Argentina warns businesses not to reject Evita bank notes
BUENOS AIRES, July 9 (Reuters) - Argentina's central bank has warned businesses to stop rejecting commemorative bank notes bearing the image of Eva Peron to mark the 60th anniversary of the iconic former first lady's death.
President Cristina Fernandez, whose fiery speaking style often prompts comparisons with that of "Evita", unveiled the 100-peso bills emblazoned with her profile a year ago.
But publicity surrounding the newly-minted notes was not wide enough to overcome doubts from small businesses where cashiers have rejected the bills for being unfamiliar.
So the central bank this week launched a hotline for people to report those who refuse to accept the bills, threatening to fine those who keep turning them away.
"The 100-peso bills with the image of Maria Eva Duarte de Peron are legal tender and must be accepted by all retailers and financial institutions," the central bank said in a statement this week.
Each is worth about 18.5 US dollars according to the official exchange rate.
Even if the bills are not widely accepted, Evita's image is very much alive in Argentina's political life six decades after she died of cancer at the age of 33.
Fernandez has increased the role of the state in Latin America's No. 3 economy and is roundly criticized by business for imposing heavy trade and foreign currency market regulations that hurt investor confidence. The 60-year-old president often invokes Evita's memory in speeches.
Just before the president's 2011 re-election she unveiled a huge portrait of Evita on side of the Health Ministry building.
Evita was married to late President Gen. Juan Peron and is adored by many Argentines for helping women get the vote, advocating for workers' rights and founding orphanages.
Fernandez belongs to the Peronist party that has dominated Argentine politics since the late 1940s heyday of Peron and Eva.
Financial management has not been the strong suit of the Peronists. Inflation exploded under the general's rule and consumer prices in Argentina today are rising by about 25 percent annually, while the peso currency's black market rate is 48 percent weaker than the official rate.
Some cashiers have snubbed the Evita notes because they did not recognize them as legal tender. Others turned their backs on the bills for political reasons.
"There are always people who don't like Fernandez and Evita and just don't want to touch them," said a cash register worker in Buenos Aires, declining to give his name.
"But the problem is mostly that people are not sure whether this is real money or not because the design is unfamiliar."