At Kickoff for UCLA Center, Argentine Ambassador Sizes Up Latest Crisis

At Kickoff for UCLA Center, Argentine Ambassador Sizes Up Latest Crisis

On Tuesday in Royce Hall, Argentine Ambassador Hector Marcos Timerman (left) and UCLA economist Sebastian Edwards welcome a multidisciplinary UCLA center focusing on South America's ... south. Maximo Langer, a law professor, directs the center.

Hector Marcos Timerman, the ambassador to the United States, tells how Argentina emerged from the economic crisis of 2001. UCLA's Sebastian Edwards says current troubles are deep, but not a Great Depression in the making. Both welcome the UCLA Center for Argentina, Chile, and the Southern Cone.

In the end it is the state that is going to save the markets, and not the other way around.

A former World Bank chief economist for Latin America (1993–96) and expert on large-scale crises, Sebastian Edwards took up an "inescapable" subject on Oct. 7, 2008, at the inaugural event for the UCLA Center on Argentina, Chile, and the Southern Cone (CACSC). Following Edwards' remarks, the Argentine ambassador to the United States, Héctor Marcos Timerman, addressed the audience of about 90, touching on the current global credit markets and Argentina's emergence from its economic crisis of 2001. Before becoming a diplomat, Timerman followed the path of his father Jacobo Timerman, a well-known journalist and author.

Edwards' message on the economy: Worry, but don't fret.

"No, this is not as serious as the Great Depression, not even close…. No, this is not the end of capitalism. This is capitalism," he said, referring to boom-and-bust cycles. He added, "Most of Latin America will be able to withstand the upheaval in the world economy."

And in an allusion to the management of the Transantiago transit system, which sparked protests against the Chilean government last year: "Even the buses in Santiago will continue to run."

Edwards said the "deep" troubles nevertheless constitute a severe crisis, with numerous Latin American currencies falling 30 to 35 percent in a matter of weeks. Years ago, Edwards defined a currency crisis as a drop of 15 percent or more.

Ambassador Timerman said that active governments provide the best hope for minimizing crises and recovering from them. He credited the government of former President Nestor Kirchner (2003–07) with creating jobs and restoring stability in the country and praised the economic policies of his boss, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

"In the end it is the state that is going to save the markets, and not the other way around," he said in response to a question.

Conic Studies?

Many students and scholars in the UCLA audience on Tuesday followed the comments about the global economy out of deep interest in the Southern Cone of South America, the region that includes at least Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile and that has suffered some of the world's most recent and most studied fiscal and banking crises. CACSC grew out of an active Program on Argentina established at UCLA in 1997.

In welcoming the new center, Timerman mentioned past UCLA events featuring personal heroes of his own: the filmmaker "Pino" Solanas, Supreme Court Justice Carmen Argibay, and human rights lawyer Fabiola Letelier. Timerman dedicated his remarks to Letelier's late husband Orlando Letelier, the activist and former diplomat assassinated by Chilean intelligence agents in 1976. Accordingly, he spoke on the themes of human rights and the rule of law. Among other things, he said his country will continue to demand justice for terrorist attacks targeting the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994.

For Professors Randal Johnson and Nicholas Entrikin, respectively the leaders of Latin American and international studies at UCLA, CACSC is part of a broader restructuring of the Latin American Institute (LAI), which encourages interdisciplinary studies and conducts outreach both locally and internationally. This year, the LAI is also launching centers that focus on Mexico and Brazil. Entrikin called for a "fully-dimensional" approach that goes beyond even the humanities and social sciences in its treatment of all of these societies.

"We also want law. We want the sciences. We want medicine. We want business," he said.

CACSC's first director, Maximo Langer of the School of Law, likewise encouraged participation from all corners. On the broad definition that he and Johnson are embracing, the Southern Cone includes landlocked Paraguay and "southern Bolivia," he said, smiling. Flip over the globe, heavy with Antarctica's cap, and the Cone juts up quite by itself between oceans and scattered islands. As this UCLA center launches in fall, the people are having spring.

Still, as Edwards explained, they are decidedly bound to those of us in North America and elsewhere.

"The idea or the myth that Latin America had decoupled from the world economy…this decoupling is not happening. It was an illusion."

Published: Thursday, October 09, 2008