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Argentina: The World’s Most Anti-American Country?

November 28th, 2007 | 07:31 AM

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The U.S. is not a popular country these days. Across the world, surveys show anti-American sentiment to be both pervasive and, evidently, increasingly profound. Reasons for this are myriad. Critics cite America’s arrogant foreign policy, its heavy-handed and excessively partial negotiating tactics, its lack of patience and unwillingness to listen to opposing views, and, of course, the Iraq war.

Visiting scholars and tourists also complain about rude treatment received at U.S. Embassies and immigration booths upon arrival at U.S. airports. Meanwhile, thousands of people eager to travel to the U.S. are denied visas everyday through thick glass windows that separate them from consular-section officials. The process can be humiliating, leaving applicants feeling belittled, disrespected and even unvalued as human beings.

You might think the U.S. would be most unpopular in places traditionally considered hostile to American policy – Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, etc. But according to a poll by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org, Argentina leads the list of countries that distrust the U.S. and its role in world affairs. Consider this gem of a paragraph:

“Majorities in all 15 of the publics polled about the United States’ role in the world reject the idea that ‘as the sole remaining superpower, the US should continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems.’ However majorities in only two publics (Argentina and the Palestinian territories) say that the United States ‘should withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems.’”

Technically, at least, the Palestinian territories are not yet a country. That makes Argentina, the world’s staunchest opponent of U.S. involvement in global affairs. The survey, which was released earlier this year, is unusually comprehensive. “Participating research centers interviewed nearly 22,000 people in China, India, the United States, Russia, Indonesia, France, Thailand, Ukraine, Poland, Iran, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Argentina, Peru, Armenia and Israel, plus the Palestinian territories,” according to authors of the study, which can be found here and here.

Here are a few more gems from the survey:

■ Argentines are among the most negative about US leadership in the world. Very large majorities do not trust the United States and want it to reduce its military presence overseas.
■ Argentina is one of only two countries (the other is the Palestinian territories) where a majority (55%) believes that “the US should withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems.”
■ An overwhelming majority (84%) does not trust the United States to act responsibly in the world, including 69% who do not trust it at all, more than any other public polled.
■ Three-fourths (75%)—the largest majority among 12 countries polled—say that the United States should reduce the number of military bases it has overseas. In Argentina, a solid 75% said the U.S. should have fewer military bases overseas. That percentage is higher than in any other nation polled. It was followed by the Palestinian territory, where 70% held this view.
■ 62% of Argentines agree that “the US is playing the role of world policeman more than it should be.”

Only 1% of Argentines polled said “the U.S. should continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems.” That percentage is lower than in any other country surveyed, except for France and Ukraine, where just 3% agreed.

Another remarkable quote from the study:

“In 10 out of 15 countries, the most common view is that the United States cannot be trusted to ‘act responsibly in the world.’ Respondents were allowed to choose whether the United States could be trusted ‘a great deal,’ ‘somewhat,’ ‘not very much’ or ‘not at all.’ Two Latin American countries show the least trust in the United States. An overwhelming 84 percent of Argentines answer that they have little confidence in the United States, including 69 percent who think the United States cannot be trusted at all. Eight in ten Peruvians (80%) also think the US cannot be trusted (23% not at all).”

For some Argentines, even use of the term “American” causes offense. “We are all Americans,” many will protest. As an “American” in Argentina I try to avoid using the term. And when I do, I mean no harm. But the oft-used “North American” – or norteamericano – is often too inexact to be useful, as it includes Canada, Mexico and even Greenland, which belongs to Denmark. Moreover, it’s hard to find another adjective that describes U.S. citizens in a way that is both concise and aesthetically pleasing. In Spanish, the term “estadounidense” sometimes works, but it’s a bit of a mouthful and has no English translation, except for: American and possibly Yankee. The latter is often used in Argentina, both benignly and pejoratively. For an in-depth look at the word “America,” its origins and controversial usage, click here.

