Saturday, December 19, 2015

The new (old) Argentina

It has been a decade since I visited Argentina in December. Bound by the school schedule of my children, I end up traveling to Argentina during their winter months: July and August. I was there, in Buenos Aires, when they experienced snow for the first time in a hundred years. A visit to the wineries of Mendoza in August, is always a sad affair.

This time, it is different. My suitcase is light and packed with a few shorts, swim trunks, a hat and several short sleeved shirts and sunscreen.

This trip is different in other ways as well. December is the honeymoon month of the new president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri. The presidential elections were hotly contested. This is a break from the populistic policies of Kirchnerism which turned this country into a stagnant and economically eroded place. This is a country which had no choice but to default on his debt a few years ago. This is a country which sold its natural riches to the Chinese for pennies, merely to stay afloat. What will the post-Cristina era be like? How will things be different for the casual tourist?

One obvious change is that, as of December 11, the US dollar is 30% more valuable, as compared to the Argentine peso. True to his promise, Macri enacted swift economic changes. The peso was devaluated, export taxes obliterated, and people are allowed to buy foreign currencies more freely.

This means immediatly the end of a black market for US dollars, which traded at 30–40% higher than the official rate. It puts more pesos in my pocket. On the othe hand, I do not expect this trip tp be cheap. Inflation is currently at 25% and expected to increase in the next year. I fear delicious Argentine beef will be super expensive, as will clothes or leather goods.

‘When two Argentines are debating over a cup of coffee, there are three political parties’. I wonder how people in the street feel about the political change: hopeful for an economic recovery?, fearful for a year of violent manifestations, general strikes or worse? Or, they may just not care for the moment. It is summer after all and families will get together for Christmas and New Year, serving great Argentine barbecued meat (asado) with Malbec wine and flan for desert.

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