Change needed as Argentina coin shortage grows

The Argentina coin shortage is growing as inflation makes a coin's metal worth more than its face value.

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    A shortage of coins in Buenos Aires has spawned a black market for them in the Argentine capital.
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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Despite Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s promise more than a year ago to introduce electronic bus tickets in Buenos Aires, the vast majority of the capital’s bus lines still only accepts coins. This would not be such a big deal if not for the fact that Argentina has had a coin shortage for more than three years. The crisis has turned normally mundane tasks – like buying a newspaper or a snack – into a big hassle.

There are various theories about the origin of the crisis. Some claim people are hoarding coins because inflation is making the metal worth more than the coins’ face value.

Bus companies run side businesses selling change to companies for a fee, and a black market in coins has sprung up. Government advertisements urge people not to hoard.

It may simply be a sign of exasperation, but people here seem to agree that the situation is getting worse. People like Estefania Franceschi, a journalist, is fed up with being offered candies instead of change.

“Banks only give you up to 10 pesos in coins," explains Daniela Zeitune, a psychologist. "You can get change at the main train station, too, but if you’re working, you simply don’t have time to join the long queues.”

Zeitune's husband, a doctor, has befriended the man who services the vending machines at his hospital, and so he often gets a fresh batch of coins.

The situation is also leaving buskers and the homeless short-changed. Alita Casal, a postgraduate student, says, “People sometimes hesitate handing coins to street musicians and beggars because they are afraid to run out.” Some enterprising performers now offer change back to passersby.

Though one Chinese-owned supermarket chain has come up with an innovative solution – giving out vouchers whenever they run out of coins – it is clear that Buenos Aires is in need of a lot more change.

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