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ECONOMY | 22-12-2023 12:50

No jingle in Argentine pockets as economic grinch ruins Christmas

With inflation running at more than 160% per annum, Argentines across the country are shopping around and going city to city as they search to get their festive gifts at the best prices.

From toyshop to toyshop and from city to city, Cecilia Rojas roams Buenos Aires Province looking for at least one Christmas present for her children, who this year will be celebrating the holiday amid one of Argentina’s worst economic crises.

Rojas, 47, is a psychologist who lives with her partner and their two children aged eight and 17 in Ituzaingó, Greater Buenos Aires. She works in an educational centre but rounds out her earnings by attending patients and other occasional activities.

In order to leave a present under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, when Argentines traditionally celebrate, Rojas went searching in Ituzaingó but also in nearby Morón and Castellar.

"Before I purchased in a very well-known chain of toyshops but now I hunt in smaller neighbourhood stores to find better prices," she said.

The younger boy "believes in Santa Claus” and “wrote an immense letter." Even if she can only buy one present from that list, "he’ll still be happy," she says.

"Beforehand we bought more. Now only one each but fortunately I’m still privileged to be able to do so," she comments.

The worst inflation

Argentina is closing 2023 with the highest inflation in the last 30 years, 132.8 percent through to November and an annual rate of 160.9 percent. A devaluation halving the currency last week by the recently inaugurated Javier Milei government only accelerated the price increases.

A local chamber of commerce for the toy industry estimates this year’s increases at between 110 and 230 percent, depending on the product and its origin.

"Some locally made toys go up with inflation but imported items top 200 percent," explained Julián Benítez, the chamber’s manager of institutional relations. 

To end inflation, a chronic evil in Argentina, Milei has proposed drastic public spending cuts equivalent to five percent of gross domestic product. On Wednesday he announced a multiple decree on a gigantic scale to repeal or amend over 300 laws and norms, among them rental and labour legislation, provoking a cacerolazo saucepan-bashing in several Buenos Aires neighbourhoods and a spontaneous demonstration in front of Congress lasting until 4am.

Teacher Alexandra Mazzei, 49, was one of those protesting.

"What’s happening is that the institutions are being overrun. They’re starving out the people, using policies which we have already experienced and which did not work, the only thing they do is to pauperise the working class," she maintained.

All the generations

Given the distortion of prices, going from place to place is obligatory and having a large family helps, explained Agustina Gago, mother of a four- year-old.

"You walk around a bit and you find the same product in different shops at different prices. I even found good offers from manteros pedlars or in bazaars," pointed out Gago, 23, who is studying to be a kindergarten teacher and works at a liquor store.

"This year we’re going to buy the kid a present thanks to the assistance of the grandmothers and great-grandmothers who luckily are several," she smiled.

Rubén Gerszonowicz, 63, the owner of a toyshop in Buenos Aires, maintains that this Christmas people will only be buying cheap. "I no longer buy the most expensive stuff because people don’t buy it."

Price mark-ups are almost daily but Gerszonowicz tries to restrain it. "I cannot raise [prices] all the time. The suppliers give notice of any increase before sending the merchandise but I cannot put up my prices in advance because my clientele won’t buy from me," he pointed out.

With 20 years in the business, this is the first time that he has seen people buying several weeks in advance. His opinion of the panorama is not good but he thinks that "having a rough time" is necessary in order to put the economy back on track, as promised by Milei.


Dangerous toys

Due to the constant price increases, the option for cheaper toys leads to the offer in shops including products of dubious origin. "We’ve carried out inspections and found many illegal products of very low quality," says Benítez, explaining that their use could imply health risks such as asphyxia or poisoning.

"You only have to smell the plastic of which they are made and you pass out," he concludes.

In Argentina there are 180 toy manufacturers creating around 8,000 direct and indirect jobs. Half the sales in toyshops are locally manufactured, according to the chamber’s data.

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by Martín Raschinsky, AFP


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