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Tears Flow as River Plate Loses, Drops to B League

June 26th, 2011 | 08:33 PM

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Countless thousands of Argentines stood in total disbelief Sunday as one of the country’s greatest soccer clubs lost a key game and dropped out of the nation’s top soccer league.

Club Atlético River Plate did what almost nobody expected. It played so poorly this season it lost its spot in the league and will be forced to play  next season in the “Nacional B” minor league.

To put River’s misery into context, this has never happened in the club’s 110-year history.

River’s loss was a catastrophic blow to the hearts of passionate River fans.

Página 12 journalist and River loyalist Fernando Krakowiak described it this way via Twitter:

“I feel as if a loved one died and I don’t need anyone coming to tell me how I should be feeling about it.”

Before the game, Krakowiak had said he was an atheist but that he was praying for River.

“This represents a before and after in the history of Argentine soccer,” said Alejandro Fantino, a television sports analyst who hosts the popular Show del Fútbol.

By Sunday night pundits and talking heads were already debating the political ramifications of the game and violence that ensued afterwards. One policeman was reportedly killed in incidents following the game.

Fans trashed the Monumental stadium while in some cases hapless police stood-by.

Should fans have been allowed into the stadium to watch the game? Should the government have sent in more police? How could River have sunk so lo so fast? Does the club have millions of dollars or millions in debt? Where is its money? Should the club’s president quit or be fired?

The government, which owns the broadcast rights to major-league soccer games through its Futbol para Todos program, doesn’t have the right to broadcast Nacional B games. Could this benefit Grupo Clarin and its sports channel TyC Sports, which can broadcast the games? Will the government tolerate this?

Maybe it was all a conspiracy from the beginning to help Clarin, one of the government’s top enemies?

These are just some of the questions people are asking about River’s historic loss. The debate has only just begun.

*Photo from Télam

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New Argentine Lunfardo Video: Hinchapelotas

June 26th, 2011 | 06:35 PM

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While cleaning up an old hard drive today, I found some old slang video footage.

So I took a few minutes and edited it into another “Scooping Argentina” lunfardo lesson.

“Hinchapelotas” is a rather crass, negative expression. But it’s also one that’s used fairly frequently on the streets of Buenos Aires.

So it’s worth knowing, even if you don’t use it yourself. It’s not something you’d want to say in a formal setting or with people you don’t know well.

A rough translation would be something like “pain-in-the-ass.” More literally, it would be akin to “ball-breaker.”

If you’re lucky, you’ll never hear anyone apply the expression to you!

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Cristina Chooses Economy Minister Boudou as VP

June 26th, 2011 | 06:15 PM

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President Cristina Kirchner gave Economy Minister Amado Boudou the surprise of his life on Saturday, choosing him to be her vice presidential candidate in October’s election.

The 47-year-old Boudou appeared exceptionally pleased with the announcement, which took almost all 1,000 people in attendance by surprise.

Boudou’s nice-guy face filled with emotion as he heard Kirchner say he would be the No. 2 person on her ticket.

Boudou is arguably the most affable official in the Kirchner administration. A self-described rocker, he enjoys playing the guitar and singing. He likes to party and is a fan of Argentina’s nightlife.

On one occasion, while making an important announcement about Argentina’s sovereign debt problem, he invited a local rock star to accompany him in the press room.

Boudou is perhaps most famous, or infamous if you’re a critic, for denying that Argentina has an inflation problem. At one point he said not only that inflation didn’t exist in Argentina but that it could not exist given the country’s macroeconomic conditions.

The minister in fact knows this not to be the case, which has led critics to say he’s a Kirchner “soldier” whose loyalty is uncompromising.

Though dismissed by some as an intellectual lightweight with little technical knowledge of economic theory, Boudou’s influence on Argentina has been substantial.

It was Boudou who first proposed to Kirchner that she should nationalize Argentina’s 14-year-old private pension fund system.

It was a radical idea, but one that Cristina and former president Nestor Kirchner grew to appreciate enormously.

