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Steve McCurry Photography Exhibit Opens Thursday

February 24th, 2010 | 05:20 PM


Steve McCurryThe U.S. Embassy and the Centro Cultural Borgeswill open a photography exhibit Thursday highlighting the work of the great American photographer Steve McCurry.

McCurry is well-known, among other things, for taking the deservedly-famous photo of the green-eyed Afghan girl seen above. It was originally published on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985. Check out his blog here to see more of his stunningly good photos.

The exhibit will run February 25 through March 31.

Details follow:

What: Steve McCurry photography exhibit
Where: Centro Cultural Borges, San Martin & Viamonte, Room 21, downtown Buenos Aires
When: M-Saturday 10am-9pm, Sundays 12pm-9pm
Contact: 5555-5359


Where on Earth is former President Carlos Menem?

February 24th, 2010 | 04:58 PM


MenemWhere on earth is Carlos Menem?

Argentina’s political establishment was asking itself that question Wednesday after the ex-president-turned-senator failed to show up for a key Senate meeting.

Opposition Senators had agreed to meet Wednesday to divvy up power on a wide range of Senate committees, leaving the ruling Frente Para la Victoria party in the minority for the first time since it came to power in 2003.

The opposition needed all 37 of its senators present to rest power from the Kirchners and the FPV party. Having the 37 votes would have given the opposition a slight edge over the FPV, which now has just 36 senators.

But Menem, who was supposed to appear and vote with the opposition, was nowhere to be found. I called Menem’s spokesman to ask about the senator’s whereabouts.

“I haven’t talked with him for two months,” said the spokesman, seeming somewhat embarrassed. “One person who saw him recently told me that he had gone to the airport in La Rioja this morning to travel to the capital for the vote. Another said Menem would only travel if his vote was crucial. Nobody knows anything about him. I spoke with Menem’s brother, too, and even he didn’t know where the senator was. Unfortunately, I don’t have any more information for you. Nobody in Menem’s office has had any contact with him. I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything else.”


Did I really just have that conversation? Very odd. How is this possible? How could Menem’s office and spokesman not have a clue about his whereabouts?

Local media have reported that the government has been trying to woo the former president into ditching the opposition, even if just momentarily, so that the FPV can conserve its power in the Senate.

Whatever the case, Argentina’s controversial ex president was nowhere to be found Wednesday, one more indication that the once omnipresent, virtually omnipotent politician has fallen far from the pinnacle of power he occupied less a decade ago.


Trust, Friendship & Development In Argentina

February 21st, 2010 | 05:26 PM


TrustArgentina, like Winston Churchill once said of Russia, is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

The country is hard to understand, harder to explain and impossible to predict. Its bursts of economic growth and progress are consistently interrupted by fits of frustration every decade or so.

Over the past 50 years Argentina has seen 17 years of recession and another 17 of hyperinflation, according to a recent Deutsche Bank report.

In 1913 Argentina was the world’s 10th richest nation. In the U.S. in the 1930s people used to describe an exceptionally wealthy person as “rich like an Argentine.” But since then Argentina has stumbled in and out of trouble, failing to capitalize on its vast natural resources and educated population.

Between 1950 and 2003, Argentina’s per capita gross domestic product actually shrank 19% to US $3,760 from US $4,656. In the same period, Chile’s per capita GDP rose 173%, Mexico’s jumped 201% and Brazil’s soared 269%. Though these three nations’ growth started from a much lower base, they all made consistent progress while Argentina declined. Clearly, something went wrong.

What? (more…)


The Appearance of Impropriety in Argentina

February 17th, 2010 | 08:56 PM


Buying freedomThe appearance of impropriety in public life can be as damaging to a person’s reputation – and to a public’s trust – as impropriety itself.

That’s why newly-elected public officials in many countries are required by law – or tradition – to cede control of their investments to a blind trust, which oversees the investments during the officials’ time in office. This is what Canadian and U.S. leaders do when taking office.

Earlier this month Sebastian Pinera, Chile’s new president-elect, moved to sell a stake he owns in the Chilean airline LAN. The stake has been estimated to be worth $1.5 billion. Pinera had pledged during his campaign to sell it before taking office next month.

The pledge aimed to allay concern about a possible conflict of interest if Pinera were elected and had to make a decision affecting LAN or his investment in it.

Pinera’s move aims not only to avoid a conflict of interest, but also to avoid the mere appearance of one. Critics have charged that Pinera hasn’t moved fast enough, or ceded control of enough of his assets, to avoid all potential conflicts of interest.

But his move regarding LAN indicates that both he and the Chilean people recognize the value of avoiding conflicts of interest, even the mere appearance of them. (more…)


U.S. Fed Official: Argentine Inflation Will Worsen

February 16th, 2010 | 08:08 PM


InflationInflation in Argentina will almost certainly get worse this year, a prominent U.S. economic official said Tuesday.

In a speech about the “stunning” fiscal problems facing the U.S. government, Thomas M. Hoenig, president of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said Argentina’s inflation problems are about to get worse.

