Kremlin crisis: Enter Latin America's guru

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The Independent Online
WITH ITS economy in crisis and the rouble collapsing, Russia is turning to the Tsar - the Tsar of Argentina, that is.

President Bill Clinton may get most of the publicity in Moscow this week, but the man many Russian economists are looking to to stop the rot is a balding gentleman called Domingo Cavallo, widely known in his home country as Argentina's Economic Tsar.

The Harvard-educated Mr Cavallo, now an opposition member of parliament and a thorn in the side of Argentine president Carlos Menem, has reportedly been invited by the new Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin - at the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund - to join a high- powered economic reform team. This will prepare urgent measures to halt the current financial crisis which has panicked markets worldwide.

Mr Cavallo, Economy Minister through the first half of the Nineties until he fell out with President Menem, is the man credited with performing an economic miracle. All he had to do was bring down Argentina's rate of inflation from 84 per cent a month to virtually zero and bring the monopoly-money currency, the peso, to a par with the American dollar.

To do so, in the words of one admirer, he "privatised everything that moved", including airlines and the railways, as well as everything that makes thing move, such as the giant PF Petroleum Corporation.

Can he pull off a similar miracle in Moscow? His aides insist he is the man for the job. "The Russian economy needs a shot of cocaine through its veins," one aide, too shy to give his name, told reporters in Buenos Aires.

It is to be hoped he does not rile Boris Yeltsin as much as he has Mr Menem, resulting in his removal from the Argentine cabinet in 1995 for insubordination. Mr Cavallo then accused senior government ministers of knowingly covering up corruption and President Menem of doing nothing to stop it. Mr Menem reckons "the Tsar" has his sights set on one day being President.

Mr Cavallo also accused one of Argentina's wealthiest businessmen, Alfredo Yabran, of heading a Mafia which sought to gain control the country's lucrative postal service. Mr Yabran committed suicide earlier this year after being named as the man behind the killing of an investigative photographer.