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It is a global phenomenon which spares no country and which hits the poorest hardest: inflation undermines everyone’s purchasing power. Faced with soaring prices, everyone has their anti-crisis recipe. In Argentina, where nearly four out of 10 people live below the poverty line, the cost of living has increased by 64% in one year. Forced and coerced, the Argentinians are past masters in the art of resourcefulness. 20 years after their peak during the 2001 crisis, barter clubs have reappeared lately.
Milk against a bottle of shampoo, a sweater against two packets of cakes. The products change hands without a single peso, the Argentinian currency, coming out of the purses. We are in Pineral Square in Caseros. Several times a week, residents of this underprivileged town in the suburbs of Buenos Aires meet here to barter.
Oscar Olivera came to exchange clothes in which his children no longer fit for food. He explains that he started bartering recently because his salary as a shoemaker barely allows him to pay the bills.
« It’s true that it helps a lot, because I get paid on Fridays and on Mondays I don’t have any more money. Before as a shoemaker, I earned a good living, but now it has gone down a lot with all these problems. »
A point system to organize exchanges
Since the beginning of the year in Argentina, the prices of clothing have increased by half, and those of bread, oil, or soap have jumped by 40%. That’s what people are looking for, explains Jessica, basic necessities.
« For the most part we are mothers, so we are mainly looking for milk or something to cook at home. : pasta, flour, pizzas, that sort of thing. »
Since 2018, Argentines have suffered an economic crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and now the price spike caused by the war in Ukraine. To get by in the face of inflation that never ceases to soar, barter clubs like this one have multiplied.
« People agree on Facebook and they come to the square to make the exchange, the meeting point is here. »
Sonia Galera is the administrator of this barter group whose Facebook page brings together more than 2,500 people. She is present every Friday and Sunday to ensure the smooth running of the exchanges.
« We evaluate everything in points. A can of powdered milk is worth two points, as much as a bottle of tomato puree or shower soap. People exchange thanks to this point system which we update according to the evolution of prices in the supermarket. »
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« It’s like stepping back 20 years. »
This well-oiled operation is in fact a twenty-year-old legacy. In Argentina, the practice of barter developed a lot during the serious economic and social crisis that shook the country in the early 2000s. It then gradually disappeared as the country recovered, before resurfacing these last years.
« Here there are many people who were already bartering in 2001. At the time, it was more word of mouth, today social networks help us a lot. »
Black hair, sad look, Deborah Melgajero is also administrator of this barter group. A little sewing, a little weaving: we try to get by as best we can, explains this mother. But my real job, she says, is to come here every week.
« Over time, by dint of not being able to fit into the job market, we try to find tools to get out of it. Coming here, helping, socializing, I consider it my job, even if I am not paid. But having to go back to barter today is a bit like going back 20 years. The situation may not be as bad as it was in 2001, but there is still this fear. »
If the spectrum of crisis of 2001 remains present in Argentinian minds, the resourcefulness tools that appeared at that time are still relevant today. The transmission of practices such as barter symbolizes the resilience that Argentines have been able to develop over the crises that follow each other as much as they are alike.
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