“What ï¿½ financial ruin has come to pass?
I’m buying a ticket: I’ll be there fast.”
I am an economic bandit
An exchange-rate pirate.
A slave to the currency rate.
Countries’ finances control my fate.
I am a whore to a devalued currency,
Treasuring the opportunity
To live above my means.
Can you blame me?
When the IMF pulls out,
I move in.
I enter when loans are defaulted.
After all, the fault is not my own.
Doesn’t every pauper wish to live the life of a prince?
Surely, I am not the only economic explorer.
There is an army of us value-voyagers,
Searching among far-away lands for dubious deals.
But despite the low costs, we too pay a price:
Instability and insecurity are our intimate friends;
Squalor no longer shocks us;
Poverty has become a recurring theme.
We live like kings,
But in damaged lands.
Suffering and squalor surround us,
Yet we live free of guilt.
After all, our presence provides pesos.
We Infuse money into local economies,
And bask in the knowledge
That we aid the unfortunate around us.
And when things have returned to normal,
And the crisis has been averted,
And the tourists return,
I will take it as my cue to move on
(Spawning a new meaning of capital flight).
My adventure will continue on,
As I arrive in another low-priced locale,
Cruising through recession, stagflation and devaluation,
Riding the value of the US dollar like a giant green wave.
And unlike pirates of days past,
The booty I search for is not stolen,
The currency I use with is not dollars or pesos.
Instead, I deal only in respect and sense.
As most of you know, about one year ago, Argentina experienced an economic crash unparalleled in its 192 years. Following a series of tax hikes, deflationary traps, ill-conceived economic policies and external shocks, the government announced the largest sovereign debt default in history. Argentines awoke to discover that the government had allowed the Argentine peso to float against the dollar, abandoning the one-to-one pegged value it had clung to for so many years. The result was drastic, as the peso lost 75% of its value on this dark day, falling from 1:1 to 4:1 against the dollar. For an Argentine with $40,000 in the bank, these savings shrunk to $10,000 in one day! The banks froze withdrawals, so those with savings, known here as ahorristas, could not do a thing. Prices rose sharply, as businesses and state-run utilities rushed to salvage a profit or stem their losses. Within months, Argentina was faced with economic breakdown.
As a traveler in Argentina, the results of this financial fracas have been quite visible. First and foremost, the people have been very eager to explain their desperate economic situation. Argentines take pride in the modernity and progress inherent in their country, as most North Americans or Europeans would. For this reason, it has been especially difficult to deal with “third-world problems” that have recently begun to plague Argentina.
There seem to be three major issues that bother the people of Argentina:
From political leaders to bank bosses, Argentines are really fed up with the elite that has robbed common people of their jobs, their savings and their dignity. There is very little faith in any of the politicians running in the upcoming election (none have more than 20% electorate support), as they represent the same vested interests that have spelled ruin for the country. The financial breakdown in Argentina, though obviously affected by external factors, is viewed largely as a problem brought on by the ineptitude and corruption of Argentine elite. It is no secret, for as many here will tell you, “This is the most corrupt country in the world.”
Everyday, newspapers report the deaths of children, mainly in the impoverished north, from malnutrition. Just as North Americans would be shocked to learn that kids in Wyoming were dying every day because there just wasn’t enough food, Argentines are ashamed that their country is experiencing the type of problems they always felt sheltered from and outraged that their government is powerless to prevent these deaths.
- The fall in the value of the peso
At least one hundred people have mentioned the fact that with the 1:1 value, international travel was cheap. Argentines would usually travel abroad during their holidays to Europe, the States and the rest of South America. But now, their buying power abroad has been diminished by 75%, so they are forced to travel within their own country. As we are in the middle of summer here, it is obvious that there are many more Argentines (as well as foreigners, mainly from Europe) traveling here, as everything from hotel, plane and bus tickets need to be reserved in advance. Luckily, this unparalleled tourist season has benefited many people as well as the international reserves of the government.
Unlike many travelers, I do not feel ashamed to admit I have come to Argentina due to its sudden affordability. With a standard of living equal to that of the US or northern Europe just 13 months ago, I could not have been able to travel in such a carefree manner as I have here for the last six weeks.
If nothing else, the current crisis is helping Argentina develop into a first-class tourist destination as this country has everything to offer: mountains, beaches, wildlife, lively cities and glaciers. With the current prices, the value is irresistible. What was a $25 three-star hotel room is now 7 bucks, while an all-you-can-eat dinner is now just $3.
But the true gem of Argentina is not its plush bus services, its tango culture or its famous asado barbecues; the real attraction of this country has been the Argentines themselves, who have displayed a heart-warming hospitality that has made my every day here a true joy. To every hotel owner who has told me the hotel is full and then spent a half an hour on the phone to help me find a room, to every driver that has stopped to give me a ride to my destination, to every friend I have made that has taken me into their home, shared their matï¿½ tea or just shared a moment of friendship with me in the past two months, I say Gracias, Chï¿½! Barbaro!