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Argentine TVs Most Expensive in Latin America

July 30th, 2010 | 10:18 PM


It costs more to buy a TV in Argentina than anywhere else in Latin America.

According to a recent survey by IFR Monitoring, it costs 101% more in U.S. dollars to buy a 32″ HDTV here than in Chile and 113% more than in Colombia.

Now that’s something to be proud of….not.

IFR  did a comparative analysis of prices for a standard 32″ HDTV in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Uruguay.

The results show Argentina to be the most expensive place to buy a TV while Colombia is the least expensive. On a recent trip to Colombia I was struck by how much less expensive tech items are there. In many cases, prices were similar to those in the U.S., the mecca of consumer electronics.

But if the U.S. is the global heaven of consumer electronics, in terms of selection and pricing, Argentina appears to be Latin America’s consumer electronics inferno.

It’s ironic, to say the least, that in the U.S., the world’s richest country (according to some metrics), brand name tech products cost less than in almost any country in the world while in Argentina, where the minimum wage is about $380 a month (for a 48-hour work week), such products are among the most expensive.

The average price of a 32″ TV in the countries surveyed is $711. It’s $1,012 in Argentina and under half that – $476 – in Colombia.

In an unrelated survey published this week, IFR said it was “plausible” to assert, as has, that the sale of eBooks will surpass standard book sales by the end of 2011.

Of course, both Amazon and IFR were referring to U.S. eBook sales. Given price problems in particular, and broader macroeconomic challenges (including poverty) in general, this is unlikely to happen in Argentina for many years.


Aníbal Fernández, Cristina’s ‘Irritating’ Cabinet Chief

July 23rd, 2010 | 10:23 PM

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Aníbal Fernández is nothing if not controversial.

The mustachioed presidential cabinet chief is President Cristina Fernandez’s chief attack dog, chief PR agent, chief public defender and chief political prosecutor.

More than anyone else, he represents and defends the president’s policies in public and to the media. He is the public face of a president who distrusts the media and virtually never gives interviews.

Fernández, who is not related to the president, is therefore the guardian the presidential gate. He opens the doors, and closes them, and takes on all comers, big and small, with merciless intensity.

A near exact lookalike of the star of the famous Mario Brothers video game, Fernández is famous – or infamous, depending on your partisan predilection – for his quick wit and wicked fast tongue.

He loves debate and is often very good at it. He’s also funny – Argentine street funny, not Robin Williams or Stephen Colbert funny – and he has the unique ability to come off as a complete jerk yet also as a likable fellow.

He comes off as a jerk because he rarely misses an opportunity to insult those who question the government, its policies or its protagonists. But he can sometimes come off as likable because he slams his opponents with a hint of humor that seems beyond the reach of most political pugilists.

Fernández gave an unusually interesting interview to the TV station Telefe this week. The first clip is posted above, the second below.

In the interview, Fernández said he doesn’t care about being a nice guy. “It’s not that I like irritating people,” he said. “Let’s say that I don’t dislike it.”

Unfortunately, both clips are in Spanish. But if your Spanish is up to par, the interview is worth watching for its sheer entertainment value. But it also allows you to see how seriously – or not – the government takes itself, or at least how it tries to portray itself to the local culture.

The interview is exceptionally laid back. Just look at the clothing worn by the journalist from Telefe. He’s dressed as if he were about to go out for beers with his buddies, not as if he were interviewing the presidential cabinet chief in his office. Moreover, the interview is mainly personal and delves little into public policy.

Instead of talking about the future, say, of social security or how China’s aging population may change its demand for Argentine soybeans over the next decade, the interview addresses subjects such as Fernández’s sex life and the likelihood that he might have sex in his office.

Among other things, Fernández says he:

*Starts his day at 5am

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with a workout, then works until 11pm. In one video clip, taken from an older interview, he said he starts work at 6:45am while his critics, like Congressman Felipe Solá, haven’t “even gotten up to piss by that hour.”

*Has given up his personal life to work in politics, but hasn’t given up on sex.

*Believes in God and Christ but doesn’t believe in priests, bishops or the Pope. The God he believes in would support gay marriage.

*Thinks Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri is “lazy and knows nothing about politics.”

*Thinks 98% of Argentine businessmen lie on their tax returns.

*Thinks that “in Argentina lying is something that is more or less common.”

*Would marry Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno before ever sitting down to negotiate with the director and owner of the newspaper Clarín.


