Friday, November 6, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

de Soto y los Saqueos

“Stabilize your currencies, hang tough, ignore the food riots, and wait patiently for the foreign investors to return.”

These videos of the 2001 “saqueos” or food riots, consisting of massive robbings of supermarkets go quite well with the above quote found in the reading by Hernando de Soto. The first video is of a Chinese immigrant to Argentina who's supermarket is in the process of being looted.

Land Tenure

I found Hernando de Soto’s argument that the “Mystery of Capital” in developing countries results from their inability to create capital not only extremely interesting, but also very applicable to the Argentine situation. Below you will find a few excerpts and ideas from the text along with some commentary about the applicability in Argentina.

Resources are held in defective forms: houses built on land whose ownership rights are not adequately recorded, unincorporated businesses with undefined liability, industries located where financiers and investors cannot see them. Because the rights to these possessions are not adequately documented, these assents cannot be readily turned into capital, cannot be traded outside of narrow local circles where people know and trust each other, cannot be used as collateral for a loan, and cannot be used as a share against an investment.

In the west every piece of land, building, piece of equipment and store inventories are represented in a property document that is a visible sing of a vast hidden process that connects all these assets to the rest of the economy. Thanks to this representation process, assets can lead an invisible, parallel life alongside their material existence and can be used as collateral for credit. Third World and former communist nations do not have this representational process and as a result most of them are undercapitalized. Without representations, their assets are dead capital.

The issue of land tenure in Argentina is highly linked to the arguments de Soto makes. Within Capital Federal I can see on a daily basis the amount of “houses built on land whose ownership rights are not adequately recorded” and the problems that result from property rights loopholes and other complications.

In Argentina, property - whether it be condominiums, houses, or land – is extremely expensive in comparison to the United States. For example, the average price for prime agricultural land in the two countries during that mid 1990s ranged between U$S 3,900-4,200 per hectare in the states, and about U$S 3,500 in Argentina. While the prices are cheaper in Argentina, the GDP per capita is one fifth that of the United States, causing relatively similar prices to be out of the reach of an extremely large sector of the Argentine population.

In connection with the high cost of renting or owning land, we see a large amount of poor Argentines or immigrants to Argentina illegally inhabiting public or private land. Even if a family or individual is able to secure enough money to rent an apartment, they are often unable to do so because of the massive burden of the “garantias.” In addition to asking for a hefty deposit, most apartment owners require the renter to offer another property as collateral. Additionally, if the apartment is located within the capital, the other collateral property must be located within the capital as well. Thus, if a renter does not have a family member willing to sign their property as collateral it is virtually impossible to rent. This idea of “garantias” exists because of a loophole now allowing an apartment owner or the police to throw to evict their nonpaying residents if they do not have another place to go. After the crises of hyperinflation in 1989 and the collapse of the economy in 2001, property owners see these collaterals as necessary to protect their assets against squatters.

In addition, I asked my host family about an even more common land tenure issue, which is the illegal inhabiting of public lands. The government allows it to continue under the same practice of not leaving its residents homeless. This practice is most manifested in the building of “villas,” usually large slums consisting of precarious housing and who steal electricity from public sources. The commonness of villas is startling. Within the country, over 700,000 people live in these types of slums and over 120,000 in Buenos Aires alone. The villas cause enormous land tenure problems because they effectively render vast amounts of often very expensive land, useless. One of the largest villas, Villa 31, is juxtaposed with the one of the most expensive neighborhoods of the city – a nightmare for hardliner capitalists looking to take advantage of this valuable land. Similar situations occur outside the cities with residents illegally inhabiting public land in the jungles of the Misiones province and other areas.

Below is a photo of Villa 31

My “host-grandfather” is particularly affected by the land tenure situation because a small parcel of land he owns in “La Provincia” is currently illegally inhabited by squatters, but he is unable to dislodge them and sell the property.

