Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ushuaia's Snow Job(s)

The world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia is under a white blanket after a series of snowstorms that closed the only road out of town (except for vehicles with chains) and will continue for several days. While snow isn’t unusual in the mountainous southern half of Tierra del Fuego – even in midsummer it never disappears from the surrounding peaks – it’s a little uncommon to have this sort of accumulation at sea level. It has paralyzed a city with steep streets and sidewalks and, while the airport is not closed, schools, banks and municipal offices are. On the bright side, it makes for a promising ski season at Cerro Castor and other nearby sites.
Over the past couple weeks, my Ushuaia friends Javier Jury (who runs the Martín Fierro B&B) and Elsa Zaparart have been peppering me with questions about California, as they were eager to escape the short days and sub-freezing temperatures even before successive blizzards that have left at least 70 cm (more than two feet) of snow on the city streets. According to Javier, the “Uttermost Part of the Earth” can expect four days more of similar weather: “Every day since June 1st, I’ve been scraping six inches of snow off the sidewalk.”
Elsa, who took the photographs here from her house, adds that she hasn’t gone outdoors in two days. That won’t be an issue when they arrive in Los Angeles the first week of August, to spend some beach time in San Diego and some city time at our house in Oakland.

Blackberrys? In Ushuaia?
Sounds unseasonal, doesn’t it, with snow covering the streets and southern beech forests of Tierra del Fuego? Some weeks ago, though, CEO Franco Bertone of Telecom Argentina remarked that the easiest way for an Argentine to obtain an iPhone is to travel to Miami, and he wasn’t exaggerating. That’s because, in March, domestic trade secretary Guillermo Moreno banned the importation of smartphones not manufactured in Argentina; by default, the Blackberry has become the smartphone of choice because it’s produced in Ushuaia, of all places.

Or is it? A few days ago, on his TV program Periodismo para Todos (“Journalism for Everyone”), the sardonic but respected journalist Jorge Lanata reported that, despite labels that read Hecho en Argentina (“made in Argentina”), Blackberrys are merely assembled there: everything comes from China except for the polystyrene packing and the stamp that says it’s made in-country. The punning Lanata calls this a cuento chino (literally a “Chinese tale,” but roughly translatable as a “big lie”). He adds that since Moreno imposed import controls, 4,000 Fuegians have lost their jobs (Tierra del Fuego is ostensibly a duty-free zone). It sounds as if the government’s boast of Argentine-made smartphones may be just another snow job.

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