Argentina's capital controls are an 'instrument of torture,' Bullrich says

Argentina's presidential candidates attend a business event in Buneos Aires

By Eliana Raszewski

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina's leading conservative presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich said on Thursday that the country's strict capital controls were an "instrument of torture" that she would look to quickly disband if elected later this year.

She has pledged to undo the controls, known locally as the "cepo," that have slowed the peso's slide but sparked thriving parallel markets where dollars are over twice as expensive as the official exchange rate.

The South American country, headed for a general election on Oct. 22, is battling triple-digit inflation, an economic downturn due to drought hitting its key farming industry, scant central bank reserves, and a looming debt pile.

"Never again will we have a cepo, which is an instrument of torture," she said at a business conference in Buenos Aires, adding that she would present a new charter for the central bank which would enshrine its autonomy along with some key principles.

"Never again issuing money and never again taking money from the central bank to give to the state, which is a 'Pacman' that eats up everything," she added, a reference to the classic arcade game character that gobbles up yellow dots in a maze.

Bullrich, the candidate for the main conservative opposition coalition, is in a three-way race for the presidency with outsider radical Javier Milei who wants to eventually scrap the central bank, and Peronist Economy Minister Sergio Massa.

(Reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)