The Buenos Aires Herald religiously replaces all non-quoted references to “America” or “Americans” with “US” or “US citizens,” etc. The Herald’s policy is well-intended but bows excessively to the dictates of political correctness, ignoring the more subtle dictums of style. This often makes for unnecessarily awkward reading.

So why is Argentina, evidently, so anti-American? First, it’s important to distinguish between sentiments toward the U.S. government and feelings for Americans themselves. After all, it’s certainly possible to dislike President George Bush and his policies while caring a great deal for average American citizens. Most Argentines I know cannot stand the U.S. government. (Actually, most Americans I know don’t like the U.S. government.) But rarely has this translated into demonstrations of distaste for me as an American citizen.

Argentina is in many ways an ally of Europe and the US? Under President Carlos Menem, Argentina even sent troops to the First Persian Gulf War and got Argentina to become an honorary member of NATO. Moreover, Argentines devour US cultural exports, moving in massive numbers to see Hollywood films and attend concerts by US musicians. They buy American cars, trucks, video games, iPods, computers and, inexplicably, seem to like McDonald’s even more than do Americans. This leads to a bit of a paradox, one that is not easy to explain. How is it that Argentines appear to be so sympathetic to American culture while so vehemently opposed to America’s role in world affairs? The opposition to U.S. policy is not new and it easily predates, though to perhaps less vigorous degree, the Iraq war.

I will attempt to shed light on this issue in a future post. I’ll end this one with a link to a local TV show I was on last year. The topic of the show: “Is The United States an Agent of Evil in the World?” Quite a question, no? If I were on the show again today, I would be far more critical of the Bush administration, U.S. involvement in Iraq and overall U.S. policy, but I would be just as supportive of the generally positive role the U.S. has played in global economic, social and political development.

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Argentina Ranks 38th In New UN Human Development Report

November 27th, 2007 | 10:16 AM

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A baby born in Argentina today can expect to live 74.8 years, according to a new 2007-2008 Human Development Report released Tuesday by the United Nations. That statistic, along with a host of other indicators, led the UN to rank Argentina 38th among countries in terms of economic, health and social development.

The report said 97.2% of Argentines are literate. In this category, Argentina ranks 27th. In others, such as cellphone and Internet usage, Argentina ranks 38th. About 570 out of every 1,000 Argentines have a cell phone. This figure more than doubles the number of fixed-line telephones in the country. Another 177 out of every 1,000 people use the Internet. These last two statistics are likely underestimates since they come from data collected in 2005. Two years of rapid economic growth since then likely boosted access to technological products.

Meanwhile, GDP per capita in Argentina is US $14,280, ranking the country 47th in the world.

In many categories Iceland takes the cake, making it the world’s most developed nation, according to the UN. Here is a breakdown of a few interesting categories, including data for the top 20 countries and Argentina.

NOTE: The UN lists countries in each category according to the country’s overall ranking. Where possible I included the category rank for Argentina. To see the data for yourself, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

OVERALL RANKING:

1 Iceland
2 Norway
3 Australia
4 Canada
5 Ireland
6 Sweden
7 Switzerland
8 Japan
9 Netherlands
10 France
11 Finland
12 United States
13 Spain
14 Denmark
15 Austria
16 United Kingdom
17 Belgium
18 Luxembourg
19 New Zealand
20 Italy
38 Argentina

LIFE EXPECTANCY:

1 Iceland 81.5
2 Norway 79.8
3 Australia 80.9
4 Canada 80.3
5 Ireland 78.4
6 Sweden 80.5
7 Switzerland 81.3
8 Japan 82.3
9 Netherlands 79.2
10 France 80.2
11 Finland 78.9
12 United States 77.9
13 Spain 80.5
14 Denmark 77.9
15 Austria 79.4
16 United Kingdom 79.0
17 Belgium 78.8
18 Luxembourg 78.4
19 New Zealand 79.8
20 Italy 80.3
50 Argentina 74.8

INTERNET USERS (per 1,000 people) *Data from 2005:

1 Iceland 869
2 Norway 735
3 Australia 698
4 Canada 520
5 Ireland 276
6 Sweden 764
7 Switzerland 498
8 Japan 668
9 Netherlands 739
10 France 430
11 Finland 534
12 United States 630
13 Spain 348
14 Denmark 527
15 Austria 486
16 United Kingdom 473
17 Belgium 458
18 Luxembourg 690
19 New Zealand 672
20 Italy 478
38 Argentina 177

ADULT LITERACY RATE:

1 Iceland 99
2 Norway 99
3 Australia 99
4 Canada 99
5 Ireland 99
6 Sweden 99
7 Switzerland 99
8 Japan 99
9 Netherlands 99
10 France
99
11 Finland 99
12 United States 99
13 Spain 99
14 Denmark 99
15 Austria 99
16 United Kingdom 99
17 Belgium 99
18 Luxembourg 99
19 New Zealand 99
20 Italy 98.4
27 Argentina 97.2

GDP PER CAPITA (purchasing power parity measured dollars)

1 Iceland 36,510
2 Norway 41,420
3 Australia 31,794
4 Canada 33,375
5 Ireland 38,505
6 Sweden 32,525
7 Switzerland 35,633
8 Japan 31,267
9 Netherlands 32,684
10 France 30,386
11 Finland 32,153
12 United States 41,890
13 Spain 27,169
14 Denmark 33,973
15 Austria 33,700
16 United Kingdom 33,238
17 Belgium 32,119
18 Luxembourg 60,228
19 New Zealand 24,996
20 Italy 28,529
47 Argentina 14,280

 

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Argentine Women, Sex, Chocolate & Shopping

November 26th, 2007 | 12:18 PM

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Stop the presses! Stop the presses!

This just in: Argentine women like sex more than women in other countries. ¡Viva La Argentina! Who cares about Argentina’s economic growth, its inflation or even its newly-elected female president when there are more interesting things to talk about – things like sex. The topic of conversation now is not consumer price inflation but rather the inflated sexual appetites of Argentine women. Nobody is going to complain about this kind of inflation, at least not here in this space.

According to a new survey, Argentine women are more interested in sex than are women in any other country surveyed. Women here said sex is their favorite earthly pleasure, according to the poll, which was conducted by Datos Claros Research Opinion. Argentines said sex is preferable to chocolate, shopping, a romantic dinner, ice cream and even a bouquet of flowers.

According to the study, which was paid for by the deodorant company Axe, 60.5% of Argentine women said sex was their preferred pleasure compared with 54% of respondents from women in other countries. Sex was followed closely by chocolate, shopping and a good meal. Overall, women in most countries surveyed said their preferred pleasure was chocolate.

The survey said Brazilian, Dutch and French women favor chocolate over sex, while Italians, Germans and Mexicans would prefer to go shopping before having sex. Perhaps the way to win over the heart of an Argentine woman would be to follow up a romantic dinner with sex in a chocolate store inside a shopping mall?

Like Argentines, Spanish women also said sex was their favorite pleasurable activity. Can we have a round of applause please for Latino Women?

The survey polled 3,571 women in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Holland, India, Mexico, the Philippines, the UK and U.S.

*Photo: Karina Jelinek, my old neighbor, and the object of many an Argentine’s passion, here in a admittedly cheesy photo with an old friend.

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Why Zara Is The Best Store In Argentina

November 25th, 2007 | 05:06 PM

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“The Client is King” is a popular business mantra that is pounded into the ears of managers across the U.S. during customer service seminars. Take care of your clients and they will take care of you, goes the thinking. The concept, even if not applicable under all circumstances, is a pretty good modus operandi for almost any business.

Treat your clients well – keep them happy – and they will keep coming back. It’s pretty hard to dispute the idea. After all, consider the alternative. How successful would a business be if it systematically treated its clients like scum?

Of course, there are well run businesses in all countries and cultures. Some care more for their clients than do others. Some are even annoying and abusive. But disrespectful businesses tend to go out of business soon.

