The helicopter pulls slowly into view over the exclusive vacation home of an Argentine fashion mogul. Suddenly, a dark mass emerges: a lamb carcass, headed to earth fast. Its dead-weight plunge into a swimming pool prompts an onlooker’s high-pitched giggle.
The splash, however, set off an explosion. Video of the frivolous and morbid January 9 stunt emerged Tuesday, prompting an investigation and furious debate over decadence and inequality in a country suffering a deep economic crisis.
Fresh evidence came this week when the government reported that year-end inflation had surged to 54 percent, the highest in almost three decades. The increases are squeezing purchasing power in a meat-mad country where more than a third of the citizens live below the poverty line and have to scrimp for food regularly.
The spectacle of a prank involving an expensive delicacy quickly burgeoned into superheated debate over inequality, privilege and justice.
”This is another chapter of the same novel that shows how the rich people in South America make fun of the poor people,” said Néstor Pitrola, a member of the Partido Obrero (Workers’ Party) Party and a former lawmaker. “This won’t end well. These rich, who hate to pay taxes, must be punished for their despicable way of mocking the poor.“
‘Butter on the roof’
The lamb fell into the pool of a home in José Ignacio, Uruguay, rented by Federico Álvarez Castillo, owner of Argentina’s posh Etiqueta Negra clothing line. He and his wife, ex-model Lara Bernasconi, were vacationing in the exclusive town, which is filled with boutiques, high-end restaurants and million-dollar homes where the Argentine glitterati spend holidays.
An assistant to Castillo said that the couple had no immediate comment; no charges have been filed against them.
The video generated a rapid backlash, with condemnations coming from leftist politicians, the foreign minister and vegans, among others. Television dedicated hours to the debate, with veterinarians trying to discern whether the falling object was a dead lamb or a live pig, pausing the video frame by frame.
A hashtag urging people not to buy Etiqueta Negra spread quickly on Twitter. (On Thursday, demonstrators sprayed graffiti and smashed windows at an Etiqueta Negra store in La Plata, Buenos Aires Province).
The incident recalled a decades-old adage for elite waste: “Throwing butter on the roof.” The phrase supposedly describes Argentines’ bacchanals in Paris in the 1920s, when the country’s economy was among the world’s biggest, fattened by wheat, beef and grain exports.
This is a more straitened, sober era. Uruguayan authorities launched an investigation after neighbours complained about the meat from above. Uruguay, where the continent’s wealthy stash their money and party, nonetheless forbids launching objects from aircraft.
Castillo refused to say who dropped the lamb or why, but acknowledged that he and his family pulled it from the pool and grilled it, said prosecutor’s office spokesman Daniel Baubet. Investigators are trying to track down the aircraft.