s the one crime above all others that wakes us up to the horror of what happened and how terribly evil it was.”

Two former dictators of that regime were eventually convicted for the systematic kidnapping of children. Jorge Rafael Videla died in prison last year while serving a 50-year sentence, Reynaldo Bignone remains behind bars. Various military couples who knowingly took in such children have also been convicted, including cases in which the “adoptive father” played a hand in the killing of the infants’ real parents.

After Laura Carlotto disappeared in 1977, her mother, Estela Carlotto, now 83, moved heaven and earth looking for the grandson she heard from death camp survivors had been born in captivity. In her search, Carlotto started meeting mothers whose pregnant daughters had also “disappeared” at the hands of the military. With them she founded the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo association, a group that has dedicated decades of work to its painful search.

Carlotto’s untiring quest turned her into a major public figure in Argentina. That brought her a notoriety tinged with the sadness, as even though the Grandmothers located 113 grandchildren of murdered parents, she had not been able in all that time to find her own grandson. Last week, then, when it was announced that the 114th grandchild to be “recovered” was Carlotto’s, practically all of Argentina exploded with joy. The story has dominated the country’s public attention ever since.

“I didn’t want to die without hugging him,” Carlotto told the press, practically in tears, last Tuesday after she got a call from the judge handling the case confirming the DNA match.

But in the end it was actually Hurban who found his grandmother. Until last week, Carlotto’s lost grandson had lived under the name Ignacio Hurban, the son of Clemente and Juana María Hurban, two retired farm workers in Olavarría, a small town in Buenos Aires province. Over the years, Hurban and his wife had raised a family of their own, with two small children. He became a music teacher and an accomplished fusion musician, mixing classical, jazz and Argentine folklore musical styles, and has played with some of Argentina’s leading recording stars:

Hurban, who according to Argentine human rights law must now change his legal name to the one his mother reportedly wished for him at birth — Guido Montoya Carlotto — first started having doubts about his identity four years ago.

“There’s a noise in your head, doubts like butterflies outside your field of vision, there are things you don’t know, but you know, and then you start asking yourself questions,” he said Friday at a press conference in Buenos Aires.

When he was told two months ago for the first time that he was adopted, he decided to approach the DNA bank the Grandmothers have set up with samples of their blood, to see if he might be the son of a “disappeared” couple.

“Among the pieces that didn’t fit was my fondness for music,” said Hurban, commenting on the striking resemblance he now sees between himself and the pictures of his father he’s seen since his identity was confirmed by the DNA match. He said he was “shocked” to discover that his blood father, Oscar Montoya, was also a musician, and played in a group called “Nosotros y Ustedes” (Us and You) in his youth.

“I’ve found an answer to a question I get asked a lot: Why are you a musician?,” Hurban said.

The road ahead for Hurban — or Montoya Carlotto if he changes his surname — is not an easy one, says Victoria Donda, the 78th recovered grandchild, who today is a legislator in Argentina’s Congress. “It’s very difficult to process where you were born, how you were orphaned, to rebuild as an adult an entire biological family that you had never met, a different birthday, a different name,” she said in a press interview.

“I’m used to my name Ignacio and I’m going to keep it,” Hurban said at his press conference. “I also understand that there is a family who have called me Guido for 30 years. But I feel comfortable with what I’ve been given. I feel happy and grateful.”

When photographers at the press conference called him “Guido” to pose for a shot, he joked: “Come on, call me Ignacio.”

Still, a shadow still remains over the details of Hurban’s childhood. Carlotto has said that his adoptive parents were probably not aware he was the baby of a “disappeared” couple when they took charge of him. A court case has been opened to investigate the details of that adoption process. Urban described his adoptive parents as an “extraordinary couple” who raised him “with the greatest love.”

The happy ending to Carlotto’s long odyssey, meanwhile, has Argentina ecstatic. “There’s enormous euphoria now,” says Cox. “It seems a very wonderful ending, though it actually is a beginning really, it gives people a lot of hope for the remaining hundreds of still-unfound grandchildren.”

