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Saturday, 27 April, 2002, 00:06 GMT 01:06 UK
Argentines swap pesos for 'Evitas'
A masked demonstrator marches to Buenos Aires Plaza de Mayo during a protest of several hundred unemployed people
The lack of cash has led to social unrest
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By Lourdes Heredia
BBC correspondent in Buenos Aires

Argentina's banks were partially operational for five hours on Friday, but that did not relieve the demand for cash of ordinary Argentines.

After a long and difficult week, banks reopened their doors but mainly to pay pensioners and those on welfare.

Nevertheless it was not possible to withdraw funds and most ATMs remained empty, while people scoured the city in search of a working cash machine.

A woman demonstrator
The closing of the banks has been a nightmare for many
In this situation everyone tries to cope the best they can. For example, Carlos, a journalist, has been able to borrow some cash for his less "lucky" friends.

"As soon as I heard, last Friday, that the banks were going to remain closed I went and withdrew as much cash as I could.

"Since then I've been spending as little as possible. I buy just the necessary things to eat," he said.

I had about US$30,000 in my account and I can not have access to that money

Journalist Carlos
Now even paying by credit card has become difficult because many stores are not accepting them.

"We have a new finance minister, but I don't think that will change the main problems we have," he said.

"Right now I am waiting to see what is going to happen, but I don't believe in the government. They said the banks will be open today, but of course that was also a lie."

Like many people in Argentina, Carlos's savings were frozen last December.

Salary cut

"I had about US $30,000 in my account and I can not have access to that money. I don't even want to think about it. I could have done so many things with it.

"The worst is that my situation is privileged, compared with some other stories I hear everyday.

"I am young, I am healthy and I have a job. Can you imagine feeling fortunate even after losing that amount of money?".

Carlos works now in a local news agency. The money he lost was his severance pay from a previous job and he wanted to use it to move abroad.

As many working Argentines, his salary has been reduced and now he is not paid on time. He would like to find more stable work, but he knows he is lucky to even have a job.

Evita bonds

A few blocks from Carlos's office, Don Antonio waiting for some customers. He has been a shoe shiner in Corrientes Street for the last four years.

"Things were difficult, but now they are impossible," he said.

"There is no cash so people are not ready to spend two pesos. I am a pensioner and I receive 200 pesos a month, but that's not enough to live. I don't know what I am going to do.

As long as I have 'Evitas' I am happy because I can buy things

Teenager Marķa Alejandra
"Before I had lots of customers that came and sit here for hours. I listened to their stories and even gave them some advice. Now they even ignore me. I guess they feel guilty so they don't even say hello to me anymore."

If the situation seems hard in Buenos Aires, the difficulties in the provinces are far worse. Many bankrupted provincial governments have resorted to printing their own bonds to pay civil servants. People use these bonds as a local currency to buy food or clothes.

For example in La Rioja, in the northwest of Argentina, nearly half of the work force is employed by the government.

These people are paid most of their salaries with "Evitas", the provincial bonds carrying the image of Eva Peron.

Marķa Alejandra is 17 years old. She lives in La Rioja and works in a little store.

"Every time someone pays me in pesos I have trouble giving change," she said.

"We don't see many pesos here. We have so many different papers.

"Most of the people use "Evitas", but we also accept the national bond called "lecop" and we even accept restaurant tickets as currency.

"The people who pay in pesos, want to receive their change in pesos, but we just don't have them.

"It is strange to think that I will need pesos to travel, even within Argentina.

"But travel is not even an option for me so I don't worry too much about it. As long as I have 'Evitas' I am happy because I can buy things. Sometimes even 'Evitas' are hard to come by."

See also:

26 Apr 02 | Business
Argentina gets new economy chief
25 Apr 02 | Business
Argentina tightens banking freeze
26 Apr 02 | Business
Brief respite for hard-up Argentines
24 Apr 02 | Business
Economy chief loses the plot
25 Apr 02 | Business
Argentine stories: Patricia Otero
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