How $500m cash got stuck at Argentina’s main airport

The price of seven or eight private jets in cash collided with a 72-hour cargo shutdown at Argentina’s main airport last week, leaving the money stuck and local banks unnerved, Bloomberg reports.

Half a billion dollars was shipped to local banks, such as Banco Macro SA, Banco de Galicia and Banco Santander Rio. They worked with Bank of America to bring the cash into Argentina as a routine transaction so lenders could withstand the storm of dollar withdrawals in the country ahead of the presidential election this weekend. 

The cash was shipped on cargo planes in batches of $1.6 million, the news outlet stated, citing people familiar with the situation. 

The dollar has long been a safe haven from the peso, and recently, with inflation as high as 138% in September, banks have seen a sharp increase in dollar withdrawals ahead of the election on 22 October. 

However, the cash was stranded at the main international airport’s cargo terminal as the country’s tax authority, AFIP, issued a 72-hour shutdown order on 10 October, amid a sharp selloff in the peso that saw Argentina’s black market exchange rate top 1,000 per dollar. 

The plane carrying the cash was also grounded for a day in Miami due to Argentina’s cargo terminal issues, said Bloomberg, citing one of the people familiar with the matter.

In the end, the hurdles at the airport in Buenos Aires didn’t cause too much disruption for the banks, as authorities lifted the restriction after 24 hours. 

Since February, when deposits peaked, people in the country have already withdrawn nearly $2 billion (€1.89 billion). 

And seeing as outsider presidential candidate Javier Milei — a libertarian economist who wants to dollarize the economy — was the surprise winner of an August primary vote, such imports may just continue.

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