June 2005

Outsourcing in Latin America

One topic that I’ve been following is the growth in outsourcing information technology services from the U.S. to Latin America. Here in Buenos Aires I am definitely getting a sense that there is an increase in this business. I’m encountering an increasing number of people from the U.S. who are relocating to Buenos Aires in order to either start-up or relocate their technology businesses.

I don’t think that Latin America will eclipse India or Asia as the outsourcing leader, but I do believe that niche markets for IT services can work very well through outsourcing in Latin America. Of course, the same can also be said about Eastern Europe. Ultimately, I think that the outsourcing pie is so large that firms in a lot of countries will benefit.

Articles that focus exclusively on which country offers the best outsourcing potential and lowest costs are missing the full scope of providing a technology service. Indeed, one potentially lucrative aspect can be viewed not as outsourcing at all but as simply the provision of a high value technology-based service. Graphic design is one of those aspects. Traditionally, graphic design was provided onsite, in-person. But the rapid nature of worldwide communications enables talented designers to provide services for customers in other global locations.

Design is very much part of the nature of Buenos Aires. The city has a very sophisticated design pulse and is producing excellent designers that offer a stylistic sense that is different from those found elsewhere. Enabling opportunities that offers these designers access to markets in North America or Europe while continuing to work and live in Buenos Aires could be a successful business model. The key to the success of any company is gaining access to the market.

Buenos Aires now in Google Maps

I’ve been waiting for the appearance of South America in Google Maps. The fun is no longer just limited to North America!

As you can see in this satellite photo, Buenos Aires is really a rather small town.

My own little corner of Buenos Aires is here on Avenida Córdoba, just left of center on this photo. That’s the medical facility of the Universidad de Buenos Aires situated around Plaza Houssay on the upper right-side.

Feliz Cumpleaños, Ernesto Sabato!

One of Argentina’s greatest living writers, Ernesto Sabato, celebrates his 94th birthday today. (I originally wrote this post in 2005. As Tom points out in the comments, Sabato was born in 1911, so in 2008 Sabato obviously is no longer 94…perhaps I should update this post every year…).

Unfortunately, not many of his works translated into English are still in print. I don’t understand that and hope that new printings of his translated works will appear soon. The editions listed on Amazon.com are mostly for used items, though Barnes & Nobles online does have some new editions. Most highly recommended by Sabato is The Tunnel.

Sabato was a physicist before turning to writing fiction. One of his most important roles came in the mid-1980s after the military dictatorship ended in Argentina and Sabato served as head of the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons. The Commission published the highly important work Nunca Más.

In 1984 Ernesto Sabato received the Cervantes Prize. Awarded once a year, the Cervantes Prize honors the lifetime achievement of a writer in the Spanish language.

If you’re not familiar with Sabato, take some time to learn about him.

Maurycy Minkowski, A Nearly Forgotten Artist

Just a couple of blocks away, around the corner from our apartment is AMIA, the Jewish community center here in Buenos Aires. In an upcoming post, I’m going to talk more about the 1994 bombing of AMIA that left 87 dead and wounded more than 100 people. But for now I want to focus on one fortunate cultural survivor of that bombing, which was the artwork of the now largely forgotten Maurycy Minkowski.

Minkowski had come to Buenos Aires in 1930 from Poland with his wife and brother. With them were dozens of oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings that they had planned to sell. It was to be the start of a new tour through the Americas that would expand his reputation. At the time, Minkowski already was known in Europe as a leading Jewish artist.

Minkowski’s works depict the suffering of Jews during the pogroms of Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century. As described by the Jewish Post, Minkowski painted about the “decadence of the human race, the social prejudices, the despair and frightening hopelessness of the Jewish refugees; a personal and a collective experience of the suffering and persecuted Jewish people.”

To get a sense of Minkowski’s paintings two examples are available online at The Jewish Museum in New York: After the Pogrom and He Cast a Look and Went Mad, both of which date from around 1910.

Minkowski, who lost his hearing as a child, was tragically killed while crossing a street in Buenos Aires just two months after his arrival.

His artwork remained in Buenos Aires. Minkowski himself was given a celebrity funeral and buried in the Jewish cemetery in Liniers in Buenos Aires.

