Impressions from Argentina

I am currently traveling in Argentina and that’s a sobering experience. Mitchell has explained several times in detail how Argentina finally broke the peg (after years of impoverishing its population) and got the economy going again but something has gone wrong: the inflation rate is very high and the Argentine peso has depreciated quite a bit compared to two years ago, yet at the same time the signs of capitalism running wild and neoliberalism in action our plentiful.

Argentina used to have an extensive railway system but, much like in the US, most of it has been deactivated. Disused tracks are everywhere, as are the skeletons of former train stations, sometimes right beside the big bus terminals serving all the private bus companies that have replaced the railway, running on sometimes abominable roads. As a side effect, this means of course that transport burns oil (or ethanol) with all the greenhouse emissions and price effects this brings, instead of more sustainably produced electricity. Cargo is then moved by trucks almost exclusively as well, with all this entails.

In Chubut province, we’ve seen teachers’ strikes and our driver informed us that those were in solidarity with principals that hadn’t been paid in a while. Searching for more information with Google, I first found that teachers are apparently among the worst-paid professionals in Argentina and that the offered wage increases wouldn’t even keep pace with inflation, which is simply madness given their importance for a country’s sustainable development, so that doesn’t shine a good light on the current government. What I found looking a bit further, is that in addition to that provincial and local governments seem to make things worse, with cuts, privatizations, and standardized testing following the neoliberal blue print. But the federal government is apparently not much better with President Kirchner having given a speech last year in which she referred to teachers’ low working hours and “three months of holidays” per year.

In the Andes region, we’ve seen graffiti against strip mining and the contamination of miners with lead. Much of this propaganda expresses outright opposition to any new mining projects, citing water pollution and similar concerns. In Chubut province, our hostel had a petition in the window demanding a stop of overexploitation of water in a water-strapped region.

In Catamarca police have protested for reasonable salaries, affordable houses, bus passes and such and were confronted by federal gendarmerie.

There is a depressing amount of beggers and people who try to sell you worthless stuff, in the Northwest those are often indigenous – we’ve seen some try and sell parrots, one grabbed in each fist.

I am not sure whether Cristina Kirchner is less far-sighted than her late husband or if he himself would have not broken with neoliberalism further than he did. So I find myself hoping that the next election is won by someone not from the right who will build on the good things the Kirchners did, such as the repeal of the amnesty for junta crimes, the attempt at forcing media-deconcentration, and the attempt to renationalize YPF, the formerly state-owned oil company sold off under Menem.

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