More information about Argentine villas can be found here:

Although it does not seem to be extremely common, some people are able to acquire property via squatter’s rights. The law allows squatters to inherit the deeds to a property if they live there for twenty years and pay the taxes on that address. Thus, although they do not pay for the property, paying the taxes for twenty years allows squatters to become the legal owners of an abandoned building (extremely common in Greater Buenos Aires).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

IMF Video

Here is the video I wanted to show you guys. It is from Cristina's presidential campaign. It has English subtitles, so everybody can understand.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The current state of things

The following is an email I received from the friend of my host brother here in Argentina. It is titled "The Media Law," but really goes much further and shows a general sense of disillusion with politics and the country in general. It is, obviously, in Spanish - I will translate it, and republish later this week. For the Spanish speakers, it will help to know that D'Elía is a populist/labor/lower-class political organizer. You can read more about him here:

You will also need to know that Chaco is an extremely poor province, with one of the highest rates of death from starvation, malnutrition, poor sanitation, etc.

If there are questions about Buenos Aires lunfardo y jerga I will refer to you Hannah B.

Me parece genial lo que se dice, en palabras, como siempre...............ahora................ que onda?
ya que es la decada de las opiniones, y ya que todo el mundo aun sin fundamento, o por ver tn o canal 9, o lo que sea ya por que es todo lo mismo puede opinar, pues entonces mi libre albedrio me obliga a hacerlo tambien.
que se arme discusion o no, polemica o dsinteres, la verdad me da igual, con que hayan leido hasta este punto tal vez hasta este conforme.
Son las 6 de la mañana y deberia estar durmiendo, pero basta, me cnase de estas cadenas pelotudas, de la nada que dicen, del tiempo que roban, por un simple hecho: la hipocrecia que acarrean.
(a todo esto, espero que muchos me contesten aunque sea puteando, por que al menos puedo entender que habre llegado a algunos corazon y que la pasion no esta extinta del todo.... asi que paso a explayarme, cortito, por que leer esta scadenas es un embole, asi que no quiero usar el mismo modus operandi. Intentare en este caso ser breve, aunque a veces cueste).

Basta de clase media no comprometida. ODIO A D'ELIA, realmente lo odio, y soy lo que se denomina clase media. Pero... que onda? hacer una marcha, perfecto. Se hace, sale en telenoche, lo vemos todos, lo repiten, perfecto, todos lo debatimos, sale en clarin... lo leemos, sale en critica, en perfil, en pagina 12, en ambito financiero, se lee de nuevo. No pasa nada, estamos igual que antes... Un dia de nuestras vidas que no salimos de casa. Perfecto. Hacemos Pseudo colapsar (no seudo) un "sistema", pasado les van a sacar el doble en deuda externa o como lo quieran llamar.
Vi lo que fue la marcha contra la ley de medios, gente de clase media, media alta, alta, un abc1 caminando por callao, boludeando por callao.... la ley se hizo de todas formas... 9 de diciembre 2 de enero... 4 de octubre, es la misma mierda... el pueblo es soberano... es la misma mentira que se viene diciendo desde 1789 y la gente la repite orgullosa, revolucion burguesa... caricia a la clase media, la misma mierda de siempre, los sistemas no cambian, cambia el nombre, si realmente el motor,,,, lo que se lllama motor fuese de la clase media entonces tendria repercusion, pero no lo tiene, la clase media es el burrito que corre atras de la zanahoria virtual. Todos cuidan su bolsillo y asi no va. La gente del chaco.......... no se puede ser tan frivolo, o sea, si realmente estan comprometidos con esa gente que padece, que esta mal, y nos guardamos en la bandera estupida de un territorio diciendo... somos argentinos!! carajo!! por uqe mierda nadie de aca , de los que lee estos mails va al chaco y da una mano? si a mas de la mitad le sobra la plata, en vez de irse a carilo, por que no van alla y dan enserio una mano en vez de relegar en un gobierno o lo que sea? si de todas formas no creen en este gobierno...
despues dicen traicion a la patria, pero todos votan... si realmente a nadie le convence un dirigente postulado, por que carajo dejan de votar?
por que la democracia......... aparentemente pasaron varios presidentes y no les vino bien ninguno, entonces no voten, no banquen un sistema que vino de afuera, que no tiene nada que ver con nuestra idiosincracia. Haganse cargo, basta de relegar tareas, basta de marchas de un dia, de boludeces, de pensar que con eso van a cambiar las cosas... por que basicamente marchas hay todos los dias, y mas que cambiar, se vuelve rutina.

