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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 13:31 GMT
Why Argentines take sleeping pills
Argentines queue outside a bank
Like many, Carmen spends hours waiting at her bank
Carmen is a 48-year old translator living in Buenos Aires. She has written a one-day diary for BBC News Online about her experience of Argentina's economic crisis. Her account begins during a recent trip to Chile. She is married with no children.

0800 local time, Santiago de Chile

I woke up in Santiago de Chile, where I had been sitting for an exam in order to work for the United Nations in the near future.


Is it spontaneous rage from the middle class, which finds itself impoverished, corralled, unable to take its summer holidays, and sick and tired of corruption and ineffective governments?

I am weary of Argentina's future, and very worried about present times.

I have paid my way here to try out another opportunity. Yet I dread another move.

I have been in Argentina for 20 years and although I always had my reservations about the country, I gradually fell in love with the lifestyle, the superb landscapes, the climate...

1000

A woman outside a shoe shop
Shopping in Buenos Aires has always been pricey
Some last minute window shopping. I was planning to use some US dollars I was able to save from Argentina's "corralito", the playpen or corral, set up by former Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo to retain our hard-won savings.

Santiago is definitely much less expensive than Buenos Aires.

Still, I had to restrain myself. I really cannot spare any money now.

1200

Departure for the airport, no tax to pay and bag carts are free.

1600 local time, Buenos Aires

Arrival in Buenos Aires. Surprise, bag carts now cost 1.50 pesos.

A woman bangs her pots in protest at the Argentine government
Spontaneous rage from the middle classes?

Worse still, it is non-refundable and if you do not have the change, incoming passengers are required to change dollars at a makeshift kiosk.

I carried my bags, the rate was too lousy.

An Italian man who went through the same process, ended up telling the kiosk people: "This is why your country is such a shitty place. I hope you drown in it."

Considering his rage, I assume he also lives here and has been hard hit by some of the new economic measures.

By the way, I shared his feelings entirely.

1610

My husband is there to meet me. The parking fee has been hiked by 15%.

We wonder whether it is because the parking lot uses any imported components, since that is the sole reason why any price should go up.

The creeps are taking advantage of the unstable situation.

1650

All the way from the airport to our flat we can see billboards from supermarkets announcing THEY have not upped their prices.

Graffiti on a wall in Argentina
Argentines express their frustration through graffiti

Plus some graffiti simply saying "chorros" (crooks) or "fuera" (out). It represents a feeling that all powers that be, politicians, unions and big business are unwanted.

I wonder who is behind this...

Is it spontaneous rage from the middle class, which finds itself impoverished, corralled, unable to take its summer holidays, and sick and tired of corruption and ineffective governments?

Or is there some sort of "black hand" instigating the very legitimate rage we feel and prodding the soccer hooligans and other thugs to riot and loot in the wake of the "cacerolazos" (pot-banging protests)?

1715

Home again. I have to phone the bank because it has left a message on the answer phone stating that my phone and medical plan bills cannot be paid automatically from the account opened in mid-December, when all hell broke loose.


I am not allowed to cash the cheque. I can only deposit it, but if I do, my $1,400 will be retained until the year 2003.

The bank charges me as if I had a full current-come-savings account, yet it cannot perform the sort of payment that would avoid me standing in line for hours to pay my bills.

Worse still, I learn that none of the business and government agencies I worked for as a freelance translator during November and early December are about to pay me.

In fact, there is hardly anybody in the ministries that will even take my phone call.

They are middle-level secretaries and, either they have been reposted, or are so disoriented about everything happening in their offices that they cannot trace my invoices.

1745

I have rented out a small flat to a foreign company. My tenant paid the rent for December on 8 January, providing me with a cheque in US dollars.


Our fridge is half-empty. My husband says prices have gone up about 10% for essentials, and we are not buying anything else.

The banks have been closed all week and I am not allowed to cash the cheque.

I can only deposit it, but if I do, my $1,400 will be retained until the year 2003.

I must somehow renegotiate this on Monday, because as things stand, my bank savings are extremely low, my clients are not paying, my rent money is not usable and my credit card is maxxed.

I am technically broke.

1800 - 1900

I am on the phone with colleagues and relatives. They all say the same, nobody is paying anything.


We used to be rather well-off. We are law-abiding, tax-paying (sometimes through the nose), hard-working, middle-aged people.

One tries not to spend, certainly not in cash.

Supermarket sales have plummeted. Our fridge is half-empty. My husband says prices have gone up about 10% for essentials, and we are not buying anything else.

Services are stripped down to their leanest version. On Monday I will be giving back my cell phone.

I must also find the courage to tell our maid, who comes in three times a week, that we will have to cut down on one day... and that may be just the beginning.

I hate to do that, but neither of us is making any money really.

2000

We watch the news. It is not encouraging.

2200

It seems there will be no cacerolazo tonight. I have been in and out of Argentina for various reasons, so I have not participated in any of the protests.


Goodnight, my sleeping pill is now making me drowsy. Like many other people, I find it impossible to sleep without one anymore

But I would like to, I am fed up. I really hope we can leave the country for good.

Of course, that means our properties here will be highly devalued, as well as the rent I get from my extra flat, and my husband is anguishing over his daughter by his first marriage, who is married and has a small baby.

He is forlorn to leave them behind. Can we all move out somehow, even if it means the family will be scattered over several continents? Can you sever your affections and habits so easily?

2300

My husband and I are still discussing all this, feeling miserable.

We used to be rather well-off. We are law-abiding, tax-paying (sometimes through the nose), hard-working, middle-aged people.

We cannot retire because our savings and properties are mostly tied down in Argentina.

We have gone through years of all sorts of governments, from military to Peronists and Radicals.

We have seen corruption, waste, mismanagement, brutal violence, disaffection for the country and now sheer rage.

We are sad and disappointed. We certainly did nothing to curb any of that, and we are as guilty as everybody else in that respect.

So much going down the drain, not just for us, but for everybody we know, for the country at large.

It might be healthy to participate in the new citizen movements, circulate the numerous emails calling for a "Cleaner Argentina", but right now I feel too tired and cowardly to believe once more. I want to leave.

Goodnight, my sleeping pill is now making me drowsy.

Like many other people, I find it impossible to sleep without one anymore.

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