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VIDEO: Buenos Aires in the 1950s

August 16th, 2013 | 06:29 AM

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This video was made by Braniff International Airways in the 1950s. It’s provides a fabulously interesting look at Buenos Aires in its heyday. It’s hard to imagine the city, or the country, getting this kind of positive publicity today.

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Dressing in Black, a Year after the ‘Once’ Train Tragedy

February 23rd, 2013 | 09:02 AM

A year after Argentina commemorated the first anniversary of the tragic train crash that killed 51 people and injured 600 others, President Cristina Kirchner continues to dress in black.

Yet it is noteworthy that on this anniversary the president dressed in black not to mourn the country’s loss but rather to mourn her own.

The president’s husband and predecessor in power, Nestor Kirchner, died in October, 2010, and Mrs. Kirchner has donned dark attire ever since.

The train wreck, which occurred at the Once de Septiembre station in Buenos Aires, became for many a symbol of everything that is wrong with Argentina – corruption, greed, abuse of power, incompetence, injustice. Many people, especially critics of the government, accused the Kirchner administration of spending billions on a public transportation system that is, by all accounts, worse off now than it has been in years.

One of the things that bothered people about the tragedy was the fact that the president avoided all mention of it for five days. As each day passed, her silence seemed even more inexplicable. She completely ignored the event, behaving as if it hadn’t happened. Her silence on the subject was, to use a literary cliché, deafening. (more…)

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Argentine Demand For US Tourist Visas Soars

April 11th, 2012 | 07:36 AM

More and more Argentines are traveling to the U.S.

Demand for U.S. tourist visas has soared by around 50% over the past year, according to the embassy.

“Last year the U.S. received more than 500,000 visitors from Argentina,” the embassy said.

Visa demand is so high that the Buenos Aires embassy now ranks among the top 10 worldwide in terms of tourist visa applications.

On average, the embassy handles more than 1,300 visa application a day. To meet the increased demand, the embassy has opened a new processing center and hired additional personnel.

About a year ago it took approximately four months to get a visa interview. Now “the visa interview can be be obtained in less than a week,” the embassy said in a statement.

To pay for the additional personnel and run the processing center, the embassy said it is raising the B1/B2 tourist visa application fee to US $160 from $140.

“The new amount faithfully reflects the costs our embassy needs to recover under US law through the visa application fee,” the embassy said.

The embassy didn’t say why visa demand is rising, but tourism sector officials say rising purchasing power is one factor making it easier for Argentines to travel. Another is the fact that Argentines can now pay for plane tickets in quotas spread out over months or years.

One interesting trend is the “viaje de quince” — more and more teenage girls are flying with their friends and families to the U.S. to celebrate their 15th birthday.

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Killer Special Effects Video of Buenos Aires

March 11th, 2012 | 08:58 PM

The video was done by Fernando Livschitz at Black Sheep Films.

Kudos to E for passing this along.

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Tax Agency Temporarily Closes Kansas Bar & Grill

February 9th, 2012 | 10:16 PM

Argentina’s tax collection agency, AFIP, closed Kansas Bar & Grill, a hugely popular American-style restaurant, for three days. AFIP said the branch, located in Pilar, broke the law by not offering receipts to customers.

I’ve eaten many times at Kansas in Palermo and San Isidro and have always been offered receipts. AFIP did not close those branches.

The restaurant will be open again on February 11, AFIP said.

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Buenos Aires Subway Ticket Price More Than Doubles

January 6th, 2012 | 07:06 AM

Subway ticket prices more than doubled today to 2.50 pesos (58 US cents) from 1.10 previously.

The increase comes just days after the federal government turned over management of the subway system to the City of Buenos Aires.

The day-to-day administration of the subway is carried out by Metrovias, a private sector company which has had a concession to run the subway since 1994.

Prices had been frozen for years while the cost of just about everything else in Argentina has soared amid rampant inflation that economists say surpasses 20% annually.

The federal government had kept prices artificially low by dolling out millions of dollars in subsidies every year. But now that the subway is in the city’s hands, the federal government will stop paying for those subsidies entirely in 2013.

This year the federal government and the city will split the cost of paying for the subsidies, which total about $167 million annually.

The subway carries around 300 million passengers every year, according to Metrovias. That’s double what it carried when the company started its concession.

Metrovias has some 3,000 employees, unionized workers whose demands for higher salaries and better working conditions will undoubtedly put political pressure on the city government in the years ahead.

My colleagues, Matt Moffett, Ken Parks and I did a feature for the Wall Street Journal on the topic and the broader issues of utility rates and subsidies, which you can read here.