Las cosas no funcionan por que nosotros somos los que somos, somos nuestros legisladores, gobernantes, votantes, clase media y baja. Somos un pais demagogo. Y SOBRE TODO HIPOCRITA. El maximo logro de la clase media media alta fueron las marchas de blumberg..... todos lo apoyaban y despues lo dejaron solo. La clase media no tiene corazon, no tiene ideal, y por eso no es motor. Es nafta, y se consume. Y es usada. Ni siquiera tiene organizacion. Por que algun boludo mande un mail de el 9 juntemosnos.... no va a pasar nada.Alguno lo vera y diria no voy ni en pedo, otro dira que simpatico, otro lo vera por la tele y asi nunca sera fuerza. Si no les gustan las leyes ni nada de eso, vuelen el congreso en pedazos, hagan un acto realmente simbolico, hasta los franceses tomaron la bastilla, para bien o para mal, pero hoy lo repetimos en las facdultades y colegios sin saber lo que eso significo, sin saber uqe mierda era la bastilla, pero lo repetimos, eso es la clase media, una reiteracion de la nada. Ahora......... que tiene un potencial terrible, lo tiene, pero la union hace la fuerza. El objetivo en comun tambien. La pasion de querer realmente cambiar las cosas, tambien. Disculpe señor lector de mails, que me haya explayado tanto, si llego hasta aca ya es un comienzo, o un final. Perdon por explayarme tanto, pero es mi verdad, quien la comparta mejor para mi, quien no me parece perfecto, por que de la discusion con fundamento a lo mejor surge algo que vale la pena. De chico me decian que la izquierda era un sueño, una boludez, que nunca podrian gobernar. El justicialismo lleva las cosas adelante pero chorea y tiene inmensas e insasiables ansias de poder, las oposiciones de turno no pueden controlar el cachorro inquieto que es el estado. Hoy me parece la misma boludez que "era" la izquierda esa clase media que hace ring raje al poder, que quiere joder un ratito. Gente... solo queda el anarquismo? Si votan a una persona 4 años... los culpables... son quienes lo votan, si lo votan otros 4..... entonces medalla de pelotudos (siempre que no esten conformes con la gente que esta ahi). Todo es una lucha de intereses, hay gente a favor, gente en contra. Hasta debe haber gente que quiere que vuelvan los militares.... Basta de ser hipocritas, seamos personas, y enserio, si a nadie le gusta quien se postula... no vote, el voto bronca... el voto cantado... toda esa jerga de votos.. no sirve para nada.
Gracias por su atencion.
y que tenga un lindo dia.
Por favor difunda, a ver si entre todos encontramos lo que estamos buscando pero no conocemos, una verdad, o una respuesta.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Police Corruption

In the Buenos Aires provincial police, ''each division dedicates itself to the area of crime that it is supposed to be fighting,'' said Alejandra Vallespir, a sociologist at the University of Buenos Aires who has written extensively about the police force. ''The robbery division steals and robs, the narcotics division traffics drugs, auto theft controls the stealing of cars and the chop shops, and those in fraud and bunco defraud and swindle.''

As we discussed via Skype last week, Argentina’s police are not well trusted amongst the citizens. This largely results from memories of police fulfilled repression and torture up through the beginning of the 1980s. Corruption within the police forces continues to be a common theme throughout the country, although is apparently more blatant and escalated within provincial police. Each of the country’s twenty-three provinces maintains its own police force, while the federal government is responsible for the police in Buenos Aires city.

