By Lucinda Elliott and Eliana Raszewski
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentine Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner slammed the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Thursday, saying that the program agreed to with the multinational lender is holding back the country’s economy.
Fernandez de Kirchner, speaking at an event commemorating Revolution Day in Buenos Aires’ historic Plaza de Mayo, said the debt is impossible to pay off.
The government’s ruling coalition is attempting to shore up support from the IMF and advance payments ahead of October elections.
“If we are do not set aside this program … to develop our own plan for growth and industrialization, it will be impossible to pay for,” the vice president said, standing alongside Economy Minister Sergio Massa, who is trying to keep the $44 billion program on track.
She said the original deal was “political” and that the IMF program does not allow the country to distribute wealth.
“The dead do not pay their debts,” Kirchner said, quoting her late husband and former president, Nestor Kirchner, to thousands who gathered despite heavy rain.
Nestor Kirchner had uttered that line while president in 2005 when he announced that Argentina would pay off its $9.8 billion debt to the IMF before year-end and avoid a full-blown default. Like his wife, he repeatedly blamed the fund for bringing about poverty and “destitution.”
The South American grains producer has a fraught history with the IMF. The country agreed to a $57 billion program with the Washington-based body in 2018 under former conservative leader Mauricio Macri to stave off economic crisis. That failed and was replaced last year with a deal to refinance the $44 billion in outstanding debt.
Fernandez de Kirchner, 70, a veteran on the left of the ruling Peronist party who served two terms as president between 2007 and 2015, called the original deal “scandalous” and a “scam” last week.
Her speech comes as Massa and his team are negotiating with the IMF to bring forward the disbursement of loans agreed to in 2022. A historic drought has hit grain exports, Argentina’s top source of dollars, forcing both sides into talks to potentially revamp the deal.
The government wants faster payouts and easier economic targets as it works to rebuild reserves needed to cover trade costs and future debt repayments.
Massa is due to travel to China on May 29 to potentially expand Argentina’s currency swap line with Beijing.
The ruling coalition faces an uphill battle against the conservative opposition in the Oct. 22 election, as voter dissatisfaction with soaring inflation, stagnant wages and years of economic turmoil dents public support.
Kirchner has insisted she will not run again, as has the current president, Alberto Fernandez.
(This story has been refiled to correct the phrasing from ‘current the’ to ‘the current’ in paragraph 14)
(Reporting by Lucinda Elliott and Eliana Raszewski; Editing by Brendan O’Boyle and Leslie Adler)