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New Argentine Lunfardo Video: Hinchapelotas

June 26th, 2011 | 06:35 PM

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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Argentina Approves Nationwide Smoking Ban

June 1st, 2011 | 11:16 PM

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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Crime in Argentina Unchanged from Year Ago

May 10th, 2011 | 08:13 PM

Torcuarto Di Tella University’s latest crime “victimization rate” survey indicates that overall criminal activity in Argentina was unchanged in April from the same month a year ago.

The victimization rate refers to the percentage of households which reported that at least one person in that home has been the victim of crime within the past year. This could be any kind of crime, reported or not to the police.

According to the latest survey, which was published Tuesday and polled 1,206 households, 33.2% of the homes said at least one member of the household had been the victim of crime.

That rate is unchanged from a year earlier but up from 29.6% the previous month.

Violent crime accounted for about 60% of the crimes experienced by household members. That is to say, for every 100 homes surveyed, 22 reported experiencing violent crime.

This figure was up from the previous month (March), when it totaled 18. It was also up a tad from a year ago, when it was 21.

Di Tella’s study surveys households in 40 urban centers around the country. The survey was conducted from April 1-12.

The safest place to be in Argentina, according to the survey, is in scarcely populated towns of less than 10,000 people. The victimization rates in these towns is about 21%.

Cities with more than 500,000 residents appear to have the most crime per household, with a victimization rate of about 35%.

In general, the safest place in Argentina is the interior provinces while the most dangerous is Buenos Aires province.

Opinion polls have shown that crime is the top concern among Argentines, surpassing inflation and worries about the economy.

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Express Kidnappings Soar In First Quarter – Report

May 3rd, 2011 | 06:22 AM

The number of so-called “express kidnappings” reported by local media soared in the first quarter of 2011, according to a new study.

The media reported 28 of these kidnappings in the province of Buenos Aires in the first three months of the year, according to an analysis by the think tank Centro de Estudios Nueva Mayoria.

That’s up from just one in the same period last year and indicates the first three months of 2011 were the worst since 2004.

The vast bulk of Argentina’s kidnappings occur in the province of Buenos Aires.

Of course, the study reflects only express kidnappings reported by the media. It’s unclear what percentage of overall kidnappings this actually represents, though I suspect the percentage is extremely low.

I was kidnapped briefly in a taxi in 1999. The whole incident lasted only about an hour, making it an express kidnapping. I reported it to police, who didn’t seem to care at all. It never appeared in the media. Meanwhile, I know of two people who were kidnapped for much longer periods of time a few years ago. Their stories never made it into the press.

It can be very hard to get accurate crime data in Latin America, where, according to experts, only about one in 10 crimes are reported.

While this study is alarming, it should not be taken as a definitive statement on the nature of crime or kidnappings in Argentina. Because it is based on media reports, it’s very hard to know how reliable it is because the media can be a fickle beast.

A more accurate overview of crime in general is probably Di Tella University’s monthly crime survey, which I will post on Wednesday.

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Photo Post: Argentina’s Hidden Gems

April 10th, 2011 | 08:57 PM

One of the great joys of living in an older, pedestrian-friendly city like Buenos Aires is the unexpected discovery of hidden gems.

I chanced upon one of these Sunday night while walking my little pug, Buki, around my neighborhood just north of the city. Technically speaking, I don’t even live in Buenos Aires. I live near the border between the neighborhoods of Olivos and La Lucila.

Just as in San Telmo or parts of Recoleta, some parts of these neighborhoods are defined by beautifully cobbled, tree-lined streets. It’s a delightful area to explore by foot.

While walking with Buki I came across this older movie theater, Cine York, which was showing Woody Allen’s latest movie, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

The place looked incredibly cozy, quiet and romantic. I felt fortunate, happy to be out and about and happy to have such a lovely placed so close to my home.

The classy, inviting nature of this little theater couldn’t contrast more with the loud, plastic, cookie-cutter nature of modern shopping centers that have come to dominate the urban landscape of huge swaths of the U.S.

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Want Something from Abroad? Hire a Mule!

March 18th, 2011 | 05:40 AM

Have you ever wanted something that you just couldn’t find in Argentina?

Ever been jonesing for some pancake mix or syrup or some cool item like an iPad 2, a Zoom microphone or a Canon EF 55mm lens?

The Mule Pool hopes to be your solution.

The Mule Pool is an online exchange that connects buyers with travelers (mules) so you can get what you want. You pay a mule to bring it to you. Or, say you’re traveling and want to make some extra cash. You could mule something back for somebody else. How does it work?

1) You tell The Mule Pool what you want.
2) Mules review open requests and determine how they can help.
3) You (the buyer) put your money into an escrow account. The Mule Pool guards the money until it’s sure your product was delivered.
4) You arrange to meet the mule.
5) Once you confirm to The Mule Pool that transaction has been carried out, the mule gets paid. (more…)

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