“Dolares! Cambio, cambio, dooolares!” Haunting or resounding, so clearly perceptible that one would think they were the result of a casting, the voices of unofficial dollar changers accompany tourists, but also Argentines, in the streets of the hypercentre of Buenos Aires, a district of offices and monuments.
Totally illegal, but perfectly tolerated, the “arbolitos” (small trees) offer “the street rate”, twice the official one: these days around 230 pesos for 1 dollar, instead of 130. “Arbolitos “? Because of the “green leaves” (the green of the dollar), which they figuratively hold at arm’s length.
Because the Argentinians – forbidden to withdraw more than 200 dollars per month to avoid bleeding – hoard in dollars from the street as soon as they can, as soon as they receive their salary, abandoning the peso. A deep-rooted distrust, just like towards bank deposits. Even if it means changing the dollars back into pesos, at the time of certain purchases or invoices.
“I buy (dollars) like a little ant, with 20 or 50 dollars, I can’t do more,” Marcela, a 56-year-old trader, told AFP. Who chokes on a “Never!” to the question of whether she would consider saving in pesos.
– “Karma” Argentine
“It’s a service that we render to the community”, explains most naturally an arbolito who requests anonymity, apparently indifferent to the fact that his activity contributes to undermine confidence in the peso.
“What would be the use of people going to the bank? It’s much better for them to change in a cueva” (cellar), named after these discreet counters or reduced areas where the so-called “blue” (or dark) dollar flourishes. .
“In dual-monetary societies like here, where the dollar is a reference and a store of value, people save in dollars, the demand is constant”, summarizes the economist Andrés Wainer, of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences. Suddenly “in Argentina, the dollar is still in the news”.
Some cafes, shops in the center, display on a sign the rate at which they give change (in peso) if you pay in dollars.
It’s for tourists, because an Argentinian knows he should never get rid of his dollars. “The trick is to buy, always buy dollars! And sell if there is no other option”, asserts Marcela.
Whether it’s buying a car, providing expensive medical treatment, renting an apartment, the accounts are made in greenbacks, a shocking argument in a negotiation as soon as you say you can settle in dollars.
It became natural. Also Marcela thinks, counts, in greenbacks. She has no idea of the price of her house in pesos. In dollars, yes. “Addiction to the dollar is a karma that we will live without end”.
– “Interpretation key” –
“As long as there is this inflation” (60% over 12 months) “it is obvious to manage in dollars. We have neither hard currency nor controlled inflation”, analyzes Alejandro Bennazar, president of the Argentine Real Estate Chamber.
The economist Nicolas Gadano, ex-director of the Central Bank, estimated in 2021 that Argentines held in bank vaults, safes, between the pages of a book, etc., “some 200 billion dollars in the form of banknotes “, or “10% of the dollars in circulation in the world, and 20% of those circulating outside the USA” – a figure however controversial.
Suddenly the idea of formalizing the “dollarization” of the economy has resurfaced in the debate. “A delirium which would act the renunciation of building a nation-state”, denounces the Minister of Economy Martin Guzman. If there is de facto a bimonetary economy in Argentina, it is due to the “lack of confidence in the peso”.
In the meantime, the peso/dollar exchange rate remains for Argentines, regardless of social class, “a relevant tool (…) a key to interpreting what is happening”, explains Mariana Luzzi, sociologist, author of a book entitled “The dollar, history of an Argentine currency”.
“We Argentines know very well that if the dollar rises, it announces difficulties: it will result in price increases, but more deeply, it means that something important is happening in the economic situation, that the current government does not control”.