Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Interview with Argentinean Student/Worker

Joan Braune: Here in the U.S., many students are organizing for affordable college education. Tuition rates are sky-rocketing here, and the economic crisis is hitting students hard. Do students have to pay tuition in Argentina? Do many students work while going to school?

Fabián Bertune: There are two kinds of college education here, far apart: State Universities and Private Universities. College tuition in private universities is absolutely unattainable unless you have a full-time job or your parents can pay it for you. Of course, this is the higher class’ education. However, this is not better than state education, because, like we say here, "you pay to graduate."

State colleges are totally free of charge, you just have to pay for your books, and there is a better quality of education. All the Argentinean Nobel Prizes came from there. But nothing is perfect, and it's hard for the working class youths to go to college and not to work for several years, because academic degrees take time, and most parents can't afford it, so students have to get a job to be able to stay in college. And for that reason almost all students in state universities are full-time workers too, for example, me.

Joan Braune: Is there any chance Argentina will join ALBA?

Fabián Bertune: There is no chance for the time being. Argentina's government does not have a concrete posture about its own politics. In international forums, they boast about promoting Latin American integration, but they're not disposed to adopt the ALBA's leftist doctrines, like the nationalization of natural resources, energy, oil, etc. This won't happen because the electorate still does not have a deliberately leftist posture, like people in Bolivia or Venezuela do. There's no left party in power, although the government is always flirting with some social movements, to get their support when necessary.

Joan Braune: There was a rally here in south Texas on Thursday (7/2) against the coup in Honduras. Have there been protests in Buenos Aires too against the coup?

Fabián Bertune: The common people are beginning to worry, but they initially didn't understand what really happened. There have not been protests against the coup in the streets. President Cristina Kirchner flew to the conflict zone with other Latin American presidents, so, the official posture is in favor of Zelaya, (see answer #2) and that's all. Obviously the Argentinean right-wing journalists spit their poison on TV, but most of the press is against the coup, because we still have the sad memories of the 70's Argentinean military dictatorship.

Joan Braune: I read that about a year ago, there was talk in Argentina about nationalizing some private retirement pension funds. Are the needs of retired people in Argentina being met well?

Fabián Bertune: Yes, retirement pension funds were privatized in the 90's--together with most of the national capital: the national railway company, telephone company, mail, etc.--and re-nationalized about a year ago. This fact can be read in two different ways. On the one hand, the rescue of the possible crash of the private insurance companies, through the National State taking charge of the business, and on the other hand, the use of the enormous funds of those companies on the part of the state, to pay national and international debts. Actually both options are true.

But, beyond all this, the needs of retired people in Argentina are not being met well at all.

Maybe this has improved in recent years, but according to official calculations, 76% of retired people still earn the basic wage--about US $180 per month. This retirement is inadequate, because it meets just 30% of the needs. (A married couple with two children needs at least US $350 per month, so draw your own conclusions.)

Now, this situation will worsen in the future, because in 2001-2002 many workers were sent off the formal employment system, and they will not even get this retirement money: the percentage of old men turning the trashcan upside down on the streets to survive is going to go up in the coming years--and it's already alarmingly high. A tragic case of our reality.

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Fabián Bertune was born in Argentina in 1983. Currently he's studying at University of Buenos Aires and works in a factory. He is not affiliated with any party; his socialism springs from a hatred of injustice.

(I (Joan) have been in touch with him over the years and grateful that he was able to contribute this article.)