AILSA CHANG, HOST:
As we just heard, leaders from around the world are arriving in Buenos Aires today. They're gathering for the two-day G-20 summit that begins tomorrow. The state of the world economy is sure to be a major topic of conversation. And Argentina is a country with its own huge economic problems. As NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Buenos Aires, those problems have some unlikely side effects.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLEANING EQUIPMENT HISSING)
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: A man is cleaning up a big bronze statue. There are dozens of other statues lying around this yard of Argentine poets, of famous tango dancers and legends from ancient mythology. Buenos Aires has more than 2,000 statues. This is where they're brought for repair.
JORGE GRIMAZ: (Speaking Spanish).
REEVES: Jorge Grimaz coordinates operations here in a center run by the city government. He shows off a big bronze statue of Christopher Columbus. Columbus is missing his right foot because this has been sawn off by thieves, says Grimaz.
GRIMAZ: (Through interpreter) We think that when they steal a part of the bronze statue, it's for the value of the metal. I don't imagine they take it as a souvenir.
REEVES: He thinks Columbus' foot has probably been sold to a scrap dealer. This type of theft is going up in Buenos Aires right now, says Grimaz. This comes as no surprise to him.
GRIMAZ: (Through interpreter) In general, when there is an economic crisis, there is more vandalism against these bronze figures.
REEVES: That Argentina is facing a significant crisis is not in dispute. Marina Dal Poggetto heads a consultancy specializing in economics and finance. She says this is...
MARINA DAL POGGETTO: A crisis that start in April with a currency run that start with the dollar near 20 pesos. Now the dollar is near 39.
REEVES: The country is in a deep recession, she says.
DAL POGGETTO: This year, GDP will fall since the first quarter till the fourth quarter near 8 percent. And inflation hike to 48 percent already.
REEVES: Locked out of the international credit markets, Argentina's president, Mauricio Macri, this year turned to the International Monetary Fund and eventually got a $57 billion bailout. This was highly controversial. Many Argentines have bitter memories of the IMF's involvement in their significantly worse crisis of 2001. Marina Dal Poggetto thinks the government had little choice.
DAL POGGETTO: If we haven't got dollars to pay, the default will destroy the banks, will destroy the whole economy, the position. I really think that the - that go to the IMF was a bad decision.
REEVES: It's far from clear that Argentina will solve its economic crisis anytime soon. Next year, there are elections, which means more uncertainty. With their wages outpaced by soaring prices, many Argentines are deeply worried. Mateus Avila is a government worker aged 32 who spoke with NPR as he was waiting to go into a soccer game.
MATEUS AVILA: This is very serious. The inflation, the situation of the country is very, very difficult. I had to cut some expenses. I think if we had children, it may be a lot - very, very much difficult.
PAULA ORTIZ: (Speaking Spanish).
REEVES: "Prices just keep on going up," explains Paula Ortiz, who's 66. This means that back at their repairs yard, Jorge Grimaz and his team will likely have even more work to do restoring the city's abused statues.
GRIMAZ: (Speaking Spanish).
REEVES: Grimaz says around town, they try to protect them using cameras and sometimes metal grills. So far they've found no failsafe solution. In these hard times in Argentina, there's not much you can do when someone's determined to steal Christopher Columbus' foot. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Buenos Aires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.