Konfrontatie on Sun, 28 Feb 1999 15:24:59 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Daniel Gatti (IPS): Soros is Region's New Strong Man

MONTEVIDEO, Feb 9 (IPS) - George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire
notorious his role in the Asian financial crisis and his predictions on
the fall of the "Plan Real" in Brazil, is now one of the most vital
foreign investors in MERCOSUR.

Known as a theoretician, and a critic of the "excesses" of capitalism in
his books that stress the need for controlling capital flows, Soros is
gambling on the recovery of the Brazilian economy.

Just one week ago, 24 hours after calling on the Group of Seven most
industrialized countries to "invest in Brazil" and the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) to support the country, one of his top aides, Arminio
Fraga Neto, was appointed head of the Central Bank of Brazil.

The appointment was hailed as a positive step by financial circles in
Brazil and elsewhere in the region because of the "peace of mind" for
investors having "one of Soros' men" at the top.

"It's very important that the person that Soros trusted for his own
investments in Brazil is now sitting in the bank's main seat", said Luis
Pretti, director in Argentina of the Brazilian investment bank Bozano

Although there is no precise estimate of his millions, Soros currently is
the biggest investor in real estate, land and cattle in Argentina, and has
strong interests in Brazil and Venezuela. The newspaper Pagina 12 labeled
him "the new owner of Argentina", a country in which he began investing
only seven years ago.

Through the real estate firm of IRSA, Soros has become the largest real
estate entrepreneur in Argentina. He is the owner of the main shopping
centers in Buenos Aires, where annual sales total 800 million dollars, and
of 130 buildings throughout the country.

This week he acquired 27.5 percent of the capital of Argentina's Loans
Bank, which controls 40 percent of the market for mortgage credit and
which the government of President Carlos Menem has begun to privatize.

Soros also has managed to become the biggest landowner in Argentina, with
500,000 hectares, and the largest livestock owner - with some 150,000 head
of cattle- and has plans to invest in industrialization and the
commercialization of food products.

IRSA has also allowed Soros to build alliances in other South American

In Brazil, he owns 35.9 percent of shares in Brazil Realty, while in
Venezuela he controls 34.5 percent of the Fund for Real Estate Values and
50 percent of the Velutini Group.

In 1992, Soros played a key role in forcing the British government to
devalue the pound sterling.

His methods of investment were held responsible for sparking the Asian
financial crisis, and a letter that he sent last year to the Financial
Times newspaper - proposing the devaluation of the ruble - was considered
the beginning of the exchange crisis in Russia.

Soros is an "agitator, a maverick thinker on global capitalism", said
Pagina 12 in a special report on the international investor and his

In his book "The Crisis of Global Capitalism. The Open Society in Danger",
Soros lays out proposals "of a social-democratic sort", the application of
which could go against his own interests, the newspaper said.

The "rescue of society's moral values", and the need to put limits and
rules on transnational capital that today moves with total freedom in the
world, are some of the opinions that Soros sets out in his book.

Soros criticizes the role played by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
in the recent international financial crises, which, together with the
"growing social conflicts, are incubating the collapse of capitalism and
of open society."

But U.S. economic analyst Paul Krugman ironically declares that the
billionaire's message is "stop me before I speculate again".

Krugman says that Soros "is saying that the rules of the game, under which
he and other like him have prospered, are dangerous to society as a whole.
This is not what one expects to hear from a speculator."

Soros is in favor of the application of a tariff on international
financial transactions in order to reduce the volatility of capital, and a
change in policy in the management of the IMF.

But the magnate "has two faces", says Pagina 12.

In the case of Brazil, a country for which he is calling for strong
support from international economic and financial institutions, Soros is
playing a role that goes against the one he played in Russia.

In Russia he acted as a pure speculator, in the South American country is
has put on the mask of "savior," the newspaper concluded.

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