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A Greek Catch-22

BUENOS AIRES – Desperate times bring desperate measures. The latest package to cope with Greece’s insolvency offers a bond buyback to lighten the country’s debt burden. In essence, this is a back-door debt restructuring: Europe’s bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) would lend the money for Greece to buy back its own debt in the secondary market at deep discounts, thereby imposing a loss on private bondholders without the need to declare a default.

A recurrent characteristic of Europe’s debt-crisis debate is a Latin American precedent. Indeed, many highly indebted countries in Latin America conducted similar debt buybacks in the late 1980’s. Bolivia’s 1988 buyback of close to half of its defaulted sovereign debt, an operation funded by international donors, is a classic example. But the most relevant Latin American experience with debt buybacks is a more recent and far less studied case: Ecuador in 2008.