Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Funny Money: An Argentine Tradition

The Buenos Aires daily Clarín is the world’s largest circulation Spanish-language newspaper and, a few days ago, I was simultaneously surprised, flattered and disappointed to see myself quoted extensively on its website (and presumably in the print edition) the other day. That requires some explanation.
In the mid-1990s, while working for another guidebook publisher best not mentioned by name, I wrote a sidebar about the so-called “Menem Trucho” (“Bogus Menem”), a pseudo-banknote glorifying then President Carlos Menem. It was the work of Armando Gostanián, a political hack who was then in charge of the Casa de la Moneda, Argentina’s national mint. It also included the punning motto “1 Valor Que Estabilizó al País,” mimicking the numerical value of a real banknote while suggesting that Menem possessed “Bravery That Stabilized the Country” (which admittedly, had been chaotic when he won the office in 1989).

Gostanián’s big problem was that he used official paper to create the pseudo-banknote – the equivalent of the US mint printing a fake dollar bill to promote the re-election of a sitting president. That got him in hot water, though nothing eventually came of it and, several years later, Menem’s abortive re-election campaign came up with a less official-looking substitute that extolled his “10 Years of Stability” and his “Muestra de Capacidad.” The latter was also a pun, praising his “Proof of Ability” but, at the same time, it openly admitted that it was a “sample,” not an official banknote.
Clarín used my piece to establish a parallel with Argentina’s current vice-president Amado Boudou, presently under investigation for influence peddling over contracts awarded for the printing of 100-peso banknotes. The kicker is that the guitar-playing vice-president has become the subject of his own photoshopped “Boudou Trucho.” Text on the note says, among other things, “Banco Central de la Guitarrita Argentina” (Central Bank of the Little Argentine Guitar). It’s only fair to add that Clarín is an outspoken editorial critic of the administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Political motives aside, it’s flattering to see one’s work acknowledged in public. What’s disappointing is that Clarín attributes my writing to a redactor (“editor” in Spanish), but that’s because my former publisher, unfortunately, holds copyright to the work. That is the case with most guidebook publishers, though Moon is a welcome exception.

Banknote Novelties
Over the course of 30-years-plus living and traveling in Argentina, I’ve seen Argentine currency evolve (?) from the peso ley (1970-1983) to the peso argentino (1983-1985) to the austral (1985-1991) to the peso convertible (1992-present), with banknotes that sometimes are barely worth the paper they’re printed on. When my wife and I married in 1981, we changed cash gifts of 3.6 million pesos ley into dollars as quickly as we could.
While the current peso is perhaps misnamed – given recent exchange controls, it’s hard to call it truly convertible – some new banknotes may soon appear in Argentine wallets and handbags. Next month, on the 60th anniversary of Evita Perón’s death, the government will issue a new five-peso note with her likeness (based on one that never reached circulation when, in the mid-1950s, a military coup overthrew Juan Domingo Perón). At the same time, the government is due to decide whether a new 500-peso note will bear the image of Perón or former President Hipólito Yrigoyen, though the photoshoppers have suggested that the late President Néstor Kirchner might be the most suitable choice for a bill that, effectively, acknowledges the inflation that’s taken place under his government and his widow’s.

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