Personal Blog Week 2: Visa Troubles

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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I had relatively few problems getting my Brazilian visa and I was able to get a five year visa with very little persuasion.  At first I was a little  frustrated that I had to get one because it was just one more thing I had to add to my long “to do” list. But I understood why and I believe that it is completely fair to require that US citizens have a visa in order to enter Brazil. After spending some time in South America, I now have a little more perspective on the entire situation.


I have been meeting and talking to a lot of the locals.  And when they find out I am from the United States a common response has been “oh I wanted to visit the United States but I couldn’t get my visa.” They never say this hatefully or with resentment. They just say it rather factually and you can detect a little bit of disappointment in their voice.  A young guy that I met at the bus station lamented that he had planned a trip to the United States but was unable to get a visa. As well as a girl who spoke perfect English and just wanted to visit for a nice vacation. Now this is of course not limited to the citizens of South America, all over the world people are rejected entry for short term vacations or long term studying.


Why is it that I can visit Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil with a very elementary education of their history and current situation and not speak the language but I am given the chance to  study, travel and participate in their culture. While, on the other hand, the students in Argentina who do speak English and are extremely eager to go to the US are unable to do so. What is it that really differentiates the United States and makes the two scenarios so different. I realize there are certain factors, especially after September of 2001, that have forced the government to tighten entry laws, but it still seems a little unreasonable.


Argentina does not require anyone from the United States (or European Union) to have a visa for travel up to three months.  But the United Sates requires that citizens from almost every other country in the world obtain visas prior to entry.  Not only do they have to obtain a visa but it has become almost impossible to do so. There are now additional application forms and security clearances that are required and the entire visa application process takes an extremely long time. I understand that these precautions are enacted to protect the safety of both US citizens and visitors alike but it just seems unfortunate.


            The problems that we have had getting our Brazilian visas pale in comparison to the problems that everyone else has had in their efforts to visit the United States.  I know I have an oversimplified and somewhat naïve view, but to me it still seems that if I am given the chance to explore, study and enjoy the experience of their country then they should be able to share in exploring our culture and our country. 
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The protests that fill the streets on a weekly or even daily basis is something that is rather difficult to get used to. Argentina’s many protests and active participation and concern from a majority of citizens is one thing that differentiates it from the United States. I have seen more protests in Argentina in the past 3 weeks than I have in the past 10 years in the United States.


For the most part the protests are peaceful demonstrations but they can get out of control in the sense that they shutdown roads and tie up the flow of traffic. Making it difficult for those that aren’t involved to go about their daily business. After the economic collapse in 2001, there were demonstrations almost everyday, and it was frustrating for citizens because they never knew if they would be able to get to work because of road blocks caused by protestors.


I went and participated in the May 25th celebration in the Plaza de Mayo and I had no idea what to expect because I hadn’t participated in anything of this nature (even in the United States).  I was amazed at how many people were there and how many people from outside the city had made a huge effort to be there. There were a myriad of large banners and posters that supported a variety of groups, people, parties, platforms etc. I realize that this is not a protest but I think that the participation in the May 25th celebration just helps to exemplify how active the citizens of Argentina are in their government and in the affairs of their nation. This active participation can be seen on a daily basis in street protests.


In the past protests have turned into ugly clashes with the police, especially during political upheaval or economic trouble. But riots that are violent are the exception. I do not know how effective the protests are, but the way I look at it is that the people are taking part in and are concerned about the wealth of their nation.  In my opinion that is one of the most important things.


The protests are peaceful demonstrations and just prove that Argentines are involved in their government and are willing to make an effort to voice their concerns. In my opinion the nonviolent protests do not show that there is chaos in the country but the protests actually help to further a stable democracy by increasing active governmental participation.

One of the first things I noticed while walking the streets of Buenos Aires was the forlorn facial expression that could be seen on every face.  As you pass the locals on the side walk they seem tired, weary, worn and sad-all in all just drained. Why do I think they have such stern faces?  I believe it is due to the incredible suffering that the country has faced since the economic collapse in 2001. The crisis is over but there are still so many challenges that remain for the country. And the heavy toll of these challenges can be seen on the faces of the Argentines.


