Finding a place to park in Buenos Aires can be a challenge. There are a lot of vehicles on the road, and few spaces to put them. When you’re lucky enough to secure a spot, you’re elated enough to almost kiss the pavement.
In areas with higher populations, like Recoleta, San Telmo and Palermo, there are homeless men who carry a yellow cloth directing drivers to empty parking spaces. As though you wouldn’t be able to find that spot without his help, he is immediately beside your door with an offer to “protect” your car in exchange for a few pesos. It seems harmless enough, until chaos ensues.
As a North American I assume that I can choose to pay this man or not; I’m mistaken, payment is mandatory. If you refuse to pay, then he may physically assault you, or while you’re running your errands, take revenge by damaging your precious vehicle.
Apologists say, “What’s the big deal? Just give him a couple of pesos.” My retort is to imagine this scenario: It’s Christmas Eve, and you have many appointments in various parts of town. Each time you park your car you’re confronted by a man demanding that you pay him a specific sum. The going rate is 10 pesos. Imagine you have ten places to be that day, and each time you have to pay a different man who, let’s face it, does nothing to protect your car. That’s 100 pesos in a matter of hours! It’s not like the average porteño is rolling in dough.
Back in the 90s Toronto had a problem with a group of individuals who sat on the sidewalk waiting to clean the windshields of stopped vehicles at traffic lights. The problem was that they never asked if the driver wanted the service, and when they were done, demanded payment. Eventually it got out of control, fights and arguments were a daily occurrence and the city officials had to get involved and put an end to the madness.
As a tax payer, I’m secure in the knowledge that Canada has sufficient social programs in place for the homeless. Even in lovely neighbourhoods with lots of children, there are homeless shelters where people can go to get a bite to eat and a bed to spend the night, free of charge. During the winter, Toronto city staff frequent areas popular with the homeless and offer them a warm blanket, hot soup and a ride in their patrol van to the nearest shelter where they can sleep in a warm bed.
I understand that these type of programs are not as available in Buenos Aires, because there is more poverty and less access to funds, but the president of Argentina’s solution to this problem is to make it mandatory that drivers pay these men, and if they don’t, face a monetary penalty. I understand that her heart is in the right place, but her primary concern should be to tackle the homeless problem in Buenos Aires, and make it safe for the average porteño to navigate through their city and run their errands, without the fear of harassment as a result of parking their car, which is a necessity.
I know that Cristina likens herself to a socialist, but you’re not going to eradicate poverty by giving hand-outs to the poor. As it stands now most poor Argentines receive 1,800 pesos a month from the government. As a result, there’s no incentive for them to find work. Cristina should be motivated to create jobs, but instead she is more concerned about securing votes by giving the poor — 50% of Argentines live in poverty — money. As you can see, her goodwill is far from altruistic.
A day does not go by, while I’m in Argentina, where I don’t shake my head in bewildering confusion. How this corruption is tolerated, from one generation to the next, is beyond my comprehension.