Sunday, April 20, 2008

Blowing Smoke in Buenos Aires

No, this is not another anti-tobacco screed - rather, smoke has risen to the top of Argentine politics in an unexpected way. For the past week or so, fires in the Paraná delta, set to encourage new pasture growth, have gotten out of control.

Ever since the Pleistocene, of course, humans have used fire to clear brush and rank grasses to encourage game and livestock or prepare land for cultivation. These current fires, though, may have contributed to fatal accidents on the freeway between Buenos Aires and the Paraná river port city of Rosario. They have certainly delayed flights out of Aeroparque, Buenos Aires's domestic airport, and bus departures into and through some of the affected areas. In the stagnant autumn air, the city itself is suffering from settling smoke that has carried elsewhere in Buenos Aires province and also into Entre Ríos and Santa Fe provinces, and even Uruguay.

For weeks now, Argentine farmers and the federal government have been arguing over rising export duties on soybeans; over the past several years, as the government has limited (and occasionally prohibited) beef exports to keep domestic prices low, many farmers have increased their soy acreage at the expense of livestock. This has led to beef shortages and, combined with the new soy duties, farmer-led roadblocks that left urban supermarket shelves nearly empty - some stylish restaurants even had to restrict their menus - and brought rising prices. The fires may represent an effort to improve marginal pasturelands for grazing - however untimely and inadvisable that may be.

The government, meanwhile, has strongly implied that farmers have set fires as a form of political and economic sabotage and has issued search warrants for some properties - even though, as the Buenos Aires Herald points out, much of the public may blame the government for tardiness in responding to the fires. A lack of rain in this normally humid climate has certainly intensified the crisis but, as so often happens in Argentine politics, the default option is a conspiracy theory.

In the interim, air travel in and out of Buenos Aires remains subject to delays. On the ground, because of diminished visibility, police are enforcing slow traffic zones - an overdue measure in a country where reckless driving often seems to be a national sport and enforcement is normally risible.

No comments:

Custom Search