Keep Off The Grass

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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While wandering through the Andes mountains on horseback enjoying all the sights, I didn’t expect flora to be among the highlights, especially in the desert.  There really wasn’t much of it to see, just a few types of shrubs and grasses and whatever else can survive without much water.  On the way down to the end of the trail we rode the horses through the tall grass that ran along the river.  As we got deeper the grass had overgrown the trail and the path became no wider than the horses we were on.  It wasn’t just any grass either, it’s that kind we have in the United States.  The kind with the big white tufts on top and the sharp blades.  The kind with the silly name.  “Pompous grass.”  What does that even mean?  I can picture myself when I was 5 touching that grass in my backyard and my dad yelling at me “That’s sharp!  Don’t touch the pompous grass!”  Pompous grass…

PAMPAS GRASS!

Of course!

I had the spelling wrong in my head the entire time!  The worse part is that I had never even thought about what the name meant or where it came from.  But now it all made sense!  I had known what the Pampas were and where they were in the world for a long time, but I had always thought of the area as barren desert and therefore void of any kind of plants, especially the kind that used to cut me in my backyard.  Turns out that the word Pampas actually comes from an old native word meaning “grassy plains.”  I had always thought those plants were called “pompous” because they cut people all the time and got away with it.  It took me a trip all the way to Argentina and seeing the same plants firsthand to make me realize the connection.  I probably would have gone my whole life continuing to call it “pompous” and never thinking twice about it.  But from now on this experience, no matter how trivial it seems, will always make me think of riding through Argentina trying to avoid getting sliced by Pampas grass.

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            At times it feels like I’m being treated biased in South America.  In the three weeks I’ve been here I’ve been treated differently from other restaurant patrons.  Waiters and shopkeepers seem to look at my friends and I in a unique way.  I mean this all in a good way of course.  It seems that whenever we go into a restaurant the waiters bend over backwards to make sure our party is seated quickly, that we have a waiter to our table as soon as possible, that everything is correct, etc.  Of course, this could be the way they treat everyone and unless I were to become an Argentine I guess I will never know firsthand.  What I do know however is that as Americans we give off the impression that we’ve come to spend and spend big.  It may not seem like a lot to us, but the amount we spend in restaurants for one tab is a week’s pay for some citizens in the recovering Argentine economy.  The “divide it by 3” mentality we’ve all acquired since coming here does not apply to Argentines whose currency and individual pay are not as strong as they were prior to the 2001 economic collapse when a peso was equivalent to the US dollar.  Making the journey here and seeing it firsthand has made me appreciate that big currency difference even more.  It has also made me understand their interest in catering to Norteamericanos or Europeans who have come to spend money and boost the economy.  But then again it could all be in my head…  Argentines might just be nice to everyone.
Why Argentina Won't Have Another Coup
Eric Anderson, Ryan Martinez, Phil Gadomski

            One of the main reasons that coups ended in Argentina and stable government began was the “Dirty War” and the resulting deaths of thousands of citizens.  When it became nationally publicized during the 1978 World Cup, the world took notice that the military was the brutal authoritarian regime governing the country.  Another reason was the end of ISI policies and the use of more pro-trade policies.  This all culminated in the Falkland War which proved to be disaster for the shaky Argentine government.

            Used throughout the 1950s to 1970s in many Latin American countries, ISI policies started brilliantly but ended poorly.  Argentina was no exception and although they prospered during that period, they were not left with the infrastructure or setup to prosper on their own under pro-trade policies.  Once the Dirty War became publicized most of the nation’s support for the military dictatorship changed from fearful skepticism to outright disdain.  Following the embarrassing defeat in the Falklands War at the hands of the British, any remaining followers decided they had had enough and quickly turned against the government.  The result of this was the democratic election of Raul Alfonsin in 1983 and with him came stability and a peaceful orderly way of dealing with economic issues.  A lot of autonomous power was stripped from the military following the war and this led to less of a motive as well as a reduced ability to control too much in the way of government.  Another side effect of the war was that citizens found that military coups did not solve long-term problems.  The rift between the elites and the middle class that had long been a fixture in Argentine social affairs became less obvious and much less important.

            It is these events that lead us to believe that the odds of a military coup happening again in Argentina in the next five years are very small.  The 2001 economic crisis was an excellent example that at the very height of civilian panic, the government was able to push through the trial peacefully and without any civilian or military revolt.  Another reason that civilians are so against military rule is the fact that the Dirty War happened relatively recently and most of those involved are still alive.  When violators like Astiz are still living in the city bounds, it’s hard for those tragic events to not be fresh on the mind of citizens, and therefore even harder to reason abandoning democracy for autocratic rule.