Milestones : Two Centuries of Debt on Display


When Argentina unveils its Museum of Foreign Debt in March, organizers are not aiming for busloads of camera-toting tourists. Instead, they hope it will help Argentines grasp how it is that their country has been in a perennial headlock with creditors for nearly two centuries.

Argentina has plenty to offer in the way of debt displays. Not only has it been an active borrower since its early days, but in 1827, just a decade after independence, the country experienced its first default. Four other defaults have followed. The most recent, in 2001, is the largest in history, at $103 billion in unpaid principal and interest.

We hope ordinary members of the public who visit the museum will leave with a better understanding of what can be a very complex and technical subject, said curator Simon Pristupi in an interview when the project was first launched in 2003. Since then, the economics professor says the opening has been delayed by, not surprisingly, funding problems.

Housed at the University of Buenos Aires School of Economics, the museum is being bankrolled by the university after the city government failed to lend a hand. Private donors have also shown little enthusiasm. Banco de Credito Cooperativoironically, a lenderis one of its few sponsors.

An exhibit hall will house a permanent collection that will be complemented by related exhibits changed every six months. Interactive panels and even theatrical productions will make the experience a bit more exciting. A research facility will provide access to relevant documents, while a staff of volunteers will explore the nations debt history from every angle. The museum aims to have traveling exhibits throughout the country.

While Argentines, whose lives have been affected by their nations boom and bust cycles, will likely drop by for a look into the cause of much of their pain, this is one museum that will not likely have a gift shop for visitors. If it does, chances are it will be a cash-only establishment.

Santiago Fittipaldi