Even so, I think it’s fair to say that the client is king concept has not quite caught on yet here in Argentina. Examples abound – waiters who don’t say thank you or store attendants who talk on the phone while you wait impatiently to ask a question or make a purchase. These things can and do happen in any country. But one key area in which Argentina’s capitalistic system has yet to mature is made manifest when it comes to returning purchased items. Many stores make it a hassle to return items. Many even make it impossible to return items except within certain limited, and usually inconvenient, hours. Customer service has improved vastly since I first came to Argentina in 1995, but problems are still rampant.

I recently bought a gift bracelet from Tuareg, a jewelry store in the Alto Palermo Shopping Center. “What happens if my girlfriend doesn’t like it? Can she return it?” I asked. “Yes. She can return it, but only between Monday and Friday.”

Of course, this policy makes it hard for many working people to return goods (or gifts) they don’t like or need. Tuareg also only allows customers to exchange items for products of equal or greater value. This means that if you don’t like something you got from the store, you might actually have to pay more to exchange it for something you do like. Getting your money back is not an option. “You can exchange the item at any of our branches but none will give you your money back.” Tuareg’s policies are common at other retailers.

One exception to such lame practices, actually the only exception I know of, is Zara, the Spanish clothing company. Zara treats it clients like kings. To the best of my knowledge, Zara is the only retail business in Argentina that gives customers up to 30 days to exchange items for a full cash refund. No questions asked. No loopholes to jump through. They just give you your money back. Perhaps it seems silly to highlight something as seemingly mundane as Zara’s policy. After all, Zara’s approach to customer service is standard practice in the U.S. and other countries, where fierce market competition has fine-tuned business practices. But here in Argentina, Zara is a model to be emulated. It stands out as a company that respects its customers’ interests at a time when many other businesses do not.

Go to Zara’s website and you will find this quote: “The customer is at the center of our particular business model.” That might seem like little more than common sense, but common sense isn’t always all that common, is it?

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15 Legends of Argentine Rock

November 22nd, 2007 | 09:02 PM

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Charly Garcia

Clarin, Argentina’s top-selling newspaper, has begun selling a collection of CDs and books about “Argentina’s 15 greatest rockers.” Every two weeks, between now and June, Clarin will sell a 20-song compilation CD and 144-page book that examines the music and history of each musician or band.

For those want to understand Argentine rock, this is a great way to get started.

My next post on local music will include a list of excellent independent bands, groups whose CDs you won’t find in Musimundo or other stores but whose music you ought to know.

The 15 greatest legends of Argentine rock, according to Clarin, are:

(RELEASE DATES INCLUDED)

1) Charly Garcia NOV 19
2) Babasónicos DEC 3
3) Luca Prodan/Sumo (includes songs in English, Spanish and Spanglish) DEC 17
4) Fito Páez DEC 31
5) Tanguito y el rock de La Cueva JAN 14
6) Dividos/Las Pelotas JAN 28
7) Andrés Calamaro FEB 11
8) Ratones Paranoicos FEB 25
9) Luis Alberto Spinetta MAR 10
10) Los Fabulosos Cadillacs/Los Auténticos Decadentes MAR 24
11) Pappo APRIL 7
12) Virus APRIL 21
13) León Gieco MAY 5
14) Ataque 77/Los Vialodres MAY 19
15) Soda Estereo JUN 2

Enjoy!

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Traffic Deaths In Argentina

November 16th, 2007 | 12:07 PM

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Argentina has about five times more traffic-related deaths per year than the U.S., as a percentage of cars on the road. Each year around 7,000 people die as a result of bad driving in Argentina. Last year, there were 1,080 deaths for every 1 million vehicles. This is according to Luchemos Por La Vida, a non-profit group that tries to improve road safety through education.

A relatively small percentage of Argentina’s traffic fatalities occur in the City of Buenos Aires (just over 3% last year). The rest take place in the provinces. Buenos Aires Province is by far the most dangerous. Last year it accounted for 3,062, or 40% of all traffic deaths.

Argentina’s traffic problems seem fairly mundane compared with related trouble in China and India, where drivers are even more aggressive. But compared with countries like the U.S. and Spain, Argentina’s troubles really standout. The U.S. had 198 deaths per million vehicles last year while Spain had just 148.

