Visiting O’Neill gets angry reception:
Treasury chief arrives after lauding Uruguay'

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Edodoro Toronzo, who stood here yesterday with a group of angry Argentine retirees protesting the arrival of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, said the message he would like to send to the BLUNT TALKING Bush administration official is simple.
  "Mr. O'Neill, keep your mouth closed and go home!" said Toronzo, 65. "Your presence is not requested or desired in Argentina!"
  The retired government clerk was among the protesters who vented their wrath in various parts of Argentina against O'Neill as he touched down in the nation that has become the epicenter of South America's burgeoning economic crisis. O'Neill arrived on the last leg of a regional tour that also included stops in Brazil and Uruguay.
  Thousands of unionists, leftists, retirees and others turned out on the streets of Buenos Aires waving anti-U.S. placards, including many targeting O'Neill. Smaller protests were held in other cities.
  The protests under-scored a growing resentment against the United States in Argentina, where many feel angry, even betrayed, by the way the Bush administration has handled this nation's worst financial crisis in history. Argentina was Washington's closest Latin American ally during the 1990s and was lauded as a star pupil of the International Monetary Fund. Yet since the economic collapse here, Argentines have felt orphaned by Washington.
  O'Neill in particular has offered harsh commentary on Argentina and held back on any commitments of financial assistance to Latin America's third-largest economy. In an interview with the Economist last year, he blamed the problems here on the fact that Argentina is a "laid-back" place with "no export industry to speak of."
  After voicing concern on July 28 that international loans for Latin American countries might be wasted because the money would end up in Swiss bank accounts, O'Neill changed his tune late last week when Brazil's currency, the real, plunged to record lows and a panic by depositors forced Uruguayan authorities to close their nation's banks.
  During his four day tour of South America, O'Neill brought olive branches to Brazil, promising U.S. support for a new IMF loan package, and to Uruguay, which just received a $1.5 billion bridge loan from the U.S. Treasury, the first of its kind granted by the Bush administration. But O'Neill, who held a closed door meeting with President Eduardo Duhalde yesterday and will meet with economic officials today, has conspicuously avoided mention of aid to Argentina.
  Speaking to reporters in Montevideo, Uruguay, before his arrival here, O'Neill tried to distinguish between Uruguay and its neighbors. Montevideo received emergency aid, he said, "because Uruguay is a country that has followed sound economic polices and the leadership of the present is very excellent."
  His comments echoed those of U.S. Treasury and IMF officials who have suggested in the past that Buenos Aires must still come up with a sustainable economic plan, reining in public spending and improving currency policy, before it gets help. In response, Argentines have argued that the situation here is so dire that further budget cuts are too difficult to make.
  For all the Bush administration's emphasis about the need for a "tough love" approach that allows wayward countries to default on their debts and forces big international investors to suffer the consequences for their risky bets, the sole example has been the IMF's decision to refuse further loans to Argentina in December, and that came only after the Bush team endorsed a $5 billion increase last August in that country's already sizable aid package.
  Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna suggested in Clarin, the country's largest newspaper, that Argentina was no longer seeking "fresh funds" from the IMF and was concentrating on winning a temporary reprieve on billions of dollars in loan payments it owes multilateral lenders this year.
  After meeting last night with Duhalde for an hour at the presidential residence in suburban Buenos Aires, O'Neill said his message had been "that we want Argentina to succeed" and he would continue to encourage the Argentines to work with their lenders.
  IMPA, a Buenos Aires based aluminum maker, filed a largely symbolic judicial request for O'Neill's detention on charges of "extortion." Guillermo Robledo, IMPA general manager, said the company is furious over demands made by the IMF and U.S. Treasury earlier this year that the Argentine government overturn a law that protected troubled companies from their creditors for two years, arguing it would deter future foreign investment here.
  The measure has been repealed as demanded, but there is still no sign of an immediate deal with the IMF. Now, many companies are fighting off foreclosures from creditors, including foreign lenders.

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