As reported in many newspapers and other media outlets, the police fulfill the role that the mafia plays in many other major cities. They are involved in corruption aspects from everyday bribes (for speeding tickets, theft, etc) to aiding the terrorists who were responsible for the anti-Semitic terrorist attacks in the 1990s against the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center. (See the below link).

As described by an anthropologist specializing in the relationship between police and poverty who recently gave a lecture to my class, there exists an unwritten rule within the police force of looking the other way when a fellow officer commits a crime. For this reason, police are not reported for corruption by their peers. Furthermore, any denouncement coming from outside the force is also passed over with the same complacency.

Several older articles from The New York Times expand upon the graveness of this issue within the police of the province of Buenos Aires, where corruption is often portrayed as the most extreme. These articles demonstrate the inability of the country’s last president, Nestor Kirchner, to curb corruption in the province, one of his principle platforms.

Although corruption is perceived as less intense within the federal police of Buenos Aires city, the capital’s mayor, Mauricio Macri, is in the process of creating a his own police force not maintained by the federal government. Ideally, this smaller police force (La Policía Metropolitana) with be responsible only for the city and with report directly to the mayor, rather than be susceptible to corrupt police who fall through the cracks because of a larger provincial or federal bureaucracy. The following article outlines the role of this new branch of police.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Corrupción: I

As with any country, corruption is seen as a problem in Argentina. Even more characteristic of the Global South is the extremely widespread perception amongst Argentines of the corruption that exists within their own government and the police forces. Of the 180 counties ranked by Transparency International, Argentina falls in position 109, with a score of 2.9/10. Only five other countries in North, South, and Central America have worse scores.

The idea of distrust and corruption among politicians here is so widespread that many Argentines I know have professed to vote for certain politicians, thinking that the fact that they were already abundantly wealthy would stop them from stealing public funds. The suspicions and accusations continue to the country’s highest office, where “La Presidenta” Cristina, finds herself the subject of a corruption investigation. Alongside with the preceding president, her husband, the two have been accused of stealing state funds. Last month a judge, Norberto Oyarbide, daringly petitioned the Office of Anticorruption to investigate the couple, whose reported income has increased by 158% in the last year. More information can be found here, on La Nacion’s website.

In addition to dipping their hands into federal funds “El Matrimonio K” has also been accused by Transparency International for altering national income statistics in order to decrease the reported amount of Argentines living under the poverty line. In late September the government announced that the percentage of poor people in Argentina decreased from 17.8% in 2008 to 13.9% currently. Private estimates put the real poverty line at about 40%, creating conflicts between the nation’s leaders and the IMF. The following are a few links from the “slightly” biased Clarin newspaper.

A thought provoking question to which I continue to look for an answer is: if there is so much media coverage of the corruption, why does nothing change? In fact, a weekly show called “Caiga quien Caiga” (Fall who falls) makes a point to show Argentines the widespread corruption throughout the government, including senators who have pocketed five million USD out of public funded projects, and were then punished with fines equivalent to about $200,000. Despite the widespread knowledge of the actors corrupt deeds, they continue to persist unpunished through all rankings of the government from police (which will need to be a whole separate topic) to the president herself.

I would love to see if some members of the class might be able to plant some theories about this phenomenon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kirchner and the Press

Since democratization in the early 1980s, the relation between the press and the government has been normalized, although the current administration is currently seeking to restrict the rights of the press, which is generating a large and penetrating argument throughout the country. The current president, Cristina Kirchner, introduced a bill to congress about two weeks ago seeking cut media rights, and reinforce government control. This law change would be the first dealing with the media since the arrival of democracy. The law seeks to limit the number of licenses for media outlets a single company can own from the current limit twenty-four, to ten. Oversight for complying with the norms and renewal of licenses would be provided by the government every two years. Opponents of the bill assert that it will convert Argentina’s media into a category similar to those controlled by Chavez in Venezuela.

