Posted by: standing_baba | July 12, 2011

The 2001 Argentine Economic Crisis: My Roommates Tell It Like It Was

Sushi night with friends and roommates

FOREWORD: (Buenos Aires, Argentina) I find interesting roommates wherever I choose to live, here and here for example. Buenos Aires—my home for the past two months—has followed the same fortunate sequence: sift through for-rent announcements, use intuition to find excellent people, move in, become friends. Especially in non-English-speaking countries, I prefer living with local roommates to learn languages and gain first-hand information about their country, which many times is different from the official story repeated by news networks. Given the Greek economic crisis which has been widely compared to Argentina’s in 2001, I was curious to hear what my current Argentine roommates experienced as teenagers during that turbulent time. Below, with my English translation, are their experiences in their own words.

NAME: Lucas Villamil
PROFESSION: Journalist
AGE: 27

“2001, as the world knows, was the year in which an economic crisis bankrupted Argentina, the country in which I grew up and still live. That December 21st I was in a friend’s house in La Horqueta, an exclusive neighborhood in northern Buenos Aires. My group of friends and I had just finished our last year of high school and were planning a January trip to Brazil together. It was a sunny day, we had played soccer and eaten an asado [Argentina BBQ], and the Argentine peso was still fixed one-to-one to the dollar.”

“I remember the news arrived first via alarmed mothers, then later by television. In many suburban zones people were blocking the streets and looting the supermarkets to stockpile the food they could no longer buy and, in some cases, to steal the things they could never afford in the first place. The TV, as usual, rejoiced in the violence. Some of those supermarkets full of desperate people were just a few blocks from were we’d spend lazy summer days in the local pool. Surprised, we watched as a needle popped our private school and basic needs bubble.”

“Little by little the hypothesis, the blame, the names, then later, the pots and pans in the street, began to sound. I was in my house and heard the metallic sound of social unease for a very long time. The middle class, scared by the violence that hunger and inequality are capable of generating, went to the streets to express their discontent like never before. Afterwards, all the rest happened.”

“I can’t claim to have been immediately aware of those events. A few days later, for the first time in my life, I saw the Racing Club, my club, become champions in the Argentine soccer league, and in January I was naked in Brazil, despite all that had happened. Upon returning to my country, one Argentine peso was no longer one dollar, and the pots and pans continued to sound. Now I understand something has changed, but not everything.”

NAME: Tomás Bullrich
PROFESSION: Environmentalist
AGE: 28

“I remember various things that affected me, the famous asphalt pirates that stopped truckers to steal their merchandise. I remember one cattle transport truck was traveling just outside Buenos Aires when a group blocked the road, intercepted the truck, stole its cattle, and later butchered them for food.”

“Businesses and supermarkets were looted, initially for extreme basic food needs, then later the thefts were distorted and done criminally to include appliances and electronics. Local shop owners lost everything during this looting. I remember the case of one Chinese businessman that committed suicide because they had looted his supermarket and he couldn’t afford to restock the shelves.”

“Comedic television programs that normally recorded live decided to not go on air out of respect for the country’s difficult period. The people’s outcry manifested itself non-stop as self-organized pot-and-pan protests and a slogan shouted in unison “QUE SE VAYAN TODOS! [Everyone Out!],” referring to our political representatives that demonstrated apathy and little support. There was police suppressing the protests, shouting, chaos, and the certainty that everything must change.”

“Huge multinationals fired en masse their employees and the national government responded with a plan to double unemployment assistance (two monthly salaries per year employed instead of one).”

“In short, these unerasable images and memories help to remind us of the historic turning point in our beloved land that was devastated by a system that should change but doesn’t seem to have taken into account that which has already happened.”

NAME: Tomás “Rolo” Fox
PROFESSION: Actor & Art Gallery Owner
AGE: 28

“My 2001 crisis memories are unerasable. I remember seeing the many images that were later aired on television. I’ll never forget my brother on the balcony pounding away on drum, nor my uncles carrying my cousins to the square in front of the congress building to demand that the politicians leave office, others too leaving their routines to protest in the street. People were fed up and had said ‘enough.'”

“But more than those images, what I most remember is the sensation I felt during those days. A sensation that I’ve never felt before and haven’t felt since. It’s difficult to describe in words, but if I had to choose one word to explain it I’d say: apocalypse.”

“To see those anarchistic images in the streets, hungry people begging for food, customers banging on bank doors because their life savings were stolen, the president escaping from La Casa Rosada [the presidential office] in a helicopter, pots and pans sounding in front of Congress (and in every neighborhood) while “Que se vayan todos!” [Everyone out!] was chanted loudly, looting rumors not only in supermarkets but in private homes as well.”

“The state’s declaration of martial law and other apocalyptic-type rumors made me believe the country’s end was near, that everything had collapsed and that nobody knew what tomorrow would bring. Not to mention the future. It was an extreme situation on a massive scale. A terrifying sensation, as if on the border of an abyss.”

“Finally it passed (like everything in life) and little by little a sort of normalcy returned, although it was difficult. We’re still here, in the same place, in the same country, but nothing has been the same since those days.”


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