Cambio

When I walk down Calle Florida, the shopping street in the middle of town with its big and small shops and malls, I feel like a walking Dollar sign.

Like parrots, the only words you hear is a constant murmuring and shouting of Cambio! Cambio! Cambio! Cambio!

Change! They take any foreign money, preferably Dollars, Euros, Réais.

It’s mostly young men in their early twenties who do this job, which is illegal, as officially the government has set a rate for which foreign currency can be changed into pesos.

However, no one deems this course realistic, and the emerging back market offers tourists a way better rate for their US$ – called the ‘blue dollar’.

At the same time, this deprives the central bank of foreign currency reserves, which have shrunk continuously…

The young men in Florida try to get you into one of the illegal currency exchange bureaus, where your money will be clandestinely changed at a better rate.

It seems they are mostly immigrants. Last year I met Hector, a Colombian cook who, coming to Buenos Aires and looking for a job, took on the job to try to get tourists to change their money, for a commission.

I am stunned, though – how could this be illegal? It is so obvious what is happening, just one undercover policeman walking through this street and they could close them all.

I guess the government tolerates this, somehow, because after all there is money flowing into the country, and the number of tourists soar.

It’s just weird to see a rich country like Argentina go downhill so much, to see what happens if a population so completely loses its trust in its banks and financial institutions, in its paper money (every bill will be checked if it’s a fake) and in its political system in general.

I hardly find an Argentinian with whom to discuss politics, without them rolling their eyes, shrugging shoulders,  or just laughing out loud.

And even with the pesos losing value against the Euro (even if in the last weeks the trend has been reversed) one would guess that Argentina is a cheaper country, than for example during my last visits in 2011 and 2013.

But rampant inflation, estimated at 25% a year, without reliable government statistics, just consumes any currency exchange gains.

To give a concrete example: in October 2013 I got a 1-month gym membership at the Megathlon Barrio Norte, for 760 Pesos. This month, I paid 1120 Pesos, for the very same thing. An increase of 47% in the price of the gym, over 17 months.

In fact, Argentina is expensive. I’m spending way too much here.

In the end, I did not change any money in Florida. I have a few Dollars left, but it wasn’t worth the long walk over… So I supported the official Argentina economy and withdrew my pesos from an ATM.

With the Euro crisis and a possible Grexit happening, Argentina is a worthwhile case to study when a society goes bankrupt.