Argentina turns over finance post -- not new leaf

The Argentine Ministry of the Economy is like a revolving door - at each turn , a new minister appears.

So turbulent is the Argentine economy that few economy ministers have stayed on the job very long. Their comings and goings afford little continuity of programs or direction and add to the turbulence.

The latest example is Jose Maria Dagnino Pastore, who took over less than two months ago as the Argentine military formed a new government in the wake of its Falklands fiasco.

Mr. Dagnino Pastore started out smartly with a program aimed at reactivating the battered Argentine economy and coping with the $15 billion in payments due by the end of the year on Argentina's $37 billion foreign debt.

Now he has quit, giving Argentina's military leaders yet another problem to solve.

The move sent shock waves through Argentine economic circles, where a sense of confidence in Mr. Dagnino Pastore was developing.

His resignation, however, was only the beginning. Domingo Cavallo, president of the important Central Bank, resigned hours later Aug. 24 - and a number of other government economic officials also stepped down.

Mr. Dagnino Pastore was quickly replaced by Jorge Wehbe, a financial law specialist. Like his predecessor, Mr. Wehbe had been in the Ministry of the Economy post before. He served for 11 days in the Frondizi government of the early 1960s and six months in the Lanusse government of the early l970s.

The fact that successive military and civilian governments keep recalling former ministers to serve in the economy post is one of Argentina's major problems.

Many critics, including the influential and respected English-language Review of the River Plate, repeatedly call for new faces and new ideas.

In its current issue the monthly takes issue with some of Mr. Dagnino Pastore's reforms, particularly his plans for heavy government control of the economy. It suggests they are nothing more than ideas dusted off from the past.

Mr. Dagnino Pastore and Mr. Cavallo disagreed on some economic policies, but both apparently opposed the military government's plan to announce a major pay boost effective Sept. 1 to help offset the 137 percent inflation of the past 12 months and the even higher inflation-rate of the present moment.

The pay hikes, which amount to the equivalent of $30 a month, go against the economic policies Mr. Dagnino Pastore outlined in early July. But what the Argentine military wants, it normally gets. It wanted the massive, general wage increase to curry favor among workers.

The economy minister had argued that the increases would simply make inflation worse and would undo the effort to cut back on Argentina's soaring inflation, which worsened during the Falklands conflict in the South Atlantic.

In his resignation letter, he told retired Maj. Gen. Reynaldo Benito Bignone, the President, that he ''had not been able to reconcile the interests of different sectors.''

An associate of Mr. Dagnino Pastore said: ''That is his shorthand for not being able to talk economic sense to the dense and inflexible military mind that runs this country.''

Mr. Dagnino Pastore also felt he could serve no longer after being overruled ''by his military masters.''

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