Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mercurial Mercosur

We are encountering Latin American politics up close and personal.  This Sunday only a mile from our place was a giant "celebration" of Argentine independence.  In front of the Casa Rosada, the president Cristina Kirchner gave a speech while thousands of people waved flags, beat drums, and paraded.

Granted we could not understand the speech. But it still seemed to us like the focus of the event was baldly political.  The flags did not say Argentina... They said the name of the president, her family, her party.  The cameras at the event focused on her - we watched her dance awkwardly and kiss spectators.  The audience, our host told us, had  been bussed in.  Many were drinking heavily, forming drum circles that drowned out the speech, and even in one case trying to sell us "brownies de cannabis."  From the outside, and on TV, it looked magnificent.  From the inside, it was cacophonous.  In the U.S. July fourth is also a big party, but I feel like people are celebrating being American, rather than being Democratic/Republican or being part of a televized spectacle.

But Kirchnerism and Peronism are big, we later learned, and have as a central tenet resistance to large American corporations and in some cases American " imperialism."  I do feel at a disadvantage here compared to the other places we have been because of the institutional barriers against America.  The countries here are building a retaliatory bloc, and I don't know whether this is helping them in the end.  For instance, difficulty getting money from my US account - literally every ATM (whether HSBC, Citibank, or the local ones) is using the same network which charges six dollars per transaction on my US account and has low withdrawal limits.

And then, the reciprocity fees.  Because the US charges high visa fees, Argentina, Bolivia, and others charge us huge fees to enter.  We paid 160 for Argentina ad were going to pay more to go through Bolivia before deciding, enough is enough.  We were only planning to spend 1.5 days in Bolivia en route to Peru, but the embassy here decided (after some shady internal deliberation) that it would not grant a transit visa, and would charge the full 160 dollars each.  And since we had no dollars, they gave us a terrible conversion rate for pesos, making it come out to 172 dollars each.  And then, since the ATMs here are against us (see above), actually withdrawing that money would make it closer to 180 each.  We have decided to skip Bolivia and just go through Chile (which does not charge fees for entry as of two months ago).

I get the indignance that these governments feel against America.  But there has to be something to supply and demand, right?  I think this strategy is counter productive.  If you charge high fees for tourists, you are going to have less tourists.  And how does that help?

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