Hoenig cited Argentina as a warning to the U.S., whose own fiscal problems are so serious that it could face “hyperinflation” in the years ahead if it doesn’t get its finances in order. Hoenig said the U.S. government needs to reign in its fiscal problems voluntarily so that harsh measures aren’t imposed on the country by an even worse economic reality a few years from now.

“An example of both the political pressure that can be exerted on the central bank, as well as the inflationary consequences of debt monetization, is currently playing out in Argentina. The president of Argentina recently forced out the Governor of the Central Bank because he would not transfer reserves held at the central bank to repay Argentinean debt. Inflation in Argentina is currently running near 8 percent and will almost certainly increase.”

In reality, Argentine inflation is running much higher than 8%, according to virtually all economists here and abroad who study the problem. The 8% figure is the official inflation rate reported by the government statistics institute, Indec. (more…)


Argentine President Calls Americans ‘Americanos’

February 15th, 2010 | 10:19 PM


CFKTo the potential dismay of countless Latin Americans, regional etymologists and local language lovers, Argentine President Cristina Fernández referred Monday to U.S. citizens as “americanos” and not “estadounidenses,” or, more commonly, but less accurately, “norteamericanos.”

“When few or no Argentine tourists came here, this place filled up and continues to fill up with Spaniards, French, Germans, Americans, Englishmen who came to to visit…,” Fernández said in a speech at the Calafate glacier in Santa Cruz Province.

Here’s the text in Spanish:

“Cuando poquísimos o casi ningún turista argentino venía acá, esto se llenaba y se sigue llenando de españoles, franceses, alemanes, americanos, ingleses que vienen a conocer … aquí vienen de todo el mundo.”

As many native English speakers know from personal experience, some Argentines – and, of course, some Latin Americans – take offense at such use of the term “americano,” believing (correctly) that when formally used in Spanish it refers to all residents of the Americas, not just citizens of the United States.

Like it or not, however, many – perhaps most – Latin Americans, particularly those living closer to the U.S. in countries like Costa Rica, Colombia or Mexico, commonly refer to U.S. citizens as “americanos.” The vast bulk of Argentines I know use the term this way. I know very few Argentines who regularly use the term to refer to all residents of Latin America.

Regardless, usage of the term has generated fierce debate on the streets and in the online world, including on the pages of this blog.

I first learned about the distinction while sitting in the Plaza de Mayo in the summer of 1995. A young man approached me and asked where I was from. “I’m American,” I said, thinking very little of my use of the term. “You’re not the only American here,” the man responded, angrily. “You Americans think you rule the world. We’re all Americans. But you wouldn’t know that, would you, because you think you’re the center of the world.” (more…)


Starbucks Wins Over Argentines, Opens 15th Store

February 15th, 2010 | 07:58 PM


starbucksThe Seattle-based bean grinder to the masses has opened a new store in downtown Buenos Aires, further reinforcing the notion that it is winning over Argentines and their taste buds.

This is the company’s 15th store in Argentina, and it’s first in an office building.

Starbucks is also about to open two other stores, both located at the UADE university, downtown.

“We’re very displeased that Starbucks is opening yet another sucky chain store in Argentina,” the company’s CEO said in a statement. “The coffee sucks and is expensive but people keep coming. They just can’t help themselves. We take their money and buy dollars in the local currency market. It’s a sweet gig.”

All right, so that’s not really what Starbucks said. Starbucks press releases always follow the same template. Here’s the real one:

“We’re very happy to be starting 2010 with the inauguration our 15th store…,” Starbucks Argentina General Manager Diego Paolini said. “This is just the beginning of a year of great growth and consolidation in the local market. We hope our customers keep choosing us as they have until now.”

Starbucks is having much more success than many of its foreign fast-food predecessors. As noted in a previous post, other companies that have crashed and burned in Argentina include Dunkin’ Donuts, Dominos Pizza, Pizza Hut, Fuddruckers, Subway Sandwiches, Schlotzskys, and Wendy’s.

My favorite store is on Federico Lacroze in Belgrano. The building it’s in is gorgeous.

You can find all of the local Starbucks locations here:



Argentine Tourism Rises a Bit in December

February 15th, 2010 | 07:34 PM



The number of people visiting Argentina rose a bit in December.

This is the second consecutive month tourism has rebounded, after falling for 10 straight months.

The number of visitors rose about 3% to 196,475 in December, compared with 190,318 a year ago.

While here, tourists spent around $316 million, little changed from a year ago, the national statistics agency, INDEC, reported Monday.

The average tourist spent almost $97 day, up 27% from the previous year. That’s good news for local merchants and pretty much everyone involved in the tourism industry.

As usual, Brazilians spent the most per day ($143) while other Latin Americans spent the least ($69). Brazilians stay an average of 17 days while Europeans stay 22, indicating that Brazilians come to shop while Europeans are more frugal.

INDEC’s measurement is based on the number of visitors who arrive to the country via Ezeiza, or EZE, the airport located outside Buenos Aires. About half of the country’s tourists arrive through EZE.