In naming Boudou as her VP on Saturday, Cristina praised him for bringing the idea to her. The decision to nationalize the pension fund system was the most important she has made as president, she said.

Argentina’s election is October 23. You can watch Cristina’s speech here.

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One Argentine’s Genius Civic Poop Gesture

June 24th, 2011 | 06:36 AM

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The battle against Argentina’s poop-filled streets is ugly and ongoing.

It’s also a metaphor for the society’s inability to clean up other kinds of criminal and political trash.

But I was absolutely delighted – even inspired – the other night when I came across this genius gesture of civic responsibility.

Tired of constantly cleaning up the poop on his front lawn, my neighbor came up with a brilliant solution. He decided to help his thoughtless neighbors help themselves – to a bag, that is.

The idea is simple: offer people free bags to clean up after their dogs. Thoughtless people need a hand once in a while.

People who let their dogs crap on your lawn aren’t always beasts or malevolent souls. Sometimes they’re just lazy and inconsiderate.

It’s precisely these people that my neighbor had in mind when he decided to offer free plastic bags to those who might otherwise not clean up after their dogs.

Has my neighbor’s thoughtful gesture worked? I don’t know. I haven’t been able to ask him about it yet. (I’ll update this post once I’ve heard from him.)

Argentina has many exceptionally wonderful attributes. And, like all places, it also has some downsides. For me, one of the very worst of these is cynicism.

Cynicism corrodes the culture and prevents people from standing up to corruption, injustice, abuse of power and even smaller civic transgressions.

When people become accustomed to injustice, they too often lose all hope that they can combat it.

When confronted with the evils of life, too often people begin to feign offense but then quickly retreat and do nothing, saying, “Son todos corruptos. Es un país de mierda. Somos así.”

This kind of fatalistic thinking is pervasive. It’s also depressing, counterproductive and entirely unnecessary.

But with this tiny gesture, my neighbor has fought back. He’s creatively acted to make his little part of the world a better place. In effect, he’s said to the world, “Hey, things don’t have to be this way. We can do better.”

It’s a minor move, a simple, hopeful act. But it’s also a powerful one.

And who knows, maybe at the end of the day it will actually make a difference.

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Economists Question Argentina’s Economic Growth

June 22nd, 2011 | 09:11 PM

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Pretty much everyone knows by now that Argentina’s inflation statistics are controversial.

Virtually all private-sector economists, and even some within the Economy Ministry itself, say the statistics agency, Indec, is fudging the data to make inflation appear lower than it is in reality.

Indec and other government officials dispute such charges and say Indec’s data “have never been better.”

Whatever the case, fewer people are aware that economists also question other statistical data such as economic growth.

Though economists unanimously say the economy is expanding robustly, they don’t necessarily agree about the pace of growth. I looked at this issue in a bit more depth in an article Wednesday for my newswire. Here are a few paragraphs from it:

Gross domestic product grew a blistering 9.9% on the year in the first quarter, according to the statistics agency, Indec. That was much higher than the 8.6% gleaned from Indec’s monthly economic activity reports that capture most components of GDP.

“When you get a discrepancy that big it starts to raise questions,” said an economist at a prominent local research firm. The economist spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of government reprisals. Earlier this year, the government fined at least nine consulting firms about $125,000 each for publishing economic data that differed considerably from Indec’s numbers.

A broadly-respected estimate by Orlando J Ferreres & Asociados, or OJF, put first quarter growth at 7.2%.

Some economist say Indec exaggerates GDP by about one percentage point. Others say it’s closer to three points.”The overestimate is between two to three points on average,” said Gabriel Camano Gomez, an economist at Joaquin Ledesma y Asociados.

To read the article, click here. If that link doesn’t work, try this one. For more on the controversy over inflation, click here.

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Cristina Fernández 2011: She will, she won’t, she will!

June 21st, 2011 | 09:08 PM

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President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said Tuesday she’ll seek reelection in October’s presidential election.

