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An Argentine abroad challenges President Kirchner over currency controls

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Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

(Read caption) Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner listens to a Spanish translation on her headphones as she is introduced at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts September 27.

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When Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner spoke at Harvard University last week, one of the concerns among the Argentines in the audience was her government's far-reaching currency controls and the difficulties they impose on students and travelers going abroad.

One such student, Victoria, traveled from Argentina to study English for three months in Cambridge, Mass. this fall. But she says the fact that she obtained enough US dollars to actually get here was "a miracle."

Between cash she had set aside every month and a gift from her grandfather, she had enough money for a course at Kaplan International. The challenge, Victoria says, came from Argentina's recent currency controls.

In an attempt to keep dollars in Argentina amid a wave of capital flight, the country's tax office in May introduced a series of hurdles for citizens wanting to travel abroad with foreign currency. The government relies on money from the central bank and nationalized pension system to pay international lenders who typically require their payments in international currency.

The Argentine currency is the peso, and just over a decade since the country’s 2001 economic meltdown, dollars are seen as more stable and thus desirable. The lack of confidence many Argentines have in their own currency, highlighted just last year by increased capital flight in the lead up to Ms. Kirchner's October reelection, put those payments at risk. 

Victoria, who asked her last name not be used for fear of having trouble exchanging pesos for dollars in the future, says she filled out a form in August to purchase the US currency and was approved for $8,000 dollars. She called it a miracle because she says many people have been turned away for seemingly no reason. Her boyfriend, for example, won’t be able to visit because his request was denied. The rest of her expenses are going on her credit card.

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