EMAIL PAGE THIRTEEN
COLUMN SIXTY-SEVEN, JANUARY 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz)
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GREAT DEPRESSION! CAN IT HAPPEN IN THE U.S."
Cry for Argentina as Economy Unravels
Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2001 13:36:22 -0500
classes cry for Argentina as economy unravels
police and doctors have not been paid for months, reports
get a lot of use in Argentina. Often it is people selling unsolicited kitchen
sponges or asking for a few pesos to prop up the district fire service. When
Elsa Gutman rang the bell of a Buenos Aires house last week wrapped in a thick
fur coat and with immaculately coiffed hair, the inhabitants thought at first
she might have lost her poodle. It was only when she started talking about
plumbing and painting that it became clear that she was peddling DIY aid.
54, is typical of a once thriving middle class in Argentina that is struggling
to make ends meet after more than three years of devastating recession. Her
husband, who lost his job in a bank 16 months ago, has turned himself into an
odd-job man and Elsa, a former teacher, helps to find him work.
never thought I'd be doing this, but Argentina is falling apart. This is the
only way we have left to pay our bills,' said Elsa, whose chipped nail varnish
and laddered stockings are the only tell-tale signs of her troubles.
the past year Argentina has lurched from one crisis to another as the government
of President Fernando de la Rua battled to save his country---the seventh
richest in the world a century ago---from bankruptcy. The big fear on the
markets is that any day now Argentina may fail to pay the crippling interest on
its $132 billion public debt.
for many the country is already socially in default. Some teachers, doctors,
dustmen and policemen have not been paid for up to five months and banks have
stopped providing loans. Since the beginning of November, social security
benefits for the elderly have dried up, reducing health cover to emergencies
only, and leaving most of the four million subscribers stranded and scared.
is like being in a war. People are going to die if they don't do something,'
shouted Horacio Bullman, shaking his fist in anger as he queued for an X-ray in
a public hospital after being turned away at two others.
did I work for all my life? This? They don't care about us. It's as if they
think we are disposable items.'
shameful. Our old people don't even have the right to die any more because they
have stopped paying for funerals,' said Hugo Moyano, the lorry-driver leader of
the strongest national union, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), which
has called for a massive protest in the streets of Buenos Aires on 20 November.
has long prided itself on being an oasis of European living standards, with a
large middle class, in a region dogged by poverty. But unemployment is now at 18
per cent, another 15 per cent are 'underemployed' and just under a third of the
country's 37 million population live under the poverty line.
carts have appeared on the streets of the capital, Buenos Aires, used by
hundreds of families who travel from the surrounding countryside to scour the
pavements for old, reusable junk. Many shops and restaurants are boarded up; the
grand avenues that cut through this elegant capital city, often described as the
Paris of Latin America, are almost deserted at rush hour.
crime is soaring, with shootouts reported in the city centre almost daily.
42 policemen have been killed this year alone and armed bouncers in bullet-
proof vests guard supermarkets, pharmacies and restaurants.
average, there are two armed bank robberies a day and people are frequently
abducted in broad daylight, in taxis or on the streets, and forced to withdraw
their savings from a cash point.
has added to Argentina's woes. Thousands of farmers in the vast central pampas
region watched helplessly as their crops and livestock were washed away by
record floods during the past six weeks. About 14,000 stranded villagers are
still frantically struggling to build levees of sand and more rain is expected.
anger has grown since Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo slashed state salaries
and pensions by 13 per cent in July. In recent mid-term elections, more than a
fifth of voters cast blank or spoilt votes to show their despair.
the hunt is on for countless absentee state employees, nicknamed the 'gnocchi',
who quietly collect a salary every month, traditionally celebrated with copious
servings of the Italian potato-based dish, without ever going to work.
government is catatonic. It has abandoned its people to their fate,' said
Roberto Bacman, a political analyst in Buenos Aires. 'People are at their wits'
the queue outside the Spanish embassy, bleary-eyed young people stake out their
place at four o'clock in the morning for the much-prized work visa or dual
nationality that will allow them to bail out of their sinking ship of a country.
don't want to leave. I love my country, but there is just no future here,' said
Juan Fernández, a 26-year-old engineer, clutching his file full of papers and
young, educated Argentinians, whose grandparents emigrated from war-torn Europe
in the first half of the last century, have fled back to Italy, Spain, Germany,
France and Britain in the past year in search of work.
'Argentina is not just in a crisis, this country is a write-off,' Fernández said. 'Our politicians have plundered the system for so long, corruption is so much part of life. I can't believe that will ever change.' ##
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