The announcement makes it likely that by the next presidential election in 2015, Argentina will have been governed nonstop for twelve years by one or another Kirchner.

Cristina’s husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, took office in May 2003. Many had initially expected him, not Fernández, to run in 2011. That would have allowed the dynamic duo to remain in power perpetually by rotating through the presidency.

But an unexpected heart attack killed those plans, and Kirchner himself, last October.

I met him only once. But by most accounts, Kirchner was the ideas-man behind both his first term and Cristina’s. It’s unclear how her second term might differ from her first if she’s elected.

Whatever the case, some things are likely to change given a series of economic challenges that didn’t exist when Cristina took power in December 2007. She faces a major test in handling inflation that virtually all economists say surpasses 20% annually. She also faces a currency whose value in real terms is appreciating at the rate of around 15% annually, making Argentine companies and their products less competitive abroad.

How will she deal with such issues? True to her style, she hasn’t said.

Alberto Fernández, who is unrelated to the president and was her first cabinet chief, said Tuesday he expects the next four years to be “difficult.”

Time will tell. Critics have been discounting the Kirchners from day one.

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Argentina’s New Wine Promotion Video

June 14th, 2011 | 08:01 AM

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You can follow Wines of Argentina on Twitter here: @winesofarg and at their website here.

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Argentina’s Path to Parliamentary Democracy

June 12th, 2011 | 07:24 PM

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Just about every political junkie in Argentina is wondering if President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will seek reelection in October. Not only has the president not revealed her plans but she’s said she’s “not dying” to be president again.

That’s fueled speculation she will drop a political bomb later this month by announcing she won’t seek another four-year term.

But most analysts assume she’ll confirm her candidacy within two weeks, as required by law. To them, it’s inconceivable that a politician so likely to win reelection would turn down the chance to remain in power. For these people, the more interesting question is who she’ll pick to accompany her as vice president.

The truth is few people know with certainty what the president’s intentions are. Even people relatively close to the president say they’re unsure if she’ll run. In some ways, arm-chair psychologists may have a better chance of predicting the president’s plans than experienced political analysts.

After all, how is a political analyst to interpret the president when she says, tears streaming down her face, that she’s already given all she has to the country. Is it raw emotion, calculated political acting, some combination of the two, or something entirely different? This seems to be less the stuff of politics than of psychology.

But assuming she does run, one of the most interesting questions relates to how Argentina might change under a second Fernandez term. For some, the biggest change would entail a complete overhaul of Argentina’s constitutional system. (more…)

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Argentina Approves Nationwide Smoking Ban

June 1st, 2011 | 11:16 PM

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Argentina’s Congress on Wednesday moved the country to the forefront of the global fight against cancer by passing a nationwide ban on smoking in indoor public places.

In a rare display of national unity, members of the Lower House of Congress voted almost unanimously to approve the ban, which received the support of virtually all political parties.

Health officials estimate that cigarette-related cancer kills around 40,000 Argentines annually.

Pro party Deputy Paula Bertol, one of the law’s most vocal proponents, said the law’s goal is to reduce smoking and prevent people from taking up the hideous habit in the first place.

The law bans smoking in indoor work spaces, schools, hospitals, museums, clubs and public transportation systems. It also places strict limits on the sale, advertising and promotion of cigarettes in these and other places while forcing tobacco companies to put warning labels on cigarette packages.

The law does allow people to continue smoking on their own private balconies and patios, etc.

“Today is a day to celebrate,” Bertol said in a statement. “After more than 20 years of working on this matter, Congress has finally passed the law that will save lives. Tobaco kills and our objective is to protect those who freely choose not to smoke.”

Bertol said that more than half of the people who smoke will end up dying from a disease related to their consumption of cigarettes. On average, she said, smokers live at least 10 years less than non-smokers.

Argentina has come a long way in recent years. The City of Buenos Aires first banned smoking in 2006. That’s a far cry from the mid 1990s when some Argentines still smoked openly in movie theaters.

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