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By Michael E. Miller
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On its official Website, Miramar is described as "la ciudad de los niños -- los chicos nunca se olvidan [the city of children -- children never forget]." The coastal town, population 20,000, faces the Atlantic and is about 500 kilometers south of Buenos Aires. It is heavily dependent on tourism in the summer; its beaches are good for surfing. In the winter "we die of hunger," say the Miramarans living in Little Buenos Aires. The winters are harsh, jobs are few, only the butcher and the baker have work, attests Allen, a witty, curly-haired 24-year-old who arrived from Miramar about five months ago and who lives in apartment seven, behind Silvina's place. But, he cautions, Argentines, as part of their national character, tend to exaggerate a lot.
Indeed says Mark Szuchman, professor of Latin-American history at Florida International University, anguish is an Argentine way of life. In fact, he says, there are more psychoanalysts in Buenos Aires per capita than in any other place in the world. "If Woody Allen knew this, he would move from New York," Szuchman assures.
Mercedes Garcia, the Argentine economic reporter, agrees. "We're a pessimistic people," Garcia concedes. "We're tragic, melancholic, and we like to complain a lot. Individually, we're overconfident and arrogant -- in Argentine slang we call it being chanta. But we lack those qualities as a nation. Argentines have no faith in Argentina."
According to last year's census, there were nearly 23,000 Argentines concentrated in South Florida. But according to the General Consul of Argentina in Miami, Deputy Maximo Gowland, there are more than twice that number -- about 60,000 -- residing in Miami-Dade alone, a growth of 61 percent since 1992. He warns the figure is only approximate. "More or less," Gowland says. "Though I would venture to say it's more." (By some accounts at least 100,000 Argentines have reached South Florida.)
Three years ago the number of Argentines coming to Miami-Dade increased sharply, as South America's second largest economy entered a demoralizing slump. To date Argentina remains mired in a muck of economic and political turmoil. "Things have gotten worse," says Szuchman. "There's been a considerable and growing amount of unemployment."
Mercedes Garcia, who works for El Cronista, says her country's economic woes are deeply entrenched in the nation's idiosyncrasies. "During the years of President Carlos Menem, between 1990 and 1999, there was a lack of economic reform," she explains. "The economy was growing, there was a lot of privatization going on, but instead of embracing needed changes, the government went all out. Argentina's foreign debt was enormous. Yet despite the country's growing deficit, the public sector continued to spend money left and right and nothing was really getting done. The mentality was “mientras pueda safo' --get away with it while you can. It's the Argentine way."
Currently, Garcia explains, international markets have no faith in Argentina. The South American country was pounded into a recession three years ago when Brazil, Argentina's biggest trading partner, devalued the real, Brazil's currency. As a result Argentina, which depended heavily on Brazil to purchase its exports, lost one of its biggest customers.
In Argentina salaries have been slashed, workers have been laid off, hundreds of small businesses have closed, and consumers have stopped spending. "It's a cycle that seems to never end," Garcia says. Argentine political scandals have aggravated the situation. (Last year former Vice President Carlos Alvarez resigned in the aftermath of a vote-buying debacle in the Senate. Menem is under house arrest for his alleged role in arms sales to Croatia, while an international arms-sales embargo was in place during the Balkan wars, and to Ecuador during its border war with Peru; ironically Argentina was a peace guarantor for a cease-fire.) "Just one of 20,000 cases of corruption," Garcia contends. Like most of her countrymen, she is cynical about her government. The disillusion is strongest among young people attempting to come into their places in Argentine society. They feel shut out by age and corruption.
Raul Costa, a political analyst from Cordoba, Argentina, paints a dismal picture affecting not just Argentine youth. "No matter what the government does in reaction to the economic crises, common Argentines, the ones sitting out in the bleachers, will have no victories to celebrate, no matter what the result of the game," writes Costa via e-mail. "For ordinary Argentines the suffering won't end when the referee blows his whistle.
"Here there is not a single day that goes by without protests or bad news," Costa writes. "The economic slump has translated into a national psychological depression. The situation is worse for young adults. You can't find work without a profession. But even for young pros, it's hard. In Argentina there are no social programs for people without jobs. Being without work can easily translate into homelessness. To have to live in a country where you can't plan beyond a few days is truly difficult."
Indeed the middle class has been pulling up roots and settling in places like Italy and Spain, where many Argentines not only have strong cultural ties, but citizenship as well, and for the more adventurous there's Miami. Professor Szuchman, an Argentine specialist, explains Miami is a natural attraction for business types and professionals. "I hear that every other Argentine waiter in South Beach is an architect."