From scoring goals to saving Argentina’s economy: Martin Guzman

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SAN MARTIN, Argentina, December 15 (Reuters) – When Martin Guzman was doing a doctorate in economics at Brown University in the United States, he and two other Argentinian friends were on their department’s intramural soccer team and reached the tournament final.

Losing 1-0, Argentina’s current economy minister equalized but injured himself while doing so, former teammate Martin Fiszbein told Reuters.

“He said ‘My foot is killing me’,” Fiszbein said. “I told him he should get a replacement. He looked at me and said ‘No way’.” Guzman scored a second goal for a 2-1 victory – before going to hospital where he learned he had a double fracture requiring surgery.

Now 38, Guzman retains the same intense focus for his latest challenge: leading Latin America’s No.3 economy.

In office for a year, he has a reputation for being a progressive and unfazed technocrat – although he is also accused of interventionism at times – as he grapples with debt restructuring and a long recession exacerbated by COVID-19.

Although he no longer scores goals, he gets up almost every day at dawn to run in the park. And he ends up having dinner at the ministry most weeknights. “The day never really ends,” he told Reuters on a recent day at his side.

Faced with an economic contraction that began in 2018 and has increased poverty, Guzman is trying to stage a recovery that he says will begin in the first half of 2021.

Last Thursday, after holding a videoconference with businessman Paolo Rocca, one of Argentina’s richest men, Guzman visited the “Blue and Yellow” textile factory in the industrial center of San Martin fair outside the capital to meet a dozen small and medium-sized large business leaders.

Some of them may have supported former center-right president Mauricio Macri and did not vote for Guzman boss Alberto Fernandez of the Peronist movement who won the presidency in late 2019 in a left turn.

Sitting around a large table in the factory, the minister and business leaders battled over thorny topics like the exchange rate, taxes, high wage costs and the restructuring of sovereign bonds that Guzman negotiated. This year.

All in the run-up to 2021, as he hopes for an economic expansion of 5% after private analysts expect a contraction of nearly 11% this year.

“He shared his vision of this moment in our history with a sort of winning peace,” said Blues et Jaunes boss Damian Wolkowiski.

KEEP CALM

Guzman often emphasizes the need to reduce anxiety in an economy marked by preemptive price hikes by nervous traders and the accumulation of dollars by savers.

“He took the time to listen to the issues of 10 companies. You can’t help but be pleasantly surprised by this,” said Laura Del Cejo, representing local plastics company Revestimientos Sitex.

“The pandemic has shaken us all, diverting resources and rearranging priorities. Now is the time to move on to reactivation programs to get the country back on its feet.”

It was the 2001 financial crisis, plunging millions of middle-class Argentines into poverty, that sparked Guzman’s interest in the economy while in his first year of college in his hometown. de La Plata that year.

The crisis prompted him to reflect on bond restructurings, which have become his academic specialty, and the role governments should play in an emergency. Prior to his appointment as minister, Guzman was in the economics department at Columbia University in New York City under the direction of Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz.

In September, he risked the wrath of the business community by expanding capital controls which he called a defensive move to protect Argentina’s finances until exports increased enough to generate a massive influx of dollars. .

“People buy dollars to save because they understand that Peronism cannot survive without interventionism. And many decisions made by this government fit that description perfectly,” said Alberto Bernal, chief emerging markets strategist at XP Investments in New York.

Guzman is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to revamp the terms of about $ 45 billion that the Macri government borrowed in 2018. The loan was part of an ill-fated attempt to stop a currency race and d ” honor dollar-denominated bonds.

Guzman is not asking the IMF for new liquidity, although it would help control inflation by reducing the need for the central bank to print pesos.

“We have to remember that today’s debt means higher payments tomorrow,” he said in the car returning from San Martin. “We have to be careful in the future.”

Like a mantra, Guzman repeats the term “debt sustainability” as he tries to increase business confidence. At the factory, he took turns operating a cotton spinning machine, chatting with employees, and received a national team soccer jersey made there – one model, according to Wolkowiski, had come from China.

Guzman put on the jersey over his white shirt.

“Together we can build a dream collectively,” he said, perhaps looking back on that championship day at Brown.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein, additional reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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