Clarín, the media company who would lose the largest amount of money and control under the new bill has also been subject to intimidation and raids. However, the media conglomerate has fought back by constantly attacking the proposed law and administration though its newspapers and radio and TV stations. Additionally, Kirchner has proposed decriminalizing libel. Many opponents speculate that this decriminalization would be too perfect for the government to manipulate information after it disbands the private sector media giants.

The following links provide some further information about the reading. Apart from the New York Times article, they are all in Spanish.

The high quality image included in this post is an excerpt from an front page article I scanned from what is probably the country's most prestigious periodical - "La Nación." For those who are Spanish speakers in this class, it should provide more insight on the situation. Because it is not owned by Grupo Clarín, it can also be viewed as slightly less biased, although any large media source is likely to be "Anti-K."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bates, Argentina, and Violence

Although Robert Bates argues that societies governed by states and not kinship groups
are those that are developed, his theory is only partly applicable to Argentina. Clearly, one must take into account the definition to be used to define a developed country when examining Argentina or any other state. While the country is (as of this year) a member of the G20, most Argentines refer to their country as the third world. Additionally, although it is considered an upper-middle income country by the World Bank, it does not rank in the upper echelon of The Economist’s Quality-of-life survey, the IMF advanced economy list, nor the UN’s Human Development Index. This makes sense considering that while Argentina a large country in territory and population, its GDP per capita is only slightly above the world average according to World Bank, IMF and CIA estimates.

Returning to Bates’ argument, there is little doubt that Argentina’s government is clearly in charge politically and economically, when it chooses to. The country’s violent past is clearly apparent through conversations with Argentines, but also physically throughout the city. For those unaware, Argentina’s military dictatorships and “dirty war” consisting of extreme government oppression left about 30,000 people “disappeared.” These enemies of the state, overwhelmingly students and professors, were victims of kidnapping, torture, and murder. Much more detailed information can be found through any web search. The following are two links about the topic from Wikipedia and George Washington University respectively.

The most common physical signs of Argentina’s violent past include memorials, mass graves, and graffiti. Many clues about the events which occurred, continue to unravel including recently as construction workers found thousands of human bones while working on a new freeway. Throughout the city large posters are apparent which condemn the past acts of suppression and murder, including in the sights where massive graves are found. These posters often show the photos of the government’s victims. Furthermore, reminders of the dictatorship led war of attempted reclaiming of the British controlled Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) are omnipresent. Particularly attention grabbing is the continuing occupation of the Plaza de Mayo (the city’s main plaza) by protesting veterans of the war. The city is also covered in anti-military/dictatorship graffiti, typically with slogans such as “Nunca Más” (Never again). It is also extremely easy to access information about the violence through personal anecdotes from any adult. In example includes the host mother of one of my friends; she was kidnapped and incarcerated by the government during the military rule.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Introduction and Background Info

Who: Danny Zipse ’10

Majors: International Relations, Spanish

Where: Since February I have been living in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina – whose greater area is home to about 13 million people. I have had the opportunity to see a wide variety of Argentine lifestyles within the federal capital. Between February and July, I lived in a neighborhood called Once (eleven), home of the city’s wholesale and imitation goods, as well as many prostitution and other illicit trades. It is regarded as a middle and lower middle-class neighborhood. Its notable residents include Orthodox Jews and (primarily Bolivian) immigrants. Opting for a more tranquil area, I now live in Núñez, a residential upper middle-class neighborhood near the border with La Provincia de Buenos Aires.

Studies: Through my program with CIEE, I have the opportunity to take classes in four different universities in the city. I have taken advantage of this opportunity and enrolled in three of them. They include FLACSO, a private Pan-Latin American university, in which I take classes with other Americans. In my other two universities I participate in direct enrollment classes with Argentines. They include UBA (La Universidad de Buenos Aires), the free and public university which has about 310,000 students (not a typo) and UCA, a private Catholic university with about 18,000 students. Oddly, UBA – whose buildings are in deplorable condition and covered in extreme leftist graffiti – is actually the more challenging and respected university in the country. La UCA is a more organized and cleaner system, yet less challenging.