LATIN AMERICA: The world's forgotten crisis
Elections have a nasty habit of destabilizing Latin America's fragile financial markets. The latest election-inspired jolt came in July when Eduardo Duhalde, Peronist party candidate for Argentina's presidency, suggested that the country might not need to pay back all its debts. The impact was felt throughout Latin America. Spreads on bonds widened, stock markets fell and currencies weakened. While some Latin issuers have taken advantage of brief windows of opportunity to sell bonds and equities this year, many are struggling to raise finance, while much of the region heads into economic downturn. Michael Peterson reports
Duhalde was quick to make it clear that he did not intend Argentina to default on its debt obligations. But Brazil's devaluation in January is still fresh in the minds of investors and after two years of wondering where the next emerging-markets shock will come from, the markets remain jittery. Unfortunately, elections loom in three of Latin America's biggest economies, Argentina, Peru and Chile. Traditionally, in Latin America, elections mean three things: politicians make populist statements, governments loosen the purse strings and capital flees.
In many ways Latin America - or at least South America - is suffering an economic crisis as bad as that in Asia. Although the region has endured repeated financial shocks in recent years, this is the first time for 15 years that the continent as a whole has suffered recession. Brazil's devaluation has brought Ecuador and Colombia to the brink of economic collapse, has put untold strain on Argentina's economy and has even pushed Chile's previously robust economy into sharp recession.
In contrast to Asia's economic crisis, which forced itself onto the world's attention in 1997 in a sudden clattering of falling dominoes - and unlike Russia's, which exploded into life with the announcement of a domestic debt default in August 1998 - Latin America's is a slow-drip crisis.