The affliction that bewilders visitors to Buenos Aires and sends the locals crazy has finally found its way to the front page of the paper.
Signs posted in the subway telling people not to hoard their coins, notes posted in kiosks saying cigarettes can only be purchased with exact change, merchants handing customers lollies in place of 10 and 25 centavo coins… it’s all part of the daily grind, and while the lack of small change strikes visitors as another charmingly frustrating Argentine absurdity, the locals seem to accept it as an inevitable fact of life.
One of the very Argentine consequences of the small change shortage is the black market that is cashing in on the problem. La Critica says the Central Bank admits that there’s a black market in coins, but says it can’t do anything about it. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to the Bank that emitting more coins and fewer unchangeable 100 peso bills might make the black market in 10-centavo pieces somewhat superfluous.
Meanwhile, the paper says a retailers and merchants claim they pay those companies in charge of distributing small currency up to 6% extra for coins, which are collected by the distributors from the city’s bus terminals. The buses in Buenos Aires run on coins that riders drop into a ticket machine, giving the bus companies significant control over coin-flow. Other merchants say that when they run out of change to give customers, they head directly to the bus terminals where they are charged around 1 peso for just 90 centavos’ worth of coins.
Last year, Argentina Reporter’s Sarah Gilbert, with journalist Nick Olle, produced this video about the coin shortage (watch the video by clicking on “Small Change Argentina” in the video sidebar to the right).
La Critica’s columnist, Silvio Santamarina, calls the problem “another pocket-sized example of the demon-possessed manner in which Argentine society organises itself.”
“This national plague of hopelessly poor coordination can be summed up in this way:
a) the majority don’t bother to make sure they have enough coins to do their work properly (for example, run a convenience store or drive a taxi)
b) the minority who do go to the bank to change notes for coins are confronted with the kind of coin rations one might expect during a war economy.”