- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BUENOS AIRES — Argentine President Cristina Fernandez is on a U.S. tour this week with a message for critics on Wall Street and in Washington who say Argentina is headed for economic disaster by refusing to play by the rules of the global financial system: good riddance to the rules.

Her government has racked up a long list of unpaid IOUs while helping the country recover from its humiliating, world-record debt default a decade ago, but Mrs. Fernandez argues that Argentina’s economic rebound has been possible precisely because its leaders have stood up to foreign pressures and put their people first.

Argentines used to be “dazzled by the North,” she said last month while inaugurating an expanded highway, one of many infrastructure projects she said would have been impossible had her government done as outsiders demanded.

“They hadn’t noticed that the rich countries don’t want partners or friends. They just want employees and subordinates. And we’re not going to be anybody’s employees or subordinates. We are a free country, with dignity and national pride.”

Mrs. Fernandez met with billionaire George Soros and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on Monday, but skipped a dinner that President Obama hosted for his fellow leaders at the Waldorf Hotel.

In her address to the United Nations on Tuesday and in talks at Georgetown and Harvard later this week, Mrs. Fernandez will insist, as she has often in the past, that her forceful management of the economy has made factories rebound, jobs more secure, society more egalitarian and the future brighter than it has been in years.

She says corporations no longer tell Argentine presidents what to do, and instead must heel to a government that puts the people’s needs first. Natural resources are once again sovereign, and Argentina is freer than ever from international debt obligations.

A far different picture is presented by Argentina’s many critics in the U.S. and Europe.

In the past few days alone, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the country’s risk rating, potentially increasing borrowing costs for anyone doing business with Argentina.

The International Monetary Fund chief drew a firm line Monday against Argentina’s widely disbelieved economic data.

The government’s INDEC statistics agency has magically kept inflation below 1 percent monthly for the last 29 months, even as consumers struggle with price increases two or three times bigger.

“This is the last yellow card we show them,” Christine Lagarde said Monday, giving Argentina until Dec. 17 to publish accurate inflation and growth numbers, or face unspecified sanctions. “I hope we can avoid the red card, but if the statistics aren’t corrected, if they don’t comply with the rules, then all the players are equal. It doesn’t matter how well they play football.”

Mr. Obama’s trade negotiators and diplomats have lost patience, removing trade preferences over her refusal to pay more than 100 court judgments to U.S. businesses.

Mrs. Fernandez’s government also has ignored World Bank arbitrators, stiffed the Paris Club lenders and brushed off the European Union’s threats of sanctions for expropriating Grupo Repsol’s $10.5 billion stake in Spain’s oil company without any compensation.

“These legal questions continue to raise red flags to investors that the Argentine government does not respect the rule of law,” University of Houston energy analyst Michael Economides concluded Thursday in a scathing report that accused Mrs. Fernandez of “populist thuggery.”

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