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Gay Marriage Now Legal But Plurality Still Opposed

July 21st, 2010 | 08:25 PM


Argentine President Cristina Fernández Wednesday signed into law the gay marriage bill, making Argentina the first country in Latin America to allow for same-sex marriage.

But even as advocates rejoiced over the measure, a plurality of Argentines believes Congress made a mistake by passing it.

Around 44.6% of Argentines polled said they disagree with what Congress did while 41.8% said they favor the law.

It’s important to note that the survey, carried out by the polling firm Management & Fit from July 15 through July 16, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7%. That is greater than the difference in the poll results, which should make people cautious when drawing conclusions.

Some 13.6% of 1,220 polled said they don’t know what to think about it.

About 57% of people surveyed said the government should have held a national public referendum on the issue before passing the law.

One hundred percent of people polled said the law is “really gay.”*

*For non-native English-speaking readers, this part is just a joke.


California Burrito Company Opens Unicenter Store

July 20th, 2010 | 07:34 PM


The California Burrito Company opened a new store Tuesday at the Unicenter shopping mall.

This is the seventh store for the makers of those delicious burritos and the American guys who started the company.

The CBC plans to open store No. 8 in Panama this week and No. 9 in Santiago, Chile next month.

For a look at how the company and a few other expat ventures got started, check out this feature I did for the AP in 2006.


Photo Post: What People Will do to Preserve a Peso

July 18th, 2010 | 08:39 PM


I’ve always been fascinated by the lengths that people will go to

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in order to preserve an old, wrinkled bill.

But when a taxi driver recently handed this piece of work to me, it took the cake.

It may be ugly, but at least it’s real. According to TV reports (which I haven’t confirmed) up to 5% of the bills in circulation in Argentina are counterfeit.


Brrrrr! Buenos Aires Sees Coldest Day Since 1991

July 16th, 2010 | 08:28 PM


“You want a prediction about the weather, you’re asking the wrong Phil. I’ll give you a winter prediction: It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.” — Phil, from the movie Groundhog Day.

If it’s been feeling pretty cold lately, that’s because it is cold!

Indeed, it was colder in Buenos Aires Friday than it has been since August 1, 1991, according to the national weather service, or SMM.

Friday morning the temperature dropped to  -1 degree Celsius, or 30.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Yeap, that means it was actually freezing in Buenos Aires. It doesn’t happen that often.

“It hasn’t been this cold since 1991,” Maria de los Milagros, a spokeswoman for the national weather service, told The Argentine Post late Friday.

“The record back then was -2 degrees,” she said. “At this time of the year we normally get a polar storm front. What varies each year is the length and temperature. This year it’s been going on for pretty long. The temps we’re getting now are not setting records, but it sure is cold.”

De los Milagros expects the cold front to last at least until Sunday in the City of Buenos Aires. In northern parts of the country it may last through Monday.

This week it has even been snowing in parts of Buenos Aires Province and elsewhere in the country.

“In August the weather starts to become more variable with some cold days and some days that are pretty warm,” she said.

On a personal note, it seems to me that the most annoying thing about winter in Buenos Aires is the city’s overabundance of restaurants whose bathrooms have no hot water. Why is this? Is it really that expensive to add a hot water faucet? I went to wash my hands Thursday at the deservedly popular restaurant Oui Oui. The bathroom had only one faucet, and it spewed forth nothing but extremely cold water. For the love of God, is this really necessary? Freezing cold water feels awful on a freezing cold day, and it doesn’t even kill germs. But I digress….


Argentina Approves Historic Gay Marriage Law

July 15th, 2010 | 08:44 AM

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After around 14 hours of heating debate, Argentina’s Senate early Thursday passed legislation that is unprecedented throughout all of Latin America:

It gives gays and lesbians the same marriage rights traditionally given to straight couples.

The final vote for the bill, which was already passed by the Lower House and will now become law, was 33 to 27, with three abstentions. You can read the story we did for The Wall Street Journal by clicking here. (Subscription may be required.)

The law gives gay married couples adoption rights equivalent to those held by straight couples. This had been the main point of contention for opponents, many of whom had protested outside Congress earlier this week.

The bill is bound to enhance Argentina’s already-glowing reputation as a country open to gay tourism.


BA Judge Says Police Tasers Violate Human Rights

July 14th, 2010 | 03:36 AM

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A Buenos Aires City judge ruled Tuesday that the city’s new police department cannot use tasers because doing so would violate a United Nations treaty on torture.

