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Argentina: Kirchner continues intimidating foreign investors

By Tony Pagliaro

23.03.06 | A few hours ago President Néstor Kirchner terminated the contract with the French Suez Group that was in charge of the water distribution in the city of Buenos Aires. Immediately after the announcement a prosecutor started criminal actions against four high executives of "Aguas Argentinas", the local subsidiary of the Suez Group. Three of them are French citizens and will therefore not be allowed to leave Argentina. The sudden criminal accusations are based on the fact that -out of the blue- the government claims to have discovered that the water in some of the southern areas of the city contained nitrates.

Like his Bolivian pal Evo Morales, (who has jailed a couple of Repsol's main executives), populist Néstor Kirchner is now trying to openly intimidate the Suez Group.

The French reaction was immediate. France's President Jacques Chirac, who will soon tour Latin America, has announced that he will definitely skip Argentina. This probably makes Néstor Kirchner very happy because he really wants to "return" some of the privatized agencies to the realm of the State. And in addition, because he doesn't understand a single word of French and is not interested in French culture, at all.

Intimidation is a game authoritarian regimes do play. Like Alexandr Lukashenko, Kirchner uses and abuses sympathetic prosecutors and loyal judges to confront businessmen, foreign investors and the agricultural sector, which he detests.

Rumors are that the Kirchners want to control (through friendly businessmen) two other important Argentine companies controlled by Spanish investors.

The first one is "Aerolíneas Argentinas", the national air carrier, which is confronted with a very difficult financial situation.

The second one is "Repsol" (the largest Argentine oil and gas company), for the Kirchners would like to replace the Spanish investors by the Venezuelan government.

Step by step Néstor Kirchner seems to be moving in the direction of trying to push the Spanish investors away and bring his "bolivarian" friends in.

For this purpose, he abuses all administrative and tax powers; resorts to judicial criminal processes; and intimidates with his "piqueteros" on the street, so that foreign investors get tired and agree to transfer ownership either back to the Argentine state or to investors "blessed" by the Kirchners clan.

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