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21 Jan


Dispatch from the road: some observations on Argentina

January 21, 2013 | By |

Our tribe is strong here in Buenos Aires. We’ve been meeting likeminded folks left and right, geeks and journalists and startup and strategy folks and hackers and activists, and whathaveyou —

(Note: Partly that’s surely a function of introductions through trusted friends here and abroad which, as so often, has been working brilliantly. Please keep in mind I’ve only been here for basically a few days, so I might be over-interpreting. Proceed at your own risk.)

— and so, as far as I can tell, talk on the street here in Buenos Aires is about the same general topics as back home. Of hackerspaces, of sucky outdated copyright, of international licensing issues that mean you cannot legally watch your shot of Game of Thrones online, of old and new jobs and pet projects, of data plans and of where to find the best music, coffee or dinner.

But then there’s a whole other, more existential layer that concerns people here, even though it seems nobody lets themselves get dragged down by it. The crazy inflation (employees in Argentina are, I’m told, get a raise twice a year to make up for the massive inflation). How many things can be bought only in US dollars, which cannot legally be bought in the country. The hassles of importing things into the country, and the hassles of traveling with an Argentinian passport. The black market that all this creates. The suspicion of elites, both domestic and international.

Mind, you can buy everything in stores; there’s nothing I haven’t seen. Prices vary quite a bit, though, and have for years. (Prices in guidebooks are invariably off, and usually have double or tripled since the book was printed a year or two ago.) But there’s a huge (and growing) gap between those who can afford it all, and those who can’t. Given that Argentina is a highly developed country, you don’t really get ripped off as a tourist; haggling is not a big thing here. There are, however, in many instances officially two prices, like for domestic flight tickets. Not because the airline overcharges you as such, it seems to be more of a legal issue or government guideline.

So dinners here have roughly been at a price level not unlike low/mid range in Berlin, or in some cases easily on par with fairly expensive Berlin restaurants. (And similar quality and service, too.) But as far as I can tell, income levels are, on average, nowhere near the same. So this creates problems.

Most people I’ve talked to seem unsure what the future holds; but they also refuse to tear our their hair over any of this. Instead, there’s a tremendous energy of building stuff, and building communities, and just working to make things better. It’s really quite something.