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Bankers stifle, Latin America takes a breather

There's a game played by pretty well every banker who frequents development bank meetings. It could be called "What's the Mood?" Delegates look back on the chaos of the IMF annual meetings in September 1999, when Ecuador defaulted, or the unleavened pessimism of the IMF meetings a year earlier, held in the shadow of the disastrous Russian crisis. This year's Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) meetings can be summed up by the word "malaise".

In contrast to the Mexican and Brazilian crises of 1995 and 1999, it seems that there is nothing to be done about Argentina in 2002. US officials - whether from the Treasury, the State Department, or the White House - all leave delegates with the same impression. In brief, there's no way that Argentina is getting a massive bail-out and the US, though it might not like the Argentine situation, isn't really going to do anything about it. Without the US on board, of course, nothing is going to happen.

And that's not all: panel after panel debates the end of the Washington consensus; frets about the rise of populism, from Chávez in Venezuela to Duhalde in Argentina; and bemoans the Bush administration's decision to impose tariffs on steel imports, aiming straight at one of Brazil's biggest industries.

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