Soul of Buenos Aires

Back from Buenos Aires. I want to continue here where my touristy pics left off.

Enter comparisons.

1. Buenos Aires seems to have an intellectual spirit. I don’t know any other place in latin america that would benefit from the european heritage as BA does. “Intellectual” is a pattern that needs to be built. You have the bookshops and cafes with real people who have been there for ages. People are comfortable with speaking english. Critical social policy is a topic there. For example, Santiago has none of this. People here don’t stop and ask the questions. (The good thing here in Santiago, to name one, is the US-style continuous infrastructural change)

2. However, Buenos Aires is still Latin America. I bought a few history books that kept on arguing “we’re not quite latin american but closer to europe” and “while mexicans came from aztecs and peruvians from incas, argentinos came from boats”. Don’t buy that ideological propaganda. All these latin countries have the same cultural background with angst towards their neighbors, populist politics without real military power, basic education without high-tech productivity, continuous plans to leap to the first-world stage without environmental control etc. That latin stuff. On the streets, you smell that dirty diesel and see those worn-out cars which would be illegal anywhere but here. Somewhere there is a cop putting on his bullet-vest and so on…

Well, I better stop here and be careful not to be carried away. What I did see there was, in the end, just Buenos Aires, the city.

Wonders of the Chilean economy

I’m still wondering the chilean economy and society. I’ve learned that Chile’s main trading partners are Europe, United States, Japan and China, in that order. Big, strong, established, and very progressive (especially China) economies, no doubt. So what’s the problem? I am asking where is Argentina, Brazil and Mexico – the three biggest economies on the continent!?

Ok, Mexico comes rights after China. Maybe because they buy chilean wine, and chileans buy back mexican beer. Big deal. Besides, Mexico is in North America, thousands of kilometres away while Argentina is just across the border. Brazil is also close by. However, Chile isn’t even a part of Mercosur, a trade agreement where Argentina and Brazil trade together. My question is why. Where is the European Union of South America?

Someone who has worked here in European embassies for more than twenty years gave an interesting analysis: while the chilean economy may have changed, the people have not. They don’t think global in the sense US and Europe do. They don’t act united. They don’t develop technological skills that would be needed outside. Chile still continues to buy all relevant technological knowhow from international companies. They buy everything from cars to electronics and even foodstuff abroad. Far away abroad.

In the end, Chile just inreases consumption and may not produce anything interesting to world markets in the long term. What is more, the consumption is hazardous. Those with access to capital seem to admire american standards (SUVs, shopping mall culture) without any regard to natural preservation (heavy air pollution, litter etc). They don’t ask what they can do for their country. They ask what their country can do for them.

The flip side of the development aid bandwagon is that according to figures Chile is so developed it won’t get too much foreign aid funds anymore. The result is a country stuck in between a developing nation and a developed one. Not a very interesting place businesswise. You may sell your stuff or ideas here. But if you are not into wines and copper, I don’t know if you can buy anything out from here or start a new venture in here.

My rather pessimistic end conclusion is that this place won’t be the edge of the world in my lifetime. I hope this is just the angst of the first one and a half months in Santiago. I hope I’m wrong.

Chile’s missing past

We recently visited a few history museums in Santiago. It was strange to notice we didn’t find anything after 1973, just if the period after Pinochet came into power would not exist. Every official notice seems to agree that the country went into near chaos in the early 1970s. But nobody seems to know what happened after 1973. My spanish teacher – who has been able to give some light to the issues – said that chilean people are apolitical these days. Ask about social stuff and they put on their TV to watch local soccer, american soap or the national channel’s nightly sex talk show (featuring ‘cool’-looking gray men in their fifties). I can’t believe they’re having fun.

Free markets for beans

Everyone knows Starbucks. Some of you might even know their strict copyright policy.

Here is a picture I took today in Santiago de Chile:

Everything from the interior to logo design is derived from the original – which interestingly has a shop on the same street just two hundred meters from this one. What can you say? In my opinion this is a creative way to increase competition and customer choice. Conservatives may talk about problems with intellectual property but I think they won’t ever win if we go and ask caffeine addicts like me.

Social policy issues inspired by Santiago

My first post from Santiago de Chile. We moved here a few days ago for the summer. My wife is working at the Finnish embassy until the end of August.

First social policy issue I came up with was the problem of air pollution. It’s really heavy here. I haven’t seen such but in Delhi and there they had some natural explanations. But here everything is man-made. This whole 5 million-people city is in a deep valley and nature should show us the andes in all directions. What we see, however, is just “dust” – 360 degrees.

Why do people live here? One Finnish guy I met who came here 4 years ago said you won’t think about it but at the start. His comment made me think are we just so fucking flexible up to stupidity?

My second policy issue is somewhat related: why on earth do the people here produce just ranch and mining products for world markets? What would happen if this place called latin america would really push themselves into those “clean” computer and software industries?

I wrote something related into Open Magazine where I tried to make the case that this part of the world is culturally at the same level as US and Europe – and on the net the culture fundamentally rules. I hope.