Museo de la Deuda Externa [Museum of External Debt]

Currently, there has been a lot of protesting around public education, the lack of funding, and the teachers’ and professors’ terribly low pay, so I will be making an effort to visit the museum network of UBA. The Museum of External Debt is the second one I’ve posted on.

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One of the consequences of growing up middle class in the USA is a general sort of insulation from macroeconomics.  At least for me, there just wasn’t an awareness of what went on at the national level.  Part of that was childhood, sure, but I don’t think you really find economic turmoil that really disrupts the political institutions of the US after the Industrial Age–and really, not *that* disruptive.

You don’t have to go back very far to find that kind of chaos in Argentina.  You can see damaged door handle of a bank in the post on the Banco Cuidad museum.  There were riots, police brutality, dozens killed, and an iconic image of the president fleeing the Casa Rosada in a helicopter.

Against that backdrop of economic chaos in 2001, students and professors in the Universidad de Buenos Aires’s economics department began to discuss a museum on Argentina’s external debt.  In 2005 the museum display opened at its first location.  It is currently located within the economics building of UBA, and it has a travelling version and also a healthy online presence.

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It’s tucked into the first floor, and you can it through the windows on the other side of the building.

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The physical space of the museum is just the one exhibition room.  And it is basically a room-sized pamphlet.  It is all text and photos.  None of that text is in English.  But, an English audio tour is available if you ask at the desk.  There’s a pretty slick booklet about the museum available, with text in four languages: Spanish, French, Italian, and German.  Haha.

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These are postcards that were designed at UBA’s architecture, design and urbanism department, for the museum, and they are pretty eye-catching.

If your Spanish kinda sucks, you are definitely going to want the English audio tour.  It doesn’t read the displays word for word, but it gives you a solid idea of what’s there, and it’s simple to follow along.

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There’s plenty to parse on the disastrous war of the triple alliance against Paraguay, but there are two things widely agreed on:  1) Argentina owed Great Britain money, and 2) Great Britain made out pretty well as a result of the war. 

 

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In the interest of national sovereignty, paying off external debt was a priority during Perón’s first term.

The history of Argentina’s foreign debt is sketched out, along with the problems the debt (and whatever attending corruption came with it) contributed to for the population of Argentina.  Things get super ugly, as things do, during the military dictatorship of the 70s/80s.

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The debt gets very huge and the economy tanks, but the population can do very little about macroeconomics when the leadership is actively murdering opposition.

Argentina has really been in a state of economic crisis or at least crisis-adjacent ever since.  Being unable to untangle itself from a considerable foreign-held debt has had some pretty crippling effects, and addressing the problems has been insanely complicated.

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Economic collapse and a president evacuated from the Casa Rosada by helicopter.  NOT IDEAL.
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The next four guys came and went within EIGHT DAYS.

The museum ends with the economic policies of Néstor Kirchner and the restructuring of the debt.  Wish I could say it stops in 2007 because everything got super rad after that, but alas. As of this posting, Twitter is flush with memes by Argentines laugh-crying their way through the latest plunge of the peso.

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Comics and Debt

The museum has created a heck of a lot of sophisticated supplementary materials, including four entire comic books and a board game (you can read the comics online for free here).  There is a documentary.  There is a cartoon miniseries.  There is a stunning array of media available on the topic.

The museum is open from 9am to 9pm, Monday-Friday, and it’s free.  It’s across the street from the Facultad de Medicina stop on the D line of the subway.  If you aren’t near enough to visit, the website is quite robust, so you can absorb it from afar.  As a bonus, unrelated factoid, if you look at the top of the economics building, you’ll see a medical scene, as the building was originally the medical school.

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“Today, we will be conducting the autopsy of the economy of Argentina…”

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