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Mercosur Leaders Call for International Aid to Argentina - 2002-02-18

Leaders of the South American trade bloc, Mercosur, have called on international lending agencies to extend unconditional aid to Argentina whose economy is deep recession. Mercosur leaders made the appeal in a declaration Monday at a one-day summit in Buenos Aires.

Monday's declaration calls for understanding on the part of multilateral lending agencies for what the statement described as Argentina's "complicated situation." The declaration went on to urge these organizations to respond to Argentina's request for aid because, in its words, "the assistance is tied to internal policies aimed at promoting economic growth."

The declaration was signed in Buenos Aires Monday by the Presidents of Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, whose countries, along with Argentina, make up the Mercosur trade bloc. The leaders of Bolivia and Chile, associate members of Mercosur, also signed the statement.

Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde, who hosted the one-day Mercosur summit, expressed his gratitude for the declaration.

Mr. Duhalde's government is requesting some $25 billion in additional loans from the International Monetary Fund. Argentina, which is suffering from a nearly four-year recession, has devalued its currency and stopped payments on its $141 billion debt.

With unemployment at 22 percent, social unrest is mounting. Mr. Duhalde took office at the beginning of the year after two Presidents were forced to resign in late December because of widespread protests.

Some of the Mercosur leaders meeting in Buenos Aires Monday appeared to have these events in mind when at a news conference they repeated their call for urgent assistance for Argentina. Chilean President Ricardo Lagos said now is the time to show solidarity with the South American nation.

Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso said industrial countries must step in to help Argentina, adding that imposing conditions on Argentina is unfair.

Mr. Cardoso appeared to be referring to statements by the Bush administration and the IMF that help for Argentina will be forthcoming once the South American nation comes up with a sustainable economic plan.