Sunday, March 12, 2006

A tale of two Argentinas

BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | A tale of two Argentinas: "The Argentine economy appears to be booming. Unemployment is down, exports are up and the economy grows month after month. But do these statistics tell the full story?

In December 2001, President Fernando de la Rua fled the presidential palace in a helicopter, the rich moved their cash abroad, the banks put strict limits on what customers could withdraw from their own accounts and the country defaulted on its foreign debt... the largest in history.

Just before midnight each night, the rubbish trucks grind their way through the streets of my middle-class neighbourhood with its well-fenced, padlocked houses and security guards on the street corners.

But before they take away our waste I have watched a stream of people who scurry along the gutters, through the shadows, before sifting through the plastic rubbish bags for glass, paper, cardboard, anything edible, anything that can be recycled.

Perhaps the most profound symbol of Argentina's recovery is in Puerto Madero, the city's former docks which were derelict and rat-infested.

Poverty is nothing new in Latin America and that suffered in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro or the shanty towns of Lima is probably far greater and more drastic than anything seen in Argentina.

And there have always been poor people in Argentina, victims of a string of corrupt politicians and misguided economic policies. Official figures showed that last year the number of children in Argentina classified as poor fell from 62% to 58%. "

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