Tales of Argentina's Plight 


By: Author Unknown
The BBC News, February 6, 2002



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, disaffected Argentine.

"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 - their pocket".

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.

'Very bleak'

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 country's problems.

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. 

Political anarchy?

Federico's deepest concern is the political situation and the fear that anarchy could break out at any moment.

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 president."

By contrast, he feels more confident about the reforms of the new economy minister, Jorge Remes Lenicov.

"I really believe in this man, I think he is quite technical and doesn't introduce politics into it."

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." 

The freelancer

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." 

Argentina's ironies

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 there."

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