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Correspondent Friday, 11 October, 2002, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
'Hear the noise' Argentines tell banks
Police horses charge on demonstrators
Extreme measures in volatile times
Daniela Volker

In December 2001, banks across Argentina closed their tills, shut down their ATMs and slammed their doors. Their customers were left out in the cold with no money. They still are.

Argelia del Valle Cruz is one of two million Argentine customers who are angry and bitter with their banks.

They feel let down by their government and the world at large too.

Argelia and Teobaldo del Valle Cruz
Argelia and Teobaldo living in hard times
It has been over 10 months now since savings were frozen inside the corralito - an imaginary fence drawn up by the government after the economic collapse of 2001.

Frozen out

The freeze was intended to stop the country's capital base disappearing.

Argelia needs the family's pesos badly - to feed her children, to supplement her partner Teobaldo's meagre income and to help her family who struggle to survive in Argentina's impoverished north.

Argelia, 46, and Teobaldo, 52, have six children - and over $5,000 worth of savings, frozen in HSBC, Bank Boston and Banco Ciudad savings accounts.

HSBC bank
The target of loathing of so many Argentines
It is money they have worked hard for, and without which they cannot get by.

"To the banks this is an insignificant amount of money - but to me, it's a fortune," says Argelia. She is desperate and very, very angry.

The whole country is on the verge of a collective mental breakdown.

People are told they can have their money back, but in a few years' time, in pesos not dollars and at a dismal exchange rate.

Trust was betrayed

To Argelia, one of the most painful things is not the fact that the Argentine Government has let her down - "that's something we've got used to," she says.

But she is disappointed about the role played by reputable international banks.

"I trusted HSBC because it was a foreign bank, offering low interest rates, and because I thought it had the backing of its headquarters in London. It seemed to offer guarantees," says Argelia.

Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna
The Economy Minister tries to paper over the cracks

Teobaldo agrees: "We feel cheated. For example, we paid 24% pa on our credit cards, and got an interest rate of 6% on our savings - as opposed to 12.13% or more which some national banks offered.

"So the bank made a lot of money out of us, but when it comes to paying us back they refuse. We can't understand it."

Argelia and the other savers are caught up in a situation far beyond their control.

The government and the banks blame each other for the economic mess. Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna admits that the corralito constitutes a breach of contract.

He says: "All contracts were broken in December when the model collapsed."

He admits that this effectively equals a theft:

"I'm trying to help to restore confidence in the system. I don't like to blame anyone in particular.

"The only blame I can say is a lot of people in Argentina, bankers and big corporations helped to maintain an economic model which was socially unacceptable and economically unsustainable."

And for the time being, all Argelia can do is hope for a quick resolution, so she can pick up the pieces and start afresh.

She says: "The last thing you lose is hope. But I never thought that this could happen to me, to any of us."

Banking - the human face

Argelia beating against the doors of the HSBC bank
Argelia can only beat the doors, if she can't beat the system
Through Argelia, Teobaldo, their children, neighbours and friends we see the human face of an economic and social crisis on a scale unprecedented in Argentine history.

They tell the story of a nation full of hope, betrayed over decades by its rulers, and now abandoned to its fate by the international financial community.

Argelia and Teobaldo stand for the many Argentines who feel they've been robbed.

But they are determined to fight to the bitter end to recover their savings.

"Hear the noise" is Argelia's motto as she hits her pots and pans, yet again, outside HSBC headquarters.


Argentina - You've been Tango'd!: Sunday 13 October 2002 on BBC Two at 1915 BST

Produced and directed: Daniela Volker
Written and Narrated: Olenka Frenkiel
Editor: Karen O'Connor
Deputy Editor: David Belton
Online Producer: Andrew Jeffrey

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Olenka Frenkiel
Argentina - You've been Tango'd
Olenka Frenkiel
"Police were ordered to shoot on demonstrators"
Argelia del Valle Cruz
"We have to cut our costs as there isn't enough money"
Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna
"Some big corporations helped to maintain an economic muddle"
Teobaldo del Valle Cruz
"We'd lose about 60% of our money, which is unacceptable"
Argentina - You've been Tango'd

Argentina - You've been Tango'd
See also:

04 Oct 02 | Business
03 Oct 02 | Business
29 Sep 02 | Business
27 Sep 02 | Business
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