With a 500% Rise in the Cost of Electricity Bills, Argentines don’t do Things by Half — A piece I wrote for Daily Kos.
In December I predicted that the shit would hit the fan in Argentina in March. But with just a couple of weeks left of February to go, the people are getting decidedly cranky.
What’s Their Beef?
A kilo of beef (just over two pounds worth) is now higher than ever before. For a carnivorous country with at least three or four beef based meals a week, this is a serious problem.
I have to admit, I’m not a savvy consumer. I hate using coupons. I don’t have a loyalty card and frankly I’d rather pay three times more for the convenience of not having to go to several different supermarkets or local shops to save a few pesos.
I’ve also lost all notion of how much things should cost. In fact; I think no one really knows how much things are worth here anymore. When small stores and restaurants no longer put price tags on their menus or products, and with a galloping inflation, exacerbated by the liberation of the dollar (devaluation of the peso or lifting of the CEPO, however you prefer to call it); yesterday’s price no longer applies today.
So, when a shopkeeper’s dream customer like me finds themselves balking at the price of asado, and Argentina, the country famous for Diego Maradona, Evita Peron and good beef, starts importing supplies from neighboring Uruguay, questions start to be raised. When the nation of gauchos and world famous parrillas starts substituting the national dish for pork and chicken, something’s seriously wrong.
And believe you me. The devaluation may not have met with much resistance, but the price of beef is enough to bring down a government faster than you can say moo.
500% Price Hike
With a 500% rise in the cost of electricity bills from this month onwards, Argentines don’t do things by half. Or rather, Argentine governments. That statistic is not an exaggeration, although I am using it at the highest end of the scale to make a point. Let me clarify. Electricity here has been heavily subsidized by the government for years. What Macri is basically doing is removing the government subsidy.
But, as with everything in this great country, it’s never done gradually or implemented in stages. It’s done overnight. The good news is that people with electricity in subsidized areas (if you live in a well-to-do private neighborhood you rightly have no subsidy) have had it pretty good for a long time, based on the fact that two people living in an apartment probably consume just 20–50 pesos a month. Ask me to convert that into dollars and I have a hard time. The dollar was worth a lot less a few weeks ago. Now divide 20 by 14 and well… it’s pretty damn cheap.
So if you were paying 20 before you will now be paying 100. Still pretty cheap. But still a 500% rise. It is proportionate though. If you were paying 100, you’ll only be hit with a 300% rise. Or something like that. Is this getting people’s backs up? You bet it is.
Added to that, the timing of this increment is poorly misjudged. Occurring during the hottest summer Argentina has had in years, the new price hike is unfortunately accompanied with regular, lengthy power outs. Too often are the nights of bringing the kids downstairs to sleep on the cold floor with a heat sensation of 95 degrees at night and no fan or AC.
Controlled power outs every Thursday and Friday between 13–16 local time for the foreseeable future. Great. Those without a generator are going to have a fun time. Businesses who sell refrigerated and frozen goods, restaurants, commerce, people who earn their living on the Internet (oh wait, that’s me) will suddenly disappear off the grid for three hours a day, twice a week. While paying 300–500% more for the pleasure.
Loss of Employment
Industry giant, Cresta Roja went belly up last month. Is that Macri’s fault? Well, no. But while we’re on a Macri bashing rampage, let’s throw the blame for this at him too. The company has been flailing around for months (or years), however the workers’ strike that cut off access to Argentina’s main international airport for several days happened just after Macri took control.
Let me just repeat that. Access to Argentina’s international airport was blocked for almost a kilometre, resulting in people missing flights or walking with their suitcases for 1000 meters in the suffocating heat.
What do you do with a situation like that? When discussions fail, if you’re Macri, you send in the armed guard to remove them. Echoes of dictatorships past make shivers run down the spines of even the most right-wing of Argentines and provide the Macri loathers fuel to the fire.
His brief term so far has also unfortunately coincided with the closure of several other large companies or the layoff of employees, such as Sol Airlines, and the anti-Macri rhetoric is beginning to gather momentum from the mouths of the very people who voted for him.
The expression “culpa de Macri” (it’s Macri’s fault) is becoming so commonplace it’s more of a running joke. If it rains on my daughter’s baptism next month, it will be his doing.
Let’s see if we get to March without a popular uprising.