Spain has made remarkable progress in reducing the number of traffic-related deaths while Argentina has made almost none. In 1975, for example, 760 Spaniards died for every million vehicles on the road. That number has dropped annually to 148 last year. In Argentina, where the data go back only to 1989, the number of deaths has remained relatively steady, except for a peak of 1,450 deaths.

In addition to death, more than 120,000 people are left paralyzed or seriously injured every year because of car accidents. If you’re interested in the topic, check out a three minute “Traffic in Argentina” video I posted on Scooping Argentina.

UPDATE: A reader helpfully submitted a link to UN data that indicate Argentina’s traffic fatalities may be substantially lower than the figures presented by Luchemos Por La Vida. Here is the link. You’ll have to scroll around a bit and search. Please see the commentaries below for more about this.

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Political Stagecraft Here, There & Everywhere

November 13th, 2007 | 03:44 PM

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Cristina Yesterday, Hillary Today

Campaign rallies often are not what they appear to be on TV. This is true not just in Argentina but in many countries. In many cases, in Argentina, candidates pay for “supporters” to be bused into rallies from far away places. These political “extras” often have no real interest in either the candidate or the election. They attend rallies in exchange for money and/or food. This has long been one of the worst kept secrets of Argentine politics.

Cristina Kirchner’s last campaign event before the election was a perfect example of this. The event took place in La Matanza, about 30 minutes from Capital Federal. It was a cold, rainy night, which probably discouraged some true supporters from showing up. Moreover, La Matanza isn’t exactly Palermo or Recoleta. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to be left alone on a dark night. But that didn’t prevent political operatives from busing in hundreds (perhaps thousands) of paid extras to make the event look like a popular gathering of patriotic partisans.

I covered the event as a journalist. I mixed in with the crowd and spoke to people who had come to see Cristina. Most of the people there paid little or no attention to Cristina or her speech. Some admitted to being paid for their attendance. A good number were drunk and, in some areas, the air reeked of marijuana. After Cristina’s speech, the crowd dispersed rapidly. Almost all spectators moved quickly back to the buses that had brought them, leaving behind a heap of trash, discarded banners and plastic bottles. Some people came just to collect the trash for recycling. “I get 90 centavos or one peso per kilo for the bottles,” said one woman. Few showed genuine enthusiasm for Cristina or the election.

Of course, none of this would surprise an experienced observer of local politics. And none of this necessarily indicates what kind of president Cristina will be. Some politicians are more popular than others and some elections are more engaging than others. This election was noticeably devoid of energy and enthusiasm. It was always a forgone conclusion that Cristina would win. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that Cristina’s last rally lacked the kind of support that an outside observer might expect during the last act of a presidential campaign.

Whatever the case, it would be a mistake to think Cristina is the only politician – or Argentina the only country – to use money and enticements to get extras to play the part of genuine political supporters. This happens around the world, including in “developed” countries and older democracies such as the U.S. Consider what happened last week with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Hillary’s staff got college students to ask prepared questions at a rally. Campaign staffers offered to bus students to the rally and then gave some of them a choice of questions they could ask at the rally. The questions, obviously, had been pre-approved by Hillary’s team, thus improving the odds that Hillary would face no really tough, unexpected questions.

It would be unreasonable to say Hillary lacks popular support and is incapable of attracting sizable crowds of genuine supporters. She is a popular candidate who has a genuine following among millions of Democrats and others who are disenchanted with President Bush and the status-quo in Washington. But it would also be unreasonable to believe that Hillary and other U.S. politicians are above the kind of political pandering and staged campaign events that characterized Cristina’s last political rally. Both women’s campaigns have employed less-than-respectable tactics to make them look good.

Last week, Hillary’s campaign got caught staging a question-and-answer session at Grinnell College in Iowa. Watch the video here to see how the leading Democratic candidate in the world’s most powerful democracy stuck her finger in the eye of democratic dialog. Thought this kind of thing happened only in developing democracies like Argentina? Think again.

