BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina, which has had a history of economic crises, has become an unlikely haven for some cash-strapped, unemployed refugees from economic turmoil in Europe and the United States.
Argentina’s latest economic upheaval was in 2001-2002, when a steep currency devaluation sent millions of people into poverty. But the effects of the current global recession are not expected to be felt here until later this year, according to experts.
Buenos Aires, a sophisticated, European-style capital in South America that long has been popular with savvy tourists and artistic bohemians, is now a haven for some young adults from Europe and the United States who find their savings go further here.
German actor Lukas Weichert, 22, recently moved to Buenos Aires, where he could afford to beef up his resume by learning tango and also studying yoga, contemporary dance and ballet.
Weichert graduated from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art last December, but immediately realized that trying to get acting roles, or even a job as a waiter, would be very tough in expensive London.
“With the skills I have acquired here, I will try to maybe be more interesting for people to hire me and for me to be able to find work,” Weichert said.
Life in Argentina is more relaxed than in London, where constant troubling news about company collapses has put everyone in a bad mood, said Anna Templeton, 27, from England.
Templeton was working as a media freelancer in London, but last October when her latest contract job was coming to an end she could not find other work.
So she packed her bags for Buenos Aires and is working as a masseuse until the economic climate improves in Britain.
Argentina’s economy is expected to cool or possibly shrink this year, as income plummets from its major exports such as soybeans and cars. But the country has yet to suffer the kind of huge layoffs seen in other countries.
Templeton also points out that since Argentines have lived through other serious devaluations and crises before, this latest downturn has not come as a huge shock.
‘QUITE A RELIEF’
“It’s really weird hearing about the crisis because I feel quite detached from it here. I went home in December for my Dad’s sixtieth birthday and for Christmas. But half the parties were canceled, everyone was quite miserable ... so it was quite a relief to get back here,” Templeton said.
Official tourist numbers in Argentina have been dropping since last October, but the reasons why people are coming is what has changed.
Some young entrepreneurs have decided to move entire businesses to Buenos Aires, like the U.S. team now developing the Moku Zoku brand of children’s products in the city’s trendy neighborhood of Palermo Soho.
The company was in the incubation stage when the economic crisis first hit, and plans to set up the 15-person team in a North American city like San Francisco, Vancouver or Washington, D.C., had to go out the window.
Withers Davis, 31, the company’s software development manager, said Buenos Aires provided the same talent pool of designers and Web programmers they needed, but at roughly 70 percent of the cost.
“It (the crisis) causes one to start thinking globally. And when you think globally, you are willing to do different things and to have different options,” Davis said.
Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Will Dunham