Despite the public mourning by the Jewish community in Buenos Aires for the loss of Minkowski, sales of his artwork languished.Minkowski’s reputation started its long decline into obscurity. Ten years after his death his remaining artwork was purchased by the IWO where it remained for decades.

In some ironic way the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires has helped resurrect awareness of Minkowski. Miraculously, 67 works by Minowski survived the bombing that July day on calle Pasteur.

One person who has worked diligently over the last ten years to highlight the work of this nearly forgotten artist is Stanford University librarian Zachary M. Baker who details the story in his excellent essay Art Patronage and Philistinism in Argentina: Maurycy Minkowski in Buenos Aires, 1930 published in Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies (19.3 (2001) 107-119).

“One of the ironies of Minkowski’s having died in a traffic accident in Buenos Aires was that it prevented him from returning to Europe. What fate would he have met there? Would his paintings have gone up in flames in the Warsaw Ghetto? On the other hand, had Minkowski gone ahead with his oft-expressed wish to settle in Palestine, he might have lived out his days there as an honored artist, with his best canvases gracing the galleries of every Israeli art museum–and reproductions of his most famous images appearing on Israeli postage stamps!”

One of the great, though often overlooked aspects of life, is our own wonderment about the lives of others. What do we really know about those whom we pass on the street, those who have lived in our apartments before us? Hardly anything. The story of Maurycy Minkowski reminds us about the mysteries and uncertainties that fate plays in the world. Someday I will need to make my own pilgrimage out to the cemetery in Liniers and pay my own respect to this Polish traveler who found himself in Buenos Aires 75 years ago. We never know where we will die, where we will remain, or whom will remember us long afterwards.

Journey to Uruguay

It has been almost three months since I moved to Buenos Aires and now it’s time for my first visa run out of the country. This time I’m going to Uruguay. I’ve takenthis route before, two years ago on my first visit to Argentina.

It’s about three hours across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay. We opt for the slower ferry rather than the higher priced catamaran that crosses much faster. The river itself is broad, a huge bay separating Argentina from Urugay. The immediately noticeable characteristic of the river is its dark brown color, barely a glimpse of blue or green in the water. Considering the rubbish nature of industries along the Argentine coast, one might guess at first that the river is heavily polluted, which is likely true. But the distinctive brown coloring comes from the sediments in the soil of the rivers that flow into the Rio de la Plata.

Drifting steadily away from the river front, Buenos Aires falls into the distance. The few modern skyscrapers with corporate logos, such as Sun Microsystems, mix with the more historic buildings, the classic railway station, and the 19th century immigrants “hotel” that housed European immigrants who arrived on this shore. The immigrants kept coming by sea even well into the mid 20th century. Ceci’s mother told us about her own arrival by ship from Italy, after World War II.

The ferry itself is very comfortable, dozens of tables surrounded by cushioned chairs. Other parts of the ferry include a game room, several large windows surrounded by lounge chairs, an upper exterior deck, a duty free shop, the first class cabin, and the typically overpriced cafeteria.

A large share of the travelers are tourists, many English speaking and of the young backpacking species. They all have their well worn Rough Guides and Lonely Planets, which they study religiously, plotting strategies for sightseeing and hosteling.

You can take a fast ferry straight to Montevideo. But it’s almost just as easy to take the cheaper ferry to Colonia and then the bus operated by the ferry company onto the Uruguayan capital, which is about two hours away once you land in Colonia.

Colonia del Sacramento is a wonderfully charming 17th century Portuguese town. Back in March 2003 we spent a Wednesday wandering the cobbled streets of Colonia. This time, however, we’re skipping Colonia.

Ghost Train of the Cartoneros

Here’s a wonderful photographic essay, Buenos Aires: the Ghost Train of the Cartoneros.

Cartoneros are a visible part of daily life in Buenos Aires. Photographer Andrea Di Martino provides an insightful view into their lives.

An unflattering portrait of Buenos Aires from a US newspaper

Last weekend an article appeared in Staunton News Leader about a family from Buenos Aires that had emigrated to Virginia in the U.S.; Staunton is a small town in the pretty Shenandoah Valley about 3 hours southwest of Washington, DC.

It’s a rather odd article as it paints a very dark, ominous picture of Buenos Aires that, frankly, I find doesn’t exist. The article is titled “Family Finds Safe Harbor in the Valley.”

