My aim is not to take a position on politics here, for a number of reasons. First of all, because I don´t share them, I can´t vote nor can I plot the two major political parties here in Argentina (the peronistas and the radicales) on a common Western world left right scale (despite a masters and a minor in college that touched on the subject numerous times), so I am not going to argue the finer points of democracy here in BA.
What I would like to do, however, is discuss the impact of certain recent policies (mainly import substitution industrialization or ISI an amazing Latin American invention whereby you stop allowing high quality imports into your country via import barriers and then sit back and wait while local industries magically fill these gaps or people simply learn to live without… for an in-depth description, read here)
Now when I studied Latin American politics and economics (back in dying glow of the neo-liberal late 90s) at fairly conservative UVA it was generally taught that this was a populist policy attempted in the 1970s in several countries and that had FAILED, thereby bringing the advent of the Chicago Boys, as the University of Chicago economists were called, fiscal austerity and privatization and even currency pegs, all sorts of great little tools that gave Carlos Menem his awesome and awful powers and eventually brought on the currency crisis and devaluation of 2000/2001. Oh wait, I wasn´t going to start taking sides here was I? Too late!!!
What brought matters to a head was my visit yesterday to Jumbo and the feeling of desolation and geographical isolation I felt when I was no longer able to find my beloved stinky French cheeses (there were once chevres, an amazing Ceour de Blue, Comté and good old Emmenthal to name a few).
The highlight of my visit yesterday however was La Vache Qui Rit (also know as the Laughing Cow, of course, a kiddie favorite but not a real cheese product in my opinion) in both spreadable and wax-covered versions. As the daughter and granddaughter of Parisians who enjoy their cheese, this is tantamount to not having good coffee if you are Italian or bagels if you are a New Yorker or Marmite if you are Australian or chile powder if you are Mexican…feel free to insert your own stereotypical gastronomical generalization here… In short, its my go-to food. Something I can cherish in the fridge for a week, slicing off a piece or two to be savoured on its own or on a cracker or maybe I will go crazy and blow the whole hog in a special cookbook recipe I would never attempt otherwise. And it’s no longer available, because if it’s not here, if old Jumbo can´t pull it off, no one can…
The lack of cheese further exacerbated the frustration I have felt when attempting to buy tiles for a construction project, only to find that half of the products on display in the showroom are out of stock and no one has any idea if and when they might return. Initially, in the spirit of “When in Rome…” (and perhaps a bit of “there´s not a damn thing I can do about it”) I said to myself, OK, there are no more colored tiles to decorate my bathrooms that have been imported from Spain, I guess I will just have to buy colored tiles from an Argentina manufacturer, that´s cool, I guess that´s what ISI is all about.
Here´s the rub, my friends, there are NO COLORED TILES MADE IN ARGENTINA! OK, that is a little drastic, there are a number of small mom and pop stores that sell old school 10 x 10 cm pastel colored tiles, like the one´s at your mother in law´s kitchen that were installed circa 1978. But the more modern, brightly colored 40 x 40 cm variety or larger? Not a one. So why, oh why, does a local manufacturer not see this GAPING HOLE in the market and rush out to make his own?
(it should be known that each of the two large Home Depot like has exactly ONE line of solid colored tiles that remotely match my description above and infinite varieties of fake marble, fake wood, fake clay and terra-cotta…)
My husband says this lack of offering is due to lack of re-investment, market research and many other things. I don´t know and really, it does seem more than a little spoiled and bratty to be complaining about a lack of cheese or tiles in a city where last week 51 innocent commuters were killed in a train accident and over 600 people were injured. I mean, there are clearly major infrastructure issues that need to be addressed before a simple trade and economic policy. But if there isn´t some structured, government led effort to help local industries fill the gaps that the government has so kindly opened by refusing to allow the entry of these products into the market, what the hell is ISI for???
Personal reflection and experiences on this topic welcome, of course.
If you thought this was interesting, stay tuned for this Friday when I relate how I was unable to exchange my hard-earned tax-paying Argentine pesos for Euros on the eve of a recent trip and instead took said wad of cash for a tour of France only to bring them back and spend them right here at home, the only place they seem to be wanted…