Last month, I posted a photograph on my Facebook page of homeless people sleeping in the alcove behind the Ministerio de Economía (Economy Ministry) in downtown Buenos Aires. I regret having to admit that I misidentified the building in question, as this alcove on the block of Moreno Street between Defensa and Balcarce is really part of the Administration Federal de Ingresos Públicos (AFIP, pictured below), Argentina’s counterpart to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
In fact, I was not completely wrong, as AFIP operates under the economy ministry, whose headquarters is one block east, across Balcarce. And I still won’t retract my criticism of the government’s economic hypocrisy - it has not made nearly the progress it claims in reducing poverty, and large numbers of individuals and families still survive outside any social safety net.
I’ve passed the Economía building countless times. It’s been the site of many historic events, most notably when military opponents of President Juan Domingo Perón (himself a general) bombarded the Plaza de Mayo in mid-1955; shrapnel marks remain on the building’s granite exterior (pictured above). I never considered, though, that I might some day take a tour of this bureaucratic monolith until last Tuesday, when my nephew Juan – who works there – invited his father Carlos, my wife María Laura (Carlos’s sister) and me to have lunch on the building’s 12th floor terrace.
The cafeteria food, apparently, is nothing to write home about, so we went to the nearby vegan café Vita, to get some takeaway. I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I only ordered a fresh-squeezed orange juice before we returned and, after passing through security, took the elevator to the 11th floor and walked the stairs to the 12th. En route, I photographed the poster below of one of Economy Minister Axel Kicillof’s proudest achievements: the “Precios Cuidados” program that relies on government intervention to subdue inflation on certain supermarket products . This "Price Watch" program has resulted in shortages of the products in question, though blaming the shortages on high demand sounds disingenuous.
On the inside, the building is unimpressive, but views from the terrace are interesting if not necessarily impressive – Buenos Aires has an unprepossessing skyline, though there are many individual buildings of architectural interest, especially the domes and mansards of early 20th-century buildings on and around the Plaza de Mayo.
From this vantage point, one particularly unimpressive structure is the Casa Rosada executive mansion (pictured below), which looks far less distinguished than it does from the Plaza itself.