During the late 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century, Argentina (along with Australia) was considered by objective analysis amongst the richest (per capita) countries in the world.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Argentina was an affluent society, the most dynamic country in the global system attracting an unprecedented volume of foreign investment and massive flows immigrants. By the end of the century, the former bread basked (sic) of the world had become a basket case.
Argentina circa 1914 was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a GDP more than twice the average for Latin America and Southern Europe.
A New Economic History of Argentina, Gerardo della Paolera, Alan M. Taylor (eds.) Cambridge University Press
The second plunder of Argentina started with English and Italian companies, often established with the simple intent of pillaging natural resources, assisting the original Spanish families in repatriating the huge profits produced by the estancias of the Pampas and Patagonia.
Gradually the habit of sending profits outside of Argentina (and most other South American countries) has become entrenched; the rich and powerful ‘original’ families (who now eke out a precarious existence in the faded coffee shops of Recoleta and alto Palermo) who have always had their children educated in European private schools and US universities.
Argentinians, especially those who live in the best suburbs of Buenos Aires and the major country towns, proudly boast (often in English) that they are the most European of Latinos, the same economic mismanagement that has characterised other South American countries doesn’t apply to them. Chileanos have the same unwarranted high opinion of their government and economy. The former have recently had another dose of reality, I wonder how long the latter can continue to function in a global economy hamstrung by a lack of transparency and structural rigidity. As it has done for a hundred years Argentina completely dismissed trends in globalisation and continued to borrow to fund infrastructure development, capital that could have been raised in Argentina had the will of the landed gentry and domestic capitalists been harnessed by a competent government.
Pretty much the same happened in Australia with one major difference. During the 1980’s the Hawke/Keating governments saw the disaster potential of having a fixed currency maintained at an artificially high level and the potential for economic ruin without structural change to the domestic economy to make Australia more competitive in a global sense. Unfortunately Argentina didn’t see globalisation coming and kept their currency pegged to the $US, denied structural change to the economy and kept right on borrowing.
Almost without exception the Argentinians we met were bright and cheerful, even in the face of horrific changes to their lifestyle (by contrast with Chileans who were generally withdrawn and shy ) but ask about the recent devaluation and Nestor Kirchner’s refusal to honour government bonds (he has offered bond holders 25 cents on the dollar) and they become very bitter and twisted. They don’t understand how they have changed from “In the 1930s Argentina was, thanks largely to beef exports, a global power, boasting income per capita similar to that of France.” to become an economic pariah. Italian pensioners, who bought government bonds now devalued by 75% are calling their cousins (Argentina received huge immigration from Italy) ‘cheats’ and ‘frauds’ because the government refuses to pay interest on the bonds and investors, likely to receive as little as 10% of the investment, when, if, the government agrees to repay the debt.
In a way a visit to Argentina is extremely valuable to Australian voters; it shows just how wrong the politicians can get the economy, making our blokes look positively clever by comparison. My theory is that the malfunctioning economy is directly related to the casual inefficiency that pervades all business transactions. And that Argentinian inefficiency is as a result of diet.
Few Argentinians eat dinner until 10pm, then it’s a huge slab of steak (heavenly) followed by postres of ‘queso y dulce’ or something with ‘dulce leche’ oozing from a pastry crust. I reckon everyone over 40 must suffer shocking reflux; how does one digest a meal that finishes at 2am? Nobody sleeps well, particularly 11 million portenos that don’t have airconditioning or fans in 35 degree heat. So, when they should be bright eyed and bushy tailed in the morning, they’re still hung over (did I mention the wonderful wine?) when they have to start work.
Instead of a nutricious breakfast (they’re still full of steak from last night) they eat fluffy ‘media lunas’ full of dulce leche. About 2pm hunger assaults their stretched stomachs so they pig out on the ‘menu del dia’; three courses that almost always has pasta included – then it’s siesta until about 5pm and afternoon tea (inherited from the Brits) – until the whole cycle is commenced again at 10 pm. In between every one keeps busy making sure that there is enough hot water to indulge in the ‘mate’ ritual.
When does any work get done ? Never ! Tour agencies take two hours to acomplish what Flight Centre staff fix in 10 minutes. If Graham Turner ever decides to expand into Argentina he’ll destroy the competition. With few exceptions, every flight, bus, train, taxi, excursion etc. was late leaving or arriving. Sometimes the whole thing was called off throught lack of interest – just cancelled, no explanation, just “come back tomorrow”. And it’s all because Argentinians are too tired from eating huge meals at midnight ! How can they be world champions at polo, play magnificent hockey, soccer and rugby ? Perhaps David Nalbandian follows a more routine diet – goodness knows he couldn’t play the tennis he does after sinking a half kilo of steak a couple of hours before playing.
Don’t think for a minute that I dislike Argentina or its people. I think Los Galciares NP is superior to and much better value for money that its Chilean equivalent, Torres del Paine; although I only spent a couple of weeks there and lived in one of the most salubrious suburbs I found Bs As one of the nicest cities; an inexpensive Paris, a more temperate Barcelona; big wide streets that encourage wannabe Fangios ( the entire out put of the Peugot factory was sold to the Bs As taxi companies – you’ll not see so many 504’s in one place anywhere in the world); the most handsome men and the best presented female posteriers; buttocks like peaches, and that’s not just my imagination, every TV ad, every billboard, no matter whether advertising icecream (another Argentinian highlight) or condoms (brand name – Tulipan), georgeous girls clad in nothing more than dental floss for bums showing off fabulous figures. And the young women wear their jeans so tight you can almost see their G spots. Every one was helpful and eager to practice their English, proud of their country, if not their politicians, always fishing for compliments.
That’s why the situation is so sad. The economy is in the pits, the future’s bleak and Argentina is being consigned to the same basket as Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador by the IMF and international investors. Chile is considered a better investment proposition – and are the Chilenos laughing !