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Argentines Relieved Tough Winter Ending

The winter of 2007 is slowly coming to an end, and Argentines everywhere can't wait for spring to arrive. After three corruption scandals, an energy crisis, bad weather, and a crushing defeat in futbol, it's no wonder the population is ready to move on to better days ahead.

Two of the corruption scandals were gift-wrapped for the press: in one a briefcase full of money was found in the Economy Minister's office bathroom during a routine fire inspection. In the other, a Venezuelan businessman traveling with Argentine energy officials got caught at the airport carrying a case stuffed with $800,000.

Fire marshalls and baggage screeners may have stumbled across two BFDs (briefcase full of dollars), but how many more changed hands without incident? Most bagmen and their beneficiaries were not stupid enough to get caught holding the valet. Those who got away with the grease were soon back at the airport and off to winter vacations in Italy and Spain. But the moment our newly-enriched retinue of officials arrived at sunny Mediterranean resorts, they realized they were not so clever after all. Oh how they wish they had held out for Euros.

Back in Buenos Aires the new Economy Minister must have spent about an hour in the bathroom wondering what he had gotten himself into. Energy policies left over from the crisis of 2002 helped to limit a desperately needed rebound in foreign investment in all sectors. The lack of investment in energy, coupled with growth in demand, created serious shortages when cold weather hit this winter. The government was able to meet little more than half of the demand for electricity and gas on peak days, and was forced to cut off supply to industry from 4pm to 10pm while increasing expensive imports. The energy crisis will consume as much as 50% of this year's fiscal surplus, throw off the trade balance, and take a big bite out of GDP.

All of this leaves no question as to which way investment will continue to go - downhill like so many government officials who preferred ski vacations in Bariloche. You might assume the Kirchner government desperately wants more investment in the energy sector, but you would be sadly mistaken. In fact they are trying to pass a law that would "prohibit foreign participation in utilities (Financial Times)." The Kirchner's philosophy of government can be called Chavez-light.

In June the government changed the methodology for reporting the official rate of inflation - the better to claim that there really wasn't any. Which is like telling voters all those higher prices they are paying are just a figment of their collective imaginations.

And yes, Argentina is in a presidential election year. The Kirchners, like the Clintons, are trying to replace the husband with the wife, although without the 8 year gap. Cristina, the senator and first lady, wants to follow Nestor, just as Hillary, the senator and ex-first lady, wants to follow Bill.

From the Kirchner point of view all of this bad news looks like nothing more than the mierda hitting the fan at the worst time. They don't seem to realize they have no clue when it comes to this running-a-county thing. It's all about holding the pieces together through the October vote. Luckily for the K's, there is no opposition to speak of except for the president of futbol club Boca Juniors, who easily beat their man in the recent election for Chief of Government in Buenos Aires. But he already has a new job and there doesn't seem to be anyone else that can seriously challenge Cristina for the presidency.

Speaking of Boca, they won the Copa Libertadores (South American equivalent of the Champions League) back in May, and Cristina was there, quick as a cat, for a photo shoot with the boys. But in July the powerful and heavily favored national team took a devastating loss to a Brazil B team in the finals of the Copa America. And that was the icing on the cake for the winter of 2007.

But the country's economic recovery from the 2002 crisis has been called the second Argentine miracle (third if you count Maradona's goal against England). And Argentina will most likely become only the second country in South America to elect a female leader. Agriculture and tourism are thriving.

And believe it or not, Ford and GM are doing well here.