Israeli, Mario Blejer, Heads Argentina's Central Bank in These Troubled Times

Israeli financial figure Mario Blejer is considered the `IMF's man in Buenos Aries' and now faces an economy in crisis.

Aryeh Dayan
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Aryeh Dayan

In August 2001, four months before the riots that led to the downfall of the Argentine government, Buenos Aries decided to cut salaries and pensions in the public sector. The decision, which passed by only a handful of votes, made Domingo Cavallo, the finance minister in President Fernando de la Rua's govenrment, one of the most hated men in the country.

One of the few to speak out in Cavallo's defense was a visitor from Israel, Professor Jacob Frenkel, the former governor of the Bank of Israel, who was acquainted with Cavallo from their days at the International Monetary Fund. In an interview with the Argentine daily La Nacion, Frenkel called Cavallo "one of the most brilliant economists on earth." Frenkel later became an adviser to the Argentine government of the time until its demise in the wake of the riots.

Two months earlier, another Israeli financial figure, Mario Blejer, who like Cavallo and Frenkel had worked for the IMF, landed on Argentinian soil. The Argentian press reported that Blejer had given up a senior position with the IMF in Washington to become Cavallo's adviser. Blejer, who was born in Argentinia, but moved to Israel in 1968, was described as an Argentine coming home after a long exile. He has a daughter living in Yeruham. He has worked with the IMF and the World Bank and has had 19 books published.

Last week, six months after his arrival, he was appointed as governor of the Argentine central bank.

Blejer was appointed as the deputy governor of the bank last August at the suggestion of Cavallo after the salaries and pensions crisis errupted. Cavallo's removal from office and the turmoil of recent months have not stopped Blejer's march forward at the bank.

His predecessor, Roque Maccarone, was forced to step down after disputes with President Eduardo Duhalde, making Blejer's appointment all the more surprising, given that like Maccarone, he is associated with what President Duhalde called the "alliance with financial institutions."

Blejer is considered "the IMF's man in Buenos Aries" and is identified with the extreme neo-liberal policy that many in Argentina blame for the country's financial crisis. His appointment has calmed the nerves of the heads of the country's banking system who had feared the populist statements of the new Peronist president, Eduardo Duhalde.

Analysts say that his decision to appoint Blejer was motivated by a desire to take advantage of Blejer's connection with the IMF and in Washington.

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