Tales of Argentina's Plight
The retired couple
Esteban and Ellen Popper are a
retired couple living in Buenos Aires.
"There is big, big
depression here. Everybody's nervous because of the economic and financial
problems that they find themselves in," says Mrs Popper.
She is particularly concerned
about being assaulted on the street or in her home by a fellow,
"For four years people
have not worked and they have become marginalised and are not in the
system anymore," she explains.
Learning to adapt
Shopping has also become an art
form for the Poppers and their friends.
"We are buying everything
that is imported by companies. We are scared it won't be on the shelves
next month," says Mrs Popper.
Goods that are in particular
demand are fridges and televisions.
"Investing in these is
also a way to assure the value of your money," she adds.
For Mr Popper, the main problem
is razor blades, as these are also imported.
He adds that the banking
restrictions "touch the middle class in their most sensitive organ -
The couple survive on a small
state pension of 320 pesos a month and by mortgaging their property.
One advantage of the new economic measures is that Mr Popper's dollar debts have been considerably reduced by the new exchange rates.
But overall, the mood is "very, very bleak", says Mrs Popper.
She is also sad because her son
wants to sell his apartment and emigrate.
The crash in the local property
market means he will only get half the value if he sells now.
"There is general sense of depression. All my son's friends have left, or are leaving," she says.
The office worker
Federico works for a
pharmaceuticals company and is surprisingly philosophical about the
He is set to lose out from the
new economic measures when his dollar savings get turned into pesos at
less than the market rate.
"It worries me but I
understand the situation and everyone is feeling that they have to lose
something," he says.
Unexpectedly, he is also
distrustful of the country's Supreme Court, which recently ruled that the
government's restrictions on bank withdrawals were unconstitutional.
"People are intelligent. The restrictions are unfair and unlawful, but we know they are the only way for the banking system not to collapse," he says.
Federico's deepest concern is
the political situation and the fear that anarchy could break out at any
He is particularly wary of
in-fighting between President Eduardo Duhalde and former president Carlos
Menem, who is opposed to the new government's economic reforms.
"It is unfair that
Argentines have to suffer this stupid war between them," he says.
"Especially when we didn't even choose Mr Duhalde as our
By contrast, he feels more
confident about the reforms of the new economy minister, Jorge Remes
"I really believe in this
man, I think he is quite technical and doesn't introduce politics into
On the whole, Federico says he
has been relatively unaffected by most of the everyday deprivations that
other Argentines face.
He also speaks of his guilt
towards the poor.
"The real problem in this
country is people starving, but it is only when they touch your savings
that you react.
"It is very selfish. For years people have been starving."
Luisa is a freelancer and has
decided to leave Argentina to find work abroad.
"Some of my friends are
happy to see that I have a passage out, while others are jealous and try
to make me feel guilty about jumping ship now," she says.
In preparing for her departure,
she had the doors of the house she leaves behind steel plated.
"The night watch man has
been fired and we can't sell or rent it," she explains.
Apparently, the men who fixed
her doors are doing a brisk business as residents in Buenos Aires become
increasingly concerned about security.
"Everybody knows people have money stashed at home - you can't keep it in the bank and you can't keep it anywhere else."
She also highlights the ironies
of Argentina's plight, as the partially floated peso has now made
everything in the once expensive Buenos Aires more affordable.
"I was walking down the
most expensive street - and all the fine restaurants you couldn't afford
before, you can now go to.
"But of course there is
hardly anyone there because everyone is saving their money."
Luisa, who is 49, sees her
decision to leave Argentina as her last chance to make a go of things.
And she is fearful that the
country she leaves behind could fall into chaos.
"We have a rather healthy
but totally anarchic effervescence, as if nobody knows what to do, but
wants to do something.
"It is a bit like Alice in
Wonderland: if you do not know where you are going, any road may take you
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