City officials vowed to appeal the ruling, which they believe defies common sense and is at least partly an effort to discredit Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri’s bid to build the city’s own police force.

Judge Andrea Danas issued the ruling after the Human Rights Observatory filed a suit against the use of tasers, claiming that they violate a person’s basic human rights by causing physical harm.

City officials have dismissed such claims, saying the “very point of using tasers is to protect innocent people while causing the least amount of harm to perpetrators.”

The city’s new police force acquired a handful of tasers to test them out on a trial basis in hopes of eventually using them to deter criminal activity without resorting to more violent means.

Tasers are used by law enforcement officials in many countries to subdue suspects. See this Wikipedia article for more background and details.


Expert says Argentine Coffee Needs to Up Its Game

July 11th, 2010 | 07:24 PM


By Drew Benson

You’re sitting there in a Café Notable, a 100-plus year old building with high ceilings, big windows, elaborate woodwork and a black-and-white checkerboard floor.

One of the white-haired waiters in a white tunic and bowtie spins by your table and lays down a cup of coffee, a small glass of seltzer, a small glass of orange juice and a small plate with some sort of cookies on it.

You only ordered a café cortado, but you get the works, and that’s what makes living in Buenos Aires so unique.

Then you try the coffee and it’s among the worst you’ve ever tasted, despite the $5,000 espresso machine that it came out of.

That’s because Argentines don’t have a coffee culture, but are instead merely accustomed to drinking joe, Argentine coffee expert, or “barista,” Analía Alvarez said this weekend in an interview with Clarín.

“What happens with coffee is what happened with wine years ago – we only knew the house wine, served in a Penguin carafe,” Alvarez told Clarín. The culprit, she says, is the cheaper robusta beans used to make most Argentine coffee. Better coffees come from arabica beans.

When asked if there are good places for coffee in Buenos Aires, Alvarez, an international coffee judge certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, said yes – “there are a few – four or five.”

Alvarez declined to identify her favorite coffee spots, but The Argentine Post has a recommendation –  Establecimiento General de Café, a local chain that has grown to five locations in Recoleta and Downtown.

Argentine Post-fixture Starbucks also has excellent quality coffee, but it serves up its java in paper cups, which is sort of like drinking fine wine out of wáter cooler cups – or maybe out of white ceramic penguin pitchers.


Luís D’Elía: “Kirchner Is a Son of a Bitch”

July 6th, 2010 | 07:01 PM


The former school teacher, turned government official-turned street thug, Luis D’Elía, acknowledged in a radio interview Tuesday that he had called former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner a “son of a bitch.”

“Yes, I did say that,” said D’Elía, the soft-spoken street protester who sometimes represents the government on overseas diplomatic missions.

D’Elía, who has gained notoriety, among other things, for breaking into police stations, punching peaceful protesters whose views differ from his own, and saying he hates white people, said that while Kirchner may be a son of a bitch, he’s Argentina’s own son of a bitch.

In fairness to D’Elía, he appears to have used the

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expression as a term of endearment, tantamount, roughly, to saying that Kirchner is “a tough guy, a man of convictions” who stands up for what he believes is right and is willing to do battle with whomever or whatever stands in his way.

Kirchner, in this view, is wiling to fight hard to do what is right, even if this means being a “son of a bitch” to those special interests who seek to spoil the common good.

Question: At what point does “being a son of a bitch” become a good thing?

If you stand up for what is right, does that really make you a son of a bitch?

*Photo: Luis D’Elía, in the middle, attacking peaceful protesters at the Plaza de Mayo in 2008. Moments before this, he had been a special guest at the Casa Rosada.


Argentina’s World Cup Loss and the Kirchners’ Future

July 4th, 2010 | 08:28 AM


A good deal will be written in the coming days about Argentina’s crushing World Cup defeat and its political significance for Argentine President Cristina Fernández and her husband, former president Néstor Kirchner.

Both are considered serious contenders for the next presidential election in late 2011.

Before Saturday’s shock defeat in South Africa, local media had published a veritable avalanche of articles about the World Cup and its influence on politics.

Foreign media outlets stepped in as well, with fun yet substantive articles like this one by friends at Bloomberg.

But just as the World Cup itself has been, Argentina’s political future is unpredictable.

Still, one things seems to be clear: the Kirchners are in trouble.

Despite years of exceptionally impressive economic growth and political stability, the First Couple remains highly unpopular.

Years of fierce political confrontation and aggressive, hostile rhetoric have left huge portions of the electorate with a bitter taste in their mouth. (more…)

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