Mr. Green looks much older than I remember. Stress does that to people in a short amount of time. I’ve seen it happen before several times. There’s more wrinkles in his face, and he has grown a beard which is mostly gray. Last time I saw him was several months ago, he was clean shaven and had a cheerful ring in his voice that is now gone. He mumbles “I’m only selling to those that I know now”.
I keep my voice down as I speak. The small store in the downtown district of Buenos Aires is supposed to sell pens, pocket knives and various office supplies, even though in reality it’s just a front for a “cave”, where an “Arbolito”, Mr. Green, operates buying and selling dollars. (arbolito=tree for Spanish =green=USD, hence Mr. Green) .
“I saw it on the news and knew it was bad, that´s why I waited until things cooled down a bit. Is it really that bad, people arrested by SIDE (Argentine Intelligence) undercover agents and all? This must be terrible for business”.
“Yes. It is”, he says and nods while looking over my shoulder towards the street. You know what they say about you not really being paranoid if they are really out there to get you.
I ask for the current exchange rate for buying. 4.90 pesos per dollar. Not bad. Officially its 4.25. No doubt a handful of politicians are making a killing these days with the bicycle scheme of buying in the official market and selling in the black one, what is now called the price for the Blue dollar. Of course only those in power can do that. For the rest of us mere mortals you have to go through official scrutiny and if you’re even allowed to buy dollars through official channels at all, its just 50 or 100 a month for an upper middle class type of income. Ridiculous.
Out of habit I haggle a bit but get nowhere. 3.90 it is, and I should consider myself lucky that Mr. Green has known me since 2001 when this mess first started. I cant avoid the déjà vu feeling.
Its about 2.30 PM. The time when the buzz of the Capital district calms down. The time when cops and other agents, undercover or not, are still feeling heavy and lazy because of lunch break.
Would 12AM to 1.30 PM be a better time? Not really. That’s when everyone gets their office break… and sneak around looking to buy dollars before going back to work. 2Pm to 3Pm is about right.
I do the deal, quickly check the money just in case I’m getting a counterfeit bill, and hurry to the car I have ready waiting for me a couple blocks down the street, driver inside ready to go.
The new dollar “corralito” has paralyzed everything. People don’t want to sell anything that may go up in pesos soon. Travel agencies only accept dollars for international flights. Things like imported firearms? Houses? Better have dollars, and dollars aren’t easy to come by these days if you don’t know the right people. At least one real estate broker that I know well decided to take a couple weeks off and give people vacations.
2001 Déjà vu indeed.
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