Unfortunately, the IMF is badly in need a bailout of its own. The fund is nearly broke and increasingly unpopular in Congress. Although private U.S. banks with heavy Latin American exposure would welcome some financial relief, they're chary about making any more bets -- especially given the IMF's uneven track record in the current global economic crisis. But Baumohl says Latin America is different than Russia or Indonesia (or, for that matter, South Korea or Thailand); it's been through the IMF's wringer already. "This region had its crisis in the 1980s, and the reforms have paid off. It's the IMF's star pupil." It's also the last sea wall between the Asian meltdown and the American economy, and for that reason, the West seems likely to try a bailout, one more time.
If at first you don't succeed, bail, bail again. That seems to be the thinking at the IMF as it once again prepares to administer its tough-love rescue program, this time on a country that may be healthy enough to stand the medicine: Brazil. "Brazil needs to balance its budget, but its fundamentals are much stronger than Asia's were," says TIME business reporter Bernard Baumohl. "It's the anchor of Latin America, and that entire region is getting hit much worse than it deserves to."