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Argentina Says Bank Takeover Temporary


By: Paul Ames
 The Washington Post, May 20, 2002


Brussels, Belgium Argentina's Economy Minister Roberto Lavanga insisted Monday that the takeover of three small banks by the state-owned Banco de la Nacion was only a temporary move to help them survive the country's financial crisis.

"La Nacion took the decision to take charge of these banks in a transitional way, and the word is important," Lavanga told a news conference.

He said a "definitive solution" to the three banks' problems would see them return to the private sector.

The Central Bank in Buenos Aires announced Sunday it was taking over operations of Banco Bisel, Banco del Suquia and Banco de Entre Rios, three provincial banks owned by France's Credit Agricole.

The French company has made it clear it will not send any new funds to help rescue the banks, which according to local news reports need around 200 million pesos ($61.5 million) to stay afloat.

Argentina's financial system has suffered heavily in recent months because of a partial banking freeze imposed Dec. 1, coming on top of the country's four-year recession and the government's debt default.

Lavanga spoke to reporters after talks with the European Union. He was headed for Washington Tuesday for meeting with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Argentina is trying to regain access to $9 billion that remains from a $22 billion credit line suspended by the IMF in December after the country failed to meet budget-cutting targets.

Lavanga said his government was hoping for an agreement with the IMF on the money by the end of June.

He said the country urgently needed help to boost its exports and support families whose breadwinners have lost jobs in the economic crisis, which has pushed unemployment up to 20 percent.

He also stressed the need to revive the construction and automobile industries which he said could be "the motors to start up" the economy.

Lavanga said the government was working on a plan to loosen restrictions on bank withdrawals imposed to prevent a run on deposits, but stressed a relaxation would have to gradual.

"We are working on a plan to progressively liberalize, the key word is progressively," he said.

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