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Political Stagecraft Here, There & Everywhere

November 13th, 2007 | 03:44 PM

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Cristina Yesterday, Hillary Today

Campaign rallies often are not what they appear to be on TV. This is true not just in Argentina but in many countries. In many cases, in Argentina, candidates pay for “supporters” to be bused into rallies from far away places. These political “extras” often have no real interest in either the candidate or the election. They attend rallies in exchange for money and/or food. This has long been one of the worst kept secrets of Argentine politics.

Cristina Kirchner’s last campaign event before the election was a perfect example of this. The event took place in La Matanza, about 30 minutes from Capital Federal. It was a cold, rainy night, which probably discouraged some true supporters from showing up. Moreover, La Matanza isn’t exactly Palermo or Recoleta. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to be left alone on a dark night. But that didn’t prevent political operatives from busing in hundreds (perhaps thousands) of paid extras to make the event look like a popular gathering of patriotic partisans.

I covered the event as a journalist. I mixed in with the crowd and spoke to people who had come to see Cristina. Most of the people there paid little or no attention to Cristina or her speech. Some admitted to being paid for their attendance. A good number were drunk and, in some areas, the air reeked of marijuana. After Cristina’s speech, the crowd dispersed rapidly. Almost all spectators moved quickly back to the buses that had brought them, leaving behind a heap of trash, discarded banners and plastic bottles. Some people came just to collect the trash for recycling. “I get 90 centavos or one peso per kilo for the bottles,” said one woman. Few showed genuine enthusiasm for Cristina or the election.

Of course, none of this would surprise an experienced observer of local politics. And none of this necessarily indicates what kind of president Cristina will be. Some politicians are more popular than others and some elections are more engaging than others. This election was noticeably devoid of energy and enthusiasm. It was always a forgone conclusion that Cristina would win. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that Cristina’s last rally lacked the kind of support that an outside observer might expect during the last act of a presidential campaign.

Whatever the case, it would be a mistake to think Cristina is the only politician – or Argentina the only country – to use money and enticements to get extras to play the part of genuine political supporters. This happens around the world, including in “developed” countries and older democracies such as the U.S. Consider what happened last week with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Hillary’s staff got college students to ask prepared questions at a rally. Campaign staffers offered to bus students to the rally and then gave some of them a choice of questions they could ask at the rally. The questions, obviously, had been pre-approved by Hillary’s team, thus improving the odds that Hillary would face no really tough, unexpected questions.

It would be unreasonable to say Hillary lacks popular support and is incapable of attracting sizable crowds of genuine supporters. She is a popular candidate who has a genuine following among millions of Democrats and others who are disenchanted with President Bush and the status-quo in Washington. But it would also be unreasonable to believe that Hillary and other U.S. politicians are above the kind of political pandering and staged campaign events that characterized Cristina’s last political rally. Both women’s campaigns have employed less-than-respectable tactics to make them look good.

Last week, Hillary’s campaign got caught staging a question-and-answer session at Grinnell College in Iowa. Watch the video here to see how the leading Democratic candidate in the world’s most powerful democracy stuck her finger in the eye of democratic dialog. Thought this kind of thing happened only in developing democracies like Argentina? Think again.

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Lunfardo: Argentine Slang for Foreigners

November 6th, 2007 | 04:48 PM

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One of the great things about Argentina is the passionate and expressive nature of Argentines themselves. Argentines are energetic, informed, social, generous, warm and highly vocal. They have strong opinions, and they like to share them. But to communicate and effectively engage Argentines, you’ve got to be fluent in “lunfardo,” the local slang.

To help visitors and expats with this, I’ve started posting a series of newly-created educational videos on Scooping Argentina. I’ve posted just two for now, but I plan to upload another eight or 10 over the next couple of weeks. I also plan to make these and other videos available on iTunes, in both standard definition and HD formats.

If you find the videos helpful, let me know. Likewise, if you have any ideas about how I can improve them, I’m all ears. Finally, if you have ideas for other videos you’d like to see, please share them with me.

¡Gracias!

