Argentina names new economy minister after surprise resignation

Buenos Aires (AFP): Argentina appointed economist Silvina Batakis as its new economy minister Sunday after Martin Guzman, the architect of a debt restructuring deal with the IMF, unexpectedly resigned.

President Alberto Fernandez appointed the 53-year-old Batakis, “a renowned economist” who was economy minister for Buenos Aires province from 2011 to 2015, the president’s spokesperson announced on Twitter.

The center-left leader had held consultations all day Sunday to find a replacement for Guzman, who was tasked with renegotiating a $44 billion debt with the International Monetary Fund that Argentina insisted it could not afford to repay.

The original debt of $57 billion — the last tranche of which Fernandez declined after succeeding his liberal predecessor Mauricio Macri, who had solicited the loan — was the largest ever issued by the IMF.

Guzman was praised for having stopped Argentina, Latin America’s third-largest economy, from defaulting with the deal finalized in March.

But he was regularly challenged by the Peronist Justicialist Party, the major force in the Frente de Todos (Everyone’s Front) ruling coalition, embodied by the still-influential Cristina Kirchner, the country’s vice president and president from 2007 to 2015.

Batakis’ appointment appears to be a signal of growing power of Kirchner’s faction in the center-left coalition.

She was economy minister for Buenos Aires province, with a 15 million-strong population, under then-governor Daniel Scioli.

Scioli was vice president under president Nestor Kirchner, and close to his wife, Cristina Kirchner.

In addition to commitments to the IMF deal, which included provisions to contain inflation and reduce the budget deficit from three percent in 2021 to parity by 2025, Batakis will have to contend with chronic inflation.

Agricultural powerhouse Argentina has been in economic crisis for years, with inflation of more than 60 percent in the last 12 months.