02 November 2016
By Rodolfo C. Estimo Jr. 

RIYADH: Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti said that her country is pinning its hopes high on its relations with Saudi Arabia as it starts afresh after solving its economic problems, which started after the 2001 financial crisis.

She made the statement at the end of a reception for her and her delegation hosted by Ambassador Jaime Sergio Cerda at his residence inside the Diplomatic Quarter on Monday night.

Before the reception, she met with well-known and outstanding Saudi women including Olayan Financing Company CEO Lubna Olayan, female members of the Shoura Council and King Saud University (KSU) professors, as well as artists.

In explaining the economic crisis, Ambassador Cerda said that “Argentina incurred a huge indebtedness in the past, but creditors have been fully paid as promised by then presidential candidate Mauricio Macri, who was elected in December 2015.”

Macri and Michetti harmoniously teamed up after the 2015 election to pay up Argentina’s huge indebtedness of billions through debt restructuring. Restructuring the debt, which totaled $82 billion, began in January 14, 2005 and allowed resumption of payment on 76 percent in sovereign bonds that defaulted in 2001 at the depth of the worst economic crisis in the nation’s history.

A second debt restructuring in 2010 brought the percentage of bonds under some form of repayment to 93 percent, though ongoing disputes with holdouts remained.

Bondholders, who participated in the restructuring, settled for repayments of around 30 percent of face value and deferred payment terms, and began to be paid punctually. 

The value of their nearly worthless bonds began to rise. The remaining 7 percent of bondholders later won the right to be repaid in full.

The well-attended function was graced by members of the diplomatic community, Saudi officials, corporate heads and captains of industry who were disarmed by Michetti’s warmth and effervescent personality.

“Argentina is undergoing a process of change and we are here to explain about the country’s economic transformation because we need a stronger relationship with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries,” Michetti told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

The visit of Michetti and her delegation was timely in the sense that Saudi Arabia had just also laid out its Vision 2030 that includes the National Transformation Program. Both countries are undergoing economic transformations.

She added that her delegation also needed to get the message across that “the new government under Argentine President Mauricio Macri abides by transparency, honesty and good values in its economic policies.”

Asked if Argentina’s new economic policies were discussed during the symposium organized by the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) on Monday, she said yes.

“However, due to my physical infirmity, I could not make it to the symposium but I sent my delegation, including Vice Minister of Finance Pedro Lacoste to speak on my behalf,” Michetti said. 

The 51-year-old Argentine vice president, who’s married with children, suffered an accident 20 years ago which rendered her physically challenged. She is wheelchair bound.

However, instead of sulking in a corner and complaining about the tragedy, she decided to do something good and turned tragedy into public service.

Michetti entered public service in 1989, and the following year joined the executive staff as technical adviser at the Argentine Ministry of Economy.

Asked if there was any agreement signed between the two countries, she said, ”No because we’re just trying to open the door. Our visit is one step that’s expected to lead to another step, which would include the signing of a memorandum of understanding.”

The symposium at the RCCI was attended by local CEOs, businessmen and a representative from the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).

Although employed as a professional rather than as a politician, Michetti was political, working through her church on social projects. She joined the Commitment to Change Party led by Macri in 2003.

She earned a degree in international relations at the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires in 1988 and completed a master’s degree in business management and Integration, plus a specialization course on dispute settlement with the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland in 2000, and a career specialization in university management at the University of Ottawa, Canada, in 2001.

© Arab News 2016