Life for the Argentines seemed great and investors worldwide looked to Argentina prior to December of 2001. However in 2001 Argentina suffered one of the most devastating economic collapses in history.  Not only were the lives and hopes of citizens shattered but violent protests erupted in Buenos Aires that led to several deaths. The president, Fernando de la Rua fled the country and complete chaos engulfed the nation.  A crisis of this magnitude takes it toll on a nation and it is hard for the citizens to forget.  Not to mention the fact that many have lost everything and now have to rebuild their lives.


It is hard for me to fathom what it would be like to endure such an incredible  economic collapse. It is hard to imagine just how severe the devastation can be and how a citizen must feel after they completely lose confidence in their government and country as a whole.  What would it be like to live in Argentina during those few months right after the collapse? 


One girl I met in Mendoza who is my age told a story that helped to put the true devastation of the country in perspective for me.  We had asked her for a good restaurant recommendation and so she started to name a few nice restaurants one in particular she said had an interesting background. The restaurant had been burned to the ground in a fire a few years earlier and had to be rebuilt. The interesting part of the story was not the fact that the restaurant had been burned to the ground but why the restaurant had burned. She explained that after the economic collapse, the owners of the restaurant had barred any of the local party members who fell under the same party as the current administration.  These party members were outraged and eventually, after the situation escalated they set the restaurant on fire. I thought this story gave me a better understanding of just how desperate the people were. 


Some time has passed and the kind of hostility that caused this fire has disappeared but I believe that you can still see the anguish on the Argentines´ faces. Now this impression could be compounded by the fact that the weather is getting colder or it could have something to do with the general persona that is found in almost every big city in the world (inhospitable, cold).  But  I am completely convinced that the weary faces are a result of the hardship that this country has had to endure.

In the city of Buenos Aires I have encountered numerous young children that ask for money or anything else.  Sometimes they will try to sell you something in return, but usually they just beg for money.  In the beginning I did not really know what else to do except sort of brush them aside. I think that everyone feels compassion for the kids but at the same time has no idea how to really help them.


After my visit to Mendoza  I was especially effected by the street kids.  In the town of Mendoza conditions did not seem quite as harsh as they are in the demanding city and some how the situation of the begging children seemed especially surreal.  It was after midnight on a Sunday night and there were six and seven year olds walking around trying to sell me things. I just kept thinking about why they were not at home with their parents in bed.  It is hard for me to understand that they do not have a nice home to go to and they have to beg for money to survive. Somehow though it is still easier to give them some change and then put it out of your mind. Here in lies the problem!


          After watching the movie Bus 174 I now realize that what seems like a social or economic problem for just the street kids can escalate quickly into a problem for the entire nation.  The movie portrayed just how desperate Sandro and other street kids are and how important it is for them to reaffirm their existence in this world. This typical street kid was rejected on a daily basis by society and had trouble finding any kind of social existence. Therefore he revolted against society by hi-jacking a bus.  The lesson to learn from the story told in this movie is that Brazil, Argentina and other nations with the same fundamental economic and social problems can quickly become violent nations, on any given day, and something has to be done to correct the problem.


So this movie opened my eyes, and hopefully opened up other eyes as well to the fact that you cannot just ignore these kids in the street. Brazil has close to seven million children living and working in  the streets and the number of street kids in Argentina increased by 50% in 2003.  Considering these very large numbers,  these children represent a serious and fundamental problem.  The children are completely helpless and unable to correct this problem on their own this is why organizations like Task Brasil that work to improve the lives and support the needs of children are incredibly important.  In Brazil afro reggae groups and other groups of that nature are working hard to involve the youth in activities to keep them away from drugs and help them to better their prospects for a productive future. In my opinion organizations and efforts like these are absolutely crucial to decrease the ongoing problem in Argentina and Brazil.


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