The wife of the family talks about how much safer it is to go to a shopping mall in the US than in in Buenos Aires : “I don’t have to worry when I take them to the mall here. I don’t have to grab their hands and pray for their lives.” What?! That seems just hysterical. I’ve been to shopping malls here a lot and never seen anyone who looked like they’re in fear for their lives.

Admittedly, there are a few cases of kidnappings among wealthy families, but that doesn’t seem to be too common. Staunton’s reporters wrote another article titled Crime rate in Argentina makes daily life unsafe. The article perpetuates the image that all of Latin America is some desperate Third World “wild west” where armed desperados roam the streets:

Silvana and Natalio Scotto Lavina also faced each day in Argentina with trepidation. Were their children going to be kidnaped, was their home robbed?

“There are so many people without money there,” Silvana Scotto Lavina said. Although the threat was constant, her immediate family did not have problems ”“ but close relatives did.

What type of problems? True, the very wealthy here are likely to encounter more potential criminals than the average person since their wealth makes them an easy target. But, that’s true in every country of the world even in the U.S.

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the story was the caption that ran under the photograph on the story about crime. The caption states that a “man digs through the garbage”. Now if you look closely at that photograph, the man is clearly walking the dog that is standing to his left; the dog obviously is on a leash. It’s likely that the man is simply dropping a bag of doggy poop into the trash. And the two girls in the background of that photo look very stylish and happy, certainly not fearful.

I will confirm, however, that there are a lot of people who go through the trash every night in Buenos Aires. They’re called cartoneros. (I’ll soon be posting an excellent link that tells the story of the cartoneros. Indeed, one of the saddest sights I remember seeing is a small child, almost still a baby actually, sitting on top of a trash bag while his father retrieved any usable, recyclable material from one of the many other trash bags on the curb. Every night in my neighborhood, on the street in front of our apartment building, one can see the cartoneros. However, I have never felt fearful at the presence of any of these people.

Just hope that the good people up in Staunton, Virginia, USA don’t get the wrong impression of Buenos Aires from those articles. I’m a former resident of Virginia also and it’s a great place but so is Buenos Aires.

El Barrio Silicon

One small but potentially lucrative growth industry in Argentina is technology outsourcing. Costs here are low and the workforce is very educated. As US and European countries look for alternatives to India, one possibility is Argentina. A couple of articles refer to the growth of el barrio silicon here in Buenos Aires: Christian Science Monitor Argentina’s ‘Silicon Valley’ thrives and Argentina: More near-shore than offshore from ZDNet UK.

Sushi in Buenos Aires

Tonight Ceci and I went back to our favorite sushi restaurant in Buenos Aires, Ichisou. We actually haven’t been back to Ichisou in two years but that was just because there are so many places to eat here. We don’t eat much sushi here and, when we did, we tried the few other places in town. Maybe if there were more sushi restaurants here, we would eat it more often. We certainly did eat sushi a lot in Miami, where there seems to be a sushi bar every few blocks.

Ichisou is located at Venezuela 2145 and is actually one of the nicest restaurants that we’ve been to in Buenos Aires. It’s a small restaurant and one should make reservations if you’re in a large group (4942-5853). The decor is very attractive.

The sushi is superb. We got 30 slices of sashimi that was incredibly soft and flavorful. Also, we got 8 rolls, 8 nigiri pieces, along with miso soup and a small salad. Everything was wonderful, just as we had remembered it from two years ago. As with any nice sushi restaurant, Ichisou was expensive, $88 pesos for our meal, including water and a soda. That comes out to about US$30. By far, the most expensive meal we have had in Argentina. Of course, with those prices, we won’t be going regularly but it’s a very nice place for special occasions.

Lunfardo & slang in Buenos Aires

One of the most colorful aspects of Spanish as it’s practiced in Buenos Aires is the slang or lunfardo.

Originating out of the working class immigrant neighborhoods in Buenos Aires in the late 1800s, lunfardo became a rich language and its influence is recognized in the writing of tango lyrics.

The result is that today Buenos Aires has many slang words that are not heard in any other Spanish speaking country.

The Dictionary of Argentine Spanish (in Spanish) provides many interesting slang words and their translations.

Next Page »