Saturday, October 27, 2012

On Saturday: Reciprocity, Dólares, Uruguay

In writing recently about Argentina’s plan to collect its “reciprocity fee” for tourists online, I remarked that many details were not yet clear – particularly whether the measure might be applied to overland border crossings, where accountability issues might be serious. At a remote and thinly staffed crossings such as Mamuil Malal (pictured below), no one can guarantee that sums of money might not go astray.
To clarify, I contacted a friend in Argentina’s Los Angeles consulate, who responded that “ in the consulate we have the same information as you, for the moment it will be applied at Aeroparque and Ezeiza, and there’s nothing official (or extra-official) whether or not they are thinking about extending it.” What’s interesting in this regard is that the government’s diplomatic mission abroad appears to be no better informed than someone reading a random newspaper article on the Internet.

Acquiring Dólares
Over the past ten days, we’ve had a visit from two Argentine friends – a documentary filmmaker and a doctor – who just left this morning for their flight back to Buenos Aires. This was a vacation, during which Leo and Kari also rented a car to visit Napa, Yosemite, and Monterey in addition to San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley.

Their experience, though, is noteworthy in that they had to do it virtually without cash. Prior to departure, both applied to purchase dollars through Argentina’s AFIP bureaucracy, with mixed success: for ten days in the US, the Argentine tax agency allowed Leo to purchase US$260 and Kari absolutely nothing. They had to rely on credit cards for virtually everything and, had they lost the credit cards, they could have been in serious trouble.

The fact is that, for Argentines, purchasing dollars or any other foreign currency for travel beyond the country’s borders is an exercise in frustration. According to the regulations, even if permission is granted, they can only buy the currency of the destination country: in the case of Costa Rica, for instance, the only option would be colones, even though that country’s currency is hard to come by in Argentina.

For travel through most of the Americas, the dollar remains the preferred currency, and most travelers to Central America would carry them, but for Argentines that’s no longer an option. To demonstrate the difficulties involved, at least one sardonic webmaster has created a site where, on the face of it, they can purchase US dollars with the blessing of domestic trade secretary Guillermo Moreno at Comprate Dólares. To appreciate the task’s difficulty, note the amount you might wish to purchase and then attempt to click on “Continuar.”

In a similar vein, as Argentina and the rest of the world watch the approaching US presidential election, websurfers can learn about the imaginative tax plan of the opposition candidate. As with Comprate Dólares, though, the details are a bit elusive.

Uruguay’s Pro-Choice
Among Latin American countries, Uruguay has always been a maverick, with its liberal banking laws and militant secularism, among other progressive features. Even though nearly half of all Uruguayans are at least formally Roman Catholics, the state does not acknowledge religious holidays: instead of Semana Santa (Easter Week), for instance, Uruguay celebrates Semana de Turismo (Tourism Week), and instead of Navidad (Xmas), there’s Día de la Familia (Family Day).
Recently, Uruguay took the next big step in becoming the first Latin American country, other than Cuba, to permit therapeutic abortion, for any reason, during the first trimester of pregnancy. In most of the rest of the region, abortion is illegal under any circumstances, though there are occasional exceptions for rape and incest.

It will be interesting to see whether the new measure, which is to take effect in November, will encourage women to travel to Uruguay – Argentina’s laws, for instance, are far more restrictive, though in principle they do allow exceptions for rape and incest. Of course, any Argentine traveling to Uruguay would still face the dilemma of how to pay for things in a foreign currency – unless, of course, they can acquire the necessary guita through Comprate Dólares.


SaltShaker said...

A further point of content that fits your friends' situation is that in having to rely on credit cards, assuming they were issued domestically in Argentina, the government now collects a 15% tax on all credit card purchases made overseas, which just adds to the hurt.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

I agree, in fact in some instances it's close to an outright travel ban. If, for instance, an Argentine wants to drive Chile's Carretera Austral, it would be virtually impossible because, except in the regional capital of Coyhaique, it is almost impossible to pay with credit cards - cash is the only option.

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