- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 22, 2001

BUENOS AIRES (Agence France-Presse) Argentina's powerful Peronist bloc in the legislature yesterday picked a provincial governor as interim president amid indications that Argentina is leaning toward declaring a moratorium on its crippling $132 billion debt.
Speaking to reporters a day before he was officially tapped for the job, Adolfo Rodriguez Saa said he favored a moratorium on the staggering debt burden and would also impose an "austerity plan, not a reform plan" to correct fiscal imbalances.
Mr. Rodriguez Saa was selected by the Peronists to lead the country until March 3 elections. He would temporarily succeed Fernando de la Rua, who resigned Thursday after escalating riots and clashes with the police.
He said he was partial to "immediately suspending the payment of capital and interest on the debt."
Meanwhile, Mr. de la Rua was barred from leaving the country pending an investigation into the suppression of the violent anti-government protests, court officials said yesterday.
The governor of the Andean province of San Luis, one of only two Argentine provinces that carries a budget surplus, Mr. Rodriguez Saa would not respond to questions about the debt after he had been officially named for the top job.
"We must think of a new economic policy," he said after the nomination but declined to answer specific questions on the economy.
Lawmakers will officially name him president today in a joint session of Congress, where the Peronist party holds a majority.
Before the announcement of Mr. Rodriguez Saa's nomination, congressional sources told reporters that Peronist leaders were working on a host of economic measures that would convert dollar-denominated domestic credits and deposits into pesos.
Then they would devalue the peso, perhaps by as much as 50 percent, the sources said. It was unknown whether the currency would then be fixed, float freely or be restricted to a certain trading band.
The 10-year-old policy of linking the peso with the dollar brought a halt to hyperinflation in 1991 but has since been blamed for raising the price of exports, and hammering the economy into a deep three-year recession.
After devaluation, political sources said Argentina would likely declare itself in default on its debt with a moratorium on payments of up to three years.

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