Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Protests, Pickets, and Argentine Tourism

For the last couple weeks, the biggest news in Argentina has been farmer protests that have blocked highways in parts of the country, mostly in Buenos Aires province. Their gripe, and it comes from both large corporate landholders and smallholders, is over an almost confiscatory 44 percent tax on soy exports decreed by the federal government, which has taken similar measures in the past with beef exports. The farmers briefly lifted their roadblocks last week, but have resumed them until at least tomorrow despite government objections.

Such protest tactics are common in Argentina, but the government's objections are curious, in the sense that for more than a year it has countenanced a blockade of the highway from Gualeguaychú to the Uruguayan border, essentially ceding control of immigration and customs to opponents of a Finnish-financed pulp mill on the other side of the river. The populist government, though, has allied itself with those pickets while its domestic cheap food policies have encouraged farmers to focus on export earnings. The result has been shortages and rising domestic prices even before the current rash of roadblocks (ironically enough the government's policy has, in some ways, united both the left and right in pot-banging protests on Buenos Aires's Plaza de Mayo, and led it to encourage counter-demonstrations). There's a good summary of the crisis at Latin Business Chronicle.

For the travel and tourism industry, this has several possible repercussions. With food shortages, some restaurants have had to cut their menu offerings, and prices are likely to rise rapidly. Fuel shortages, a topic about which I wrote earlier, could combine with roadblocks to complicate overland transportation and put pressure on already overburdened domestic air routes. It's fortunate, in a sense, that the summer travel and tourism peak is past, but there's plenty to do before July's winter holidays. If not, enjoying off-season attractions such as Iguazú Falls, the scenic canyon country of northwestern Argentina, and the whales of Patagonia's Península Valdés--all of which attract ample numbers of foreigners--could be complicated.

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