31 January 2009


If all goes well, as you read this I should be crossing the Río de la Plata on a boat headed for Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. I'm going to spend two weeks in this country — a few days in Montevideo, some relaxing time on the beaches of the Atlantic coast, and some more on the return trip through the interior. Don't miss me!

27 January 2009

Up it goes

Everything goes up and stays there these days, especially taxes and the heat.

The municipality is about to implement a new traffic scheme in the microcentro — there will be less room to park your car, it will be much more expensive to park it where allowed, and the penalties for violating the parking regulations will be much stiffer. Good for the mayor, but doing it at the same time people are receiving their new municipal tax bills with increases ranging from 30 to 1,500% with respect to the previous month doesn't show a lot of political savvy. And this in turn comes after the failure of the provincial government to pass a new tax law, and just before they try to introduce a new one.

The national government also recently authorized some impressive utility fee hikes for Buenos Aires and its metropolitan area, as public transport went up as well and subsidies were cut. Everybody behind a government desk is trying to squeeze money out of taxpayers to keep things going, at the same time trying not to be too brutal about it because it's an election year y el horno no está para bollos.

With the worldwide economic crunch, the campo crisis still looming, the drought, the prices of exportable commodities plunging to depths unheard of, and the general perception that Cristina K is deaf, blind and clueless, anybody with half a mind can see that 2009 won't be nice. At least the global recession should keep inflation at bay, but even that may fail — Argentina has a way to crash economic models...

20 January 2009

An expat writes from Rosario!

Mark is a retired US citizen who has been living in Rosario for four and a half years now, and seems unlikely to leave any time soon. He writes An Expat's View of Rosario, a blog which I'm sure you'll find interesting.

Mark actually asked me what I thought about another expat blog and I said I'd love to see it, since it would be (that I know) the only one of its kind written from Rosario. It's brand-new, and so far it contains the typical starting posts of expats' blogs: what's so good and bad about Argentina, the troubles of moving to a different country, the bureaucracy, the dirt, the landscapes, the people. Do pay a visit, leave comments and suggestions, and ask questions. You now have another English-speaking insider in Rosario — take advantage of that. (I can't be everywhere all the time, you know.)

15 January 2009

Seven point two

According to the official datum of inflation ("it is no longer correct to call it a measurement, since it is not measured", as La Nación reads today), during 2008 the Consumer Price Index rose by 7.2%, the smallest rate in four years. The Basic Food Basket, which enters the calculation of the poverty line, rose by less than a half of a percentage point (less than 2 pesos). So last year was a bargain. How come we didn't notice?

One strongly feels that this is about it — it's just not possible to lie any more than this and still pretend to be in contact with reality. The government first denied there was inflation, then accused a vaguely defined ensemble of foes of fueling price increases, all the while letting the thuggish Secretary of Trade, Guillermo Moreno, mangle the figures produced by INDEC. Last year the mangling became unnecessary: you don't have to tweak the figures when you've intimidated all the figure-checking personnel into silence or replaced them by your own employees.

Although the real inflation rate, as measured by several independent sources, is about three times the one reported by INDEC, it doesn't really matter to anyone (except the holders of inflation-pegged bonds, for whom this represents a fraud for $5.5 billion). People in the streets have turned from anger to indifference. As in many other respects, this once promising-looking government has abandoned us. We know they're lying, they know we know, and we know they know we know. How they plan to stay on top for three more years like this is a mystery to me. We can only hope they will die with a whimper and not with a bang.

13 January 2009

Hot and dry

We're suffering a drought, as is most of the country, especially the agricultural productive areas. It rained last night, and might rain again today a bit, but it was an isolated phenomenon. Right here in Rosario it's still not as bad as it was last year, when grass everywhere was reduced to brittle, desiccated brown fragments and finely-powdered dirt was blowing from exposed patches everywhere, but there are serious problems in the north.

Eppur si bagna The Paraná's water level is so low you can see the pipes that drain the rain into the river, lying on the sand in the beaches of the northern city. People still go and bathe there, but the usable area has shrunk; five or six meters from the current shoreline, the river starts to get deep and dangerous.

Upstream, in the dry north of Santa Fe, the situation is dramatic. Neither people nor cattle have enough water for themselves, and the crops are dying. Ironically, northern Santa Fe used to be an area of wetlands and forests, but already in the late 19th century logging companies felled a lot of trees (quebracho, mostly) and then the wetlands were drained by canals to avoid floods. After 2002, when soybean became the star crop, agriculture expanded to the area, and cattle were also moved there from the south. But when you remove a forest, you leave the terrain subject to erosion, and without major watercourses you're tied to rainfall.

The drought will reduce the production of most crops. Maize and soybean were planted late because of this, and coupled with a lower yield, that means Argentina will produce a lot less of both (making things worse, the government continues to place administrative obstacles on crop exports, and the international price of agricultural commodities has decreased dramatically). Wheat production has plummeted to about half of the 2007–2008 harvest. Cattle farming is also suffering; the animals languish and die of starvation or thirst, and often farmers prefer to slaughter cows and sell them for what they might be worth. This year there will be one million less calves.

Hmm... still no rain over here.