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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Argentines barter to survive
A woman hammers on the closed shutters of a bank
A woman hammers on the closed shutters of a bank
In the latest of a series of personal testimonies on Argentina's crisis, psychotherapist Adriana Kundergraber describes life as a "by now ex-upper middle class Argentine professional".

"Buenos Aires used to be the Paris of South America, the most cosmopolitan city, but things have got so bad that hunger has become a growing reality.

"We're permanently being confronted with homeless, with young children, with beggars asking for food - as a growing reality - it's terrible now.

"You still have areas where you can see restaurants packed," she says.

But that's partly because the plunging value of the Argentine peso - down 70% since January against the US dollar - is starting to attract tourists from Uruguay and Chile.

"They come over the weekend and try to buy everything for peanuts."

Barter economy

For Argentines, restaurant visits are becoming a rarity. "Having a job - which is also paid - has become God's greatest gift!"

Beggars in Buenos Aires
"It's like a war without bombs"

And bartering has become an increasingly commonplace way of paying for things.

"The special characteristic of this situation has been the impoverishment of all classes of society," says Adriana.

One of her clients is a fashion designer.

"At the moment she is going to pay me with clothes from her shop, which is a top shop in Buenos Aires.

"I've got other patients who pay just meagre amounts." And she can "definitely" see a point at which most clients won't be able to pay her.

Even her increasingly part-time maid is starting to sound like a trained economist, Adriana says.

"The focus of our lives is to protect our savings."

'Like a hurricane'

Not only is unemployment a constant threat, but Argentines also have a much wider feeling of uncertainty which is harder to pinpoint.

Queuing in Buenos Aires
Desperate for foreign passports

"You wake up in the morning and you hold the newspaper, wondering how long this government is going to stay.

"It's incredibly unstable, like a hurricane, this is a process of devastation, and we are in the middle of it.

"There is no stability, there is a general sense that the game has no rules."

'Positive anger'

"The only positive aspect of this situation is that all classes, high, middle and lower have become aware of governmental ineptness, corruption and plain thefts. There's a general feeling of anger."

The result is a rising level of everyday violence, particularly in bank queues, and growing patriotism, with fury at the government coupled with concern towards fellow Argentines.

"As a result, there is not such an individual outlook, but for the first time everyone is more concerned and thinking on a more patriotic basis."

But for many, patriotism co-exists with a desperate desire to leave.

"Both my sons are in Europe. My youngest son works for a consulting firm and they sent him to Spain. He's coming back at the end of the year but he's already applied to university in France for an MBA."

Emigration fever

Argentines joke that Peruvians descended from the Incas, Mexicans descended from the Aztecs and Argentines descended from the boats.

"Argentina is a country of mainly Italian and Spanish immigrants" and "anyone with grandparents" is trying to get to Europe, she says.

At the Spanish and Italian embassies, "there are people standing outside overnight, hoping just to get a number to start their quest."

"Israel is also among the chosen destinations, even though it would mean living in a country threatened by violence," says Adriana, whose mother fled to Argentina to escape the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938.

The Israeli embassy has taken adverts in Argentine newspapers publicising the financial support available to Jews who emigrate to Israel.

"The government offers individuals financial support which would enable you to make plans for a life project.

"This is a beautiful country and the people are (too), there is a sense of friendship, and a warmness. It's really terrible how this has collapsed."

"It's like a war without bombs."


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