Scooping Argentina

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The Year of Living (more) Expensively

November 4th, 2007 | 07:45 PM

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“If it's in focus, it's pornography. If it's out of focus, it's art.” — The Year of Living Dangerously

A LIST OF PRICE INCREASES TO COME:

Buses: 12.5%
Electricity: 20%
Gasoline: 25%
Health Insurance: 25%
Heating gas: 20%
Insurance: 35%
Property taxes (ABL): 19% to 238%
Taxis: 20% (Went up last week)


It was to be expected.

Politicians, particularly those running for office, bend over backwards to avoid saying things that cost them votes. This is one reason Cristina Kirchner avoided the press until the eve of the presidential election last week. Even then, she assiduously avoided saying exactly how she would deal with problems like inflation.

Even now, after the election, Cristina is unlikely to say publicly that she supports raising prices on specific items by specific amounts. But people close to her say this is exactly what she plans to do. She will lift a five-year-old freeze on utility rates and the cost of public transportation. The price increases will not be announced ahead of time. There will be no welcome party for them, no red carpet arrival. They will simply arrive, like freeloading distant relatives.

Two key concepts underpin the plan to increase prices: Gradualism and Fairness. The hikes will come gradually, meaning that instead of certain prices rising 100% overnight they will rise 100% over a period of one or two years. The increases will also be “fair” to those who can least afford them. These two terms were repeated over and over again in interviews I had with private and public sector officials before the election. Cristina has also carefully used these terms in comments to the press and in public speeches.

A third economic concept also underlies the plan to raise prices: The need to attract investment. In some ways, Argentina's economy has reached a bottleneck. Many factories are producing at full capacity and couldn't increase production even if they wanted. Rapid economic growth since 2002 has outpaced investment in infrastructure and energy, meaning that demand for things like gas and electricity often outweighs supply.

This is why the government earlier this year forced many businesses to cut power consumption during certain hours. It is why major hotels throughout Buenos Aires had to dim their lights twice a day in the winter. It is also why Cristina is hoping that this summer won't be too hot. Hot weather means more air conditioning which, in turn, means more power usage. If it gets too hot, the government may further restrict energy use. That could mean rolling blackouts, not just for industry but also for residential users. In my neighborhood, in Nuñez, there have been three blackouts – each lasting about an hour – in the past five months.

To prevent this bottleneck from further stifling economic growth, Argentina needs investment in energy and infrastructure. But this will come only if investors believe they can make a profit. Because of this, Cristina has assured them that she will gradually lift rates on public utilities, giving investors more incentive to invest. If investors come, they will likely do so gradually as they test the market tepidly, just as prices will likely rise gradually.

But “gradual” may mean different things to different people. A 238% increase in property taxes on the owner of a Puerto Madero penthouse may pass unnoticed. But a 19% increase on the struggling owner of a one-room apartment in La Boca may mean the difference between barely getting by and not getting by at all. Meanwhile, a 20% increase in residential electric bills may seem like a lot to consumers but may not be enough to spur investment in the sector.

Despite Cristina's effort during the campaign to keep policy proposals out of focus, the real nature of inflation and her approach to tackling it will come into focus in the months ahead. During the campaign, the vague nature of Cristina's message was made clear by her slogan: “We know what is lacking. We know how to get it done.” She never said exactly what was lacking or just what it was that she would get done.

Prevarication, equivocation and ambiguity have become essential tools of the modern political artist. Virtually no politician's portrait is painted without them. Every word in every message is carefully calculated either to appeal to the greatest number of people or to offend the least. Often, after taking office, politicians continue to use the same kind of evasive rhetoric that got them elected in the first place. This likely will be the case with Cristina. After all, psychologists say the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. There is no reason to think things will be any different once Cristina becomes president.

One thing will be different, though. Cristina's formerly out-of-focus ideas will now take shape in the form of specific government policies – policies that pinch people's pocketbooks. As this happens, her artfully ambiguous economic plan will come into focus, losing its luster. It will begin to appear less like art and more like something else, something much less appealing.

The cost of a “Roll Carne Asada” sandwich at Aroma on
Monday, October 29: 11 pesos
Tuesday, October 30: 15 pesos
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