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In Argentina, a Surgeon without a Scalpel

Argentina's new economic czar inherits stagnation and debt

After 32 months of virtually no growth, Argentina's economy is on life support. But now President Fernando de la Rua is confident he's found a star surgeon to pull the patient through. His name is Ricardo Lopez Murphy, a 49-year-old University of Chicago-trained economist who on Mar. 5 took on the thankless post of Economy Minister. Investors welcomed his appointment, cheering the Buenos Aires stock exchange to its largest single-day gain in nearly two years.

In this job, style as much as substance will determine whether Lopez Murphy succeeds where his predecessor, Jose Luis Machinea, failed. Analysts concur that Lopez Murphy will not be able to deviate much from the strict course of treatment prescribed by the International Monetary Fund as a condition for a $40 billion rescue package delivered in December. Yet the former Defense Minister boasts something Machinea sorely lacked: credibility. "He's a strong choice," says one IMF official.