“This restitution is also a symbol,” said Hurban. “It’s a small victory within a big defeat.”

TIME Argentina

Argentina Defaults After Debt Talks Collapse

Argentina's Economy Minister Axel Kicillof speaks to the media at a press conference at the Argentine Consulate in New York, July 30, 2014. Economy Minister Axel Kicillof speaks to the media at a press conference at the Argentine Consulate in New York
Argentina's Economy Minister Axel Kicillof speaks to the media at a press conference at the Argentine Consulate in New York, July 30, 2014. Carlo Allegri—Reuters

The South American nation failed to strike a deal to avert its second debt default in 13 years

The last time Argentina defaulted on its debts it was announced at a packed session of Congress with the nation’s legislators hollering anti-imperialist slogans and singing the Peronist March, the battle hymn of the Peronist political party that has ruled Argentina for 24 of the last 31 years.

That 2001 default of $93 billion was considered a slap in the face of an international financial system that Peronism abhors and that it sees as saddling countries such as Argentina with unmanageable debt levels. But once the cheering died down, Argentina’s economy collapsed like a house of cards. All banks were closed by government order, destroying the life savings of millions and reducing Argentina to a cashless economy that for about a year relied on barter markets for the procurement of essential household essentials such as food and clothing.

By contrast, 13 years later, on July 30, Argentina went into default quietly, with its political leaders in a state of deep denial. “It’s not default,” claimed Argentina’s Economy Minister Axel Kicillof against all evidence at an improvised press conference in a small wood-paneled room of the Argentine consulate in New York.

Argentina’s blue-eyed 42-year-old minister, who has drawn sighs on the internet for his perceived good looks, disparaged the fact that the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s had earlier in the day downgraded Argentina to “selective default” for failing to meet a payment deadline on its 2001 debt. “Who believes in credit rating agencies at this stage?” Kicillof sharply demanded.

Turning a blind eye to evident economic realities has been the Achilles heel of the Peronist government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is facing a sharp economic downturn in the last 18 months of her second period in office. When inflation reared its ugly head a few years ago, Kirchner ordered the INDEC national statistics bureau to release grossly low inflation figures. Then she prohibited private economists from putting out their own more realistic estimates.

Similarly, only last week Kirchner remained in sharp denial of the default deadline. “They’re going to have to invent another name for it because Argentina has paid,” Kirchner said.

Yesterday’s default came about after American hedge funds won a lawsuit ordering Argentina to pay them some $1.6 billion for bonds they bought at a low market price after the 2001 default. Some 93% of bondholders accepted a 75% reduction on the Argentine debt they were saddled with back then. But the remaining seven percent who refused the “haircut” took Argentina to court in New York demanding full payment. Two years ago they won the case and last month that victory was validated by the US Supreme Court, which refused to hear an appeal by Buenos Aires.

“That Supreme Court decision was like a lightning bolt out of a cloudless sky,” said Kicillof, who was in New York seeking a last-minute way out of the looming crisis.

President Kirchner has staunchly refused to pay the “vulture funds” that she says prey on weak economies with debt problems. She claims paying them would leave Argentina vulnerable to gigantic claims from the other 93% of bondholders.

“The vulture funds did not lend Argentina a single dollar, a single penny,” said Kicillof. “They are not lenders from 2001 who were cheated.”

Last night’s mini-default could have immediate financial consequences for Argentina, such as a possible devaluation of the Argentine peso and the drying up of investments. But economists expect the jolt for ordinary citizens will be far slower. Although the economy has hit a recession, the situation is nowhere near as fragile as it was 13 years ago.

Meanwhile, a consortium of private Argentine banks has been working on an original solution. At a meeting with the “vulture funds” in New York yesterday, the consortium offered to cover the $1.6 billion awarded by the US court. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a solution was found between private parties, including private bankers,” Kicillof said.

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