Argentina’s government and opposition are at loggerheads over the country’s tentative talks to restructure its US$44-billion debt with the International Monetary Fund, after a scheduled meeting between both sides to discuss negotiations fell through in acrimonious style.
Press reports over the weekend suggested that Economy Minister Martín Guzmán would meet with provincial governors and parliamentary representatives from the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition on Tuesday. By Monday afternoon, however, officials from both coalitions were briefing journalists that there would be no sit down – and that the blame lay with the other side.
"Guzmán does not want to give an account of the austerity he has agreed with the Fund," said UCR president of the UCR and Jujuy Province Governor Gerardo Morales, who had been part of the talks to set up a meeting. He accused the government of “suspending dialogue.”
PRO party leader Patricia Bullrich confirmed that talks had fallen through on Monday, saying that "the government has just called us and suspended the meeting."
She told a local radio station that the Frente de Todos coalition was only interested in “talking to themselves."
"We ask them for information and it is clear to us that they only want approval with submission. And that is what we are not going to allow," said the former security minister.
The Economy Ministry’s press spokespeople later briefed that Guzmán would travel with President Alberto Fernández to San Juan Province on Tuesday, rather than be in Buenos Aires for a meeting.
Senior sources inside Government House confirmed that "there is nothing on the agenda" about the meeting between the minister and the opposition.
Following a meeting with President Fernández on Tuesday, Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof pointed the finger at the opposition, claiming they were "demanding conditions" in order to sit down at the negotiating table. "It worries me that those who generated this problem – the Macri government and the IMF – are apparently the good guys in the film. After making such a mess, they should be seeing how they can collaborate."
The postponement of the meeting casts further doubt over the likely stability of any deal agreed with the IMF in the coming weeks. Representatives from the multilateral lender have said that any agreement must have the support of parties across the political spectrum.
Guzmán, who says Argentina wants a deal agreed by March, has hinted that any deal will likely stretch repayments on the country’s existing debt over the next decade. A fortnight ago, the minister made a presentation to 12 governors about the debt talks, but most opposition leaders refused to attend.
Talks setting up a new meeting began last week and a breakthrough seemed to have been reached last Friday, though both sides argued about the location, with the government seeking to host at the Economy Ministry and the opposition wanting to meet in Congress.
Confirmation that the meeting was off provoked a strong reaction within the opposition coalition.
"The government prefers to ignore the opposition and not to show the apparent agreement with the IMF,” said Mendoza Senator Alfredo Cornejo, who said he “wasn’t surprised” by the turn of events.
Mario Negri, the head of the UCR caucus in the lower house, accused the government of “only wanting a meeting with the opposition so that they could be applauded, without informing them of anything.”
Speaking on Tuesday, Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta said that the opposition had been “fully prepared to participate with the governors and the heads of the bloc,” though he warned a simple sitdown would not resolve their differences of opinion.
"The most worrying thing is that there is no economic plan that indicates how we are going to have a more even and federal development throughout the country," he said. "We need a plan within which the negotiation with the Fund is framed, that says how Argentina is going to develop and generate employment.”
"The agreement with the Fund is a chapter, but not the most important one in the country's growth plan," the official offered. "The government did not summon us, it was planned, but never confirmed, it was not made official. We were fully prepared to participate."
The opposition’s national leadership met Tuesday to discuss the fall-out, issuing a call for a “letter of intent” to be sent to both the IMF and Congress.
"We need a serious agreement without improvisations for the good of Argentina as a whole", said Juntos por el Cambio in a statement.