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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 15:45 GMT
Argentina's future hope
Julian Pettifer
Reporting from Argentina

The vineyards may be a rare success story
Our reporter travels to Argentina's north-western province of Mendoza to see and sample the bumper grape harvest. It is a rare success story in a country in unprecedented crisis.

It has been a terrible year for Argentina.

There's been a run on the banks, violence on the streets and a drastic devaluation of the peso.

Half the population is now unemployed or under-employed and children go hungry.

There is so little faith in politicians that five presidents came and went in two weeks.

Future hope

Recovery just might be found in the province of Mendoza, beneath the snow-capped Andes, 1000 kilometres from Buenos Aires.

Jose Alberto Zuccardi, of Italian descent, stocky and affable, is managing director of the wine business started by his father 50 years ago.

Today the Zuccardi company is one of the larger family owned wineries in Argentina, with a workforce of 430, producing 10 million bottles a year.

He exports 60% of his wine.

In recent times exporting has been tough because the peso was artificially pegged, one to one, to the $US, making Argentine products expensive on world markets.

With the dollar peg being abandoned this year, it meant the peso fell to almost a quarter of its old value.

This devaluation makes it easier for Jose Alberto to sell his wine but has not been so kind to his workers.

The price of basic food items has rocketed 55% in less than a year.

It's difficult to believe that in Mendoza, as elsewhere in Argentina, there are thousands of children who don't have enough to eat.

Hunger

Veronica Carlen is a middle class mother with a young family living in Mendoza.

When she heard that children, not far from her comfortable suburban home, were arriving hungry to school, she wanted to help.

Quite by chance she met Raquel Blanes.

Raquel had been running a soup kitchen out of her own home.

She started on a small scale but soon four hundred children a day were arriving on her doorstep.

All the food is privately donated.

Personal sacrifices

Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Veronica lends a hand, cooking porridge and rice in great vats and driving it over to Raquel's house. I went with her.

Like Veronica, Raquel is in her mid-30s and she too has young children.

But there the likeness ends.

Her home and its surroundings tell of very different circumstances.

Raquel's husband earns just about enough to keep the family.

Yet, from her small kitchen and front room Raquel has been feeding all these kids.

It has been a great strain on her marriage; and Veronica warned me before our visit that Raquel was at the end of her tether.

After the last child had been fed, Raquel announced that this was indeed the last day of distributing food from her house.

Somehow, the women are determined to continue but it must be from different premises.

In Argentina today, everyone has to live with declining expectations.

Crossing Continents: Argentina's future hope
Thursday 7 November 2002 on BBC Radio 4 at 1100 GMT
The programme is repeated 11 November 2002 on BBC Radio 4 at 2030 GMT

Correspondent: Julian Pettifer
Producer: Tim Mansel
Editor: Maria Balinska


WATCH AND LISTEN
Julian Pettifer
Jose Alberto Zuccardi's wine is enjoying better times


Jose Alberto Zuccardi
Devaluation helped us to be competitive in the international market


Jose Alberto Zuccardi
Exporting is an answer to economic problems



Crossing Continents

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SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Argentina
19 Jul 02  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Argentina
09 Jul 02  |  Americas
Hunger follows crisis in Argentina
16 Oct 02  |  Business


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