This is the first of a series of commentaries about Argentina.
They are based on a one year visit to Argentina between November 2004 and November 2005. During that year, my wife, Betty, and I rented a house in Villa del Parque, a neighborhood of Buenos Aires. We purchased a car and used it to visit much of Argentina. A contemporaneous account of can be found in my web log, Bill's BLOG. The first of those reports was published in December 2004 and was called Christmas in Tango-Land.
While there are clouds and clouds of murky problems in Argentina, these clouds have the
proverbial silver lining. There is no doubt in my mind that Argentina at its base is a
great county. It is this silver lining that I want to explore in my first commentary.
The people of Argentina are primarily of European stock. While some indigenous people still live in Argentina, they are an incredibly small percentage of the population. People came mostly from Spain and Italy. There are a large number of Irish, English and German decent. After WWII there was a significant influx of people from Eastern Europe. Like the United States there were immigrant families from all over Europe and all over the world, especially the Middle East and the Asia. This makes for a diverse population, and - like the United States - everyone homogenizes within a generation or two.
I got to know a lot of Argentineans. Of the hundreds that I got to know, there were only two that I did not like. My conclusion is that one-on-one Argentineans are a good and likeable people. Like many Latin countries, the common greeting is a kiss on the cheek. This formal intimacy is expected given to everyone in a group, when you meet with them. It reflects the warmth of its people. We were able to visit many of there homes. They have strong and beautiful families. The tie that binds the family together results in those connections protecting them throughout there lives. I found them to be honest hard-working people, the kind of people that we wanted for our friends and neighbors. So, at there core, Argentineans are great people. Even so, there are problem attributes that I will cover in a later commentary.
Here are some simple facts that you need to know about Argentina. There are about 40 million people in Argentina, or about 13% of the 300 million in the USA. Argentina has about 29% of the land area of the USA and 20% of the arable land. What does that mean? On a per capita basis, there is almost twice the arable land and three times the land. That says to me that there is a huge basis for wealth in the land for Argentineans. There resources are the fertile plains of the pampas, rich sources of ore, and even some oil and natural gas. The natural resources are reflected in their national income which is the highest in South America. Still, compared to the USA it is only 30% of the USA's at $12,500 compared to $40,000. This is horribly low. The only explanation must be an exceptionally weak industrial sector. Clearly the promise is far from the reality.
As Betty and I traveled around the county, we saw how rich it is. I believe there must be more cattle in Argentina than people. The cattle are all grass fed, yet the meat is more tender than most. We also saw the vineyards. There are so many that they are one of the top producers of great wine in the world. Funny thing is that they really do not export all that much wine, because they drink most of what they make.
For me the first test of every infrastructure is the delivery of clean drinking water. Like its neighbors of Chile and Uruguay, the water from the tap is clean and safe to drink.
Argentina has a great health care system. All people are covered under a basic governmental health system. It is easy to get higher levels of health care and at costs that seemed very inexpensive to me. Good, well-train dentists are plentiful.
Argentina has a decent network of roads. Most are two-lane paved roads, and they have a few four-lane roads. It is easy to get around and gas stations are plentiful. I will say that there is a lot to be desired in quality of the roads. I will write more about this in a future commentary.
Argentina has a fabulous electronic communications system. Telephones are readily found in every city. The quality of the lines is good. The use of cellular phones is exploding, nearly one-third of telephone numbers are dedicated to cell phone. Broadband connections are available in most cities and towns. Overall Argentineans are connected to each other and the rest of the world.