The Cutest Dog in Argentina

February 14th, 2010 | 08:42 PM


Yoda Buki

Yoda Buki & Taos

OK, I’m completely biased and have no pretense of journalistic impartiality for this post.

But isn’t my new little pug one of the cutest dogs you’ve ever seen?

His name is Yoda Buki. He’s about three months old, fits easily in one hand and has the sweetest possible disposition. This second photo makes him look much bigger than he actually is.


La Nacion Publishes Great Interactive Beef Infographic

February 13th, 2010 | 09:37 AM


Interactive Beef Graphic

The daily La Nacion this week published an excellent interactive, Flash-based infographic to accompany an online story about beef prices and inflation.

The graphic allows you to hover over a virtual online cow, seeing how each part of the cow corresponds to different beef cuts. You can see how the prices of those cuts have risen in recent years. It’s a great way to learn the names of different cuts.

The graphic is a good example of how La Nacion is moving to catch up with media like The New York Times and, my paper, The Wall Street Journal, by improving its online offer. Clarín, Argentina’s top-selling newspaper, still trails behind with an awful website, an awful online layout, and virtually no interactive online graphics.

To see the story and La Nacion’s infographic, click here.


The Samsung LED HDTV I Brought to Argentina

February 10th, 2010 | 09:54 PM


Samsung 6000 LED

It’s an incredibly beautiful TV.

It’s HD, ultra slim, big but not obnoxious, and it’s LED, meaning its bright and doesn’t use much electricity. As far as TVs go, it’s about as eco-friendly as you can get.

I’ve wanted it since the moment I first saw it. But when I left Argentina a few months ago to spend time with my family in Colorado, these TVs didn’t even exist in Argentina. Nobody sold them here. And even if they did, I knew it would cost a lot more than it would in Colorado. As is the case with almost all electronic items here, things are way overpriced.

So while in Colorado, I went to Best Buy and bought myself one. It was On Sale for US $989, taxes included – an incredible deal. But how on earth would I get this thing back to Argentina?

Intellectually, I had always known that it was possible to bring such things on the plane as shipped baggage. But I had never tried something so bold – or perhaps so stupid – as to bring down a gigantic HDTV. So, what the heck, I figured. I called American Airlines and asked if I could bring the TV with me to Argentina. “As long as it weighs less than 70lbs and isn’t more than 115 inches (height x width x length),” they said. The box fit!

But it was fragile, very fragile, with practically no protective padding or reinforced styrofoam. So I got another box, grabbed the TV, still inside its original box, and stuffed it into the other box, lining it wall-to-wall with styrofoam. It was still under 50lbs and it totaled just 93 inches. Bingo! I was ready to go.

I got to the check-in counter at American, where they charged me an extra US $150 to ship the box as “an oversized bag.” I feared it would be destroyed during the flight or by the baggage handlers. But it arrived perfectly, without a scratch. The box didn’t even look like it had been shipped at all. Plus, the TV works perfectly here in Argentina with the local digital cable service.

At EZE airport, I got pulled aside by customs officials, who charged me the typical 50% import fee. The policy is simple. They charge 50% of the value of your item after US $300. Since the TV cost US $989, they charged me 50% of US $689, or US $345. I paid the tax with my Visa card. There was no haggling, no request for a bribe. Just a simple, quick transaction. The whole thing took less than five minutes.

All told, then, it cost me US $1,484 to bring the TV down to Buenos Aires. The TV now sells here for 9,999 Argentine pesos, or US $2,603. So even after all the hassle of shipping it, I still saved US $1,119.

That’s a decent chunk of cash, enough to buy another R/T ticket up to the States.


Violent Crime Falls for 1st Time in Five Months

February 4th, 2010 | 08:41 PM


Crime Victimization Chart Web

The number of violent crimes reported in Argentina fell in January for the fist time in five months, according to a new study.

Torcuarto Di Tella University’s latest crime “victimization rate” survey indicates that both overall criminal activity and violent crime fell last month.

Di Tella’s study, which surveys households in 40 urban centers around the country, shows that 32% of these homes said at least one household member was a victim of a crime within the past 12 months.

That figure is down sharply from 37% the previous month but up from 30% a year ago. That puts crime up almost 7% on the year and down 17% on the month.

As happened in previous months, crime victims were more likely to be well educated. Indeed, almost 41% had a college degree or at least some post-high school education. Around 34% had just a high school degree while 25% had only an elementary education.

Crime was worst in the cities of Cordoba, Mendoza, Rosario and Tucuman, where 39% of households reported having a victim. The victimization rate in the City of Buenos Aires last month was 34% while it was 26% in Greater Bueno Aires.

When asked about combatting crime, a plurality of people (33%) said more police need to be on the streets. Around 29% said tougher penalties are needed while 25% said more “social inclusion” would push crime lower. Just 1.6% said the death penalty would lower crime.

Link: Di Tella Victimization Survey (from December)

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