Friday, August 24, 2012

The Bolsa Negra

The Bolsa Negra / Fernando Damaso
Fernando Damaso, Translator: Unstated

A few days ago I was chatting with a group of friends, all of whom were
concerned about the shortages in the state-run hard currency stores and
the growth of thebolsa negra*—"the black bag," also known as the "black
market" or "underground market." This exchange of opinions proved

First of all, the shortage is a result of the lack of financial
resources to acquire goods and products on the international market, and
a weak domestic production capacity, incapable of supplying the market,
or making up for the lack of imports. Both phenomena are related, and
result in shelves that are either bare, or filled with mostly unwanted
products in an effort to give our retail stores an illusion of abundance.

Thebolsa negraarises and develops in response to a shortage of goods or
products necessary for daily life, especially those sold in state stores
at prices set high to maximize profits on a small inventory. Thebolsa
negragrows or shrinks depending on how many or how few goods are for
sale, and also in relationship to their prices.

The formula is simple. If supplies of a product are abundant, but the
price is a bit high, it can be obtained through thebolsa negrafor much
less. If the product is in short supply, and cannot be found in stores,
its price in thebolsa negrawill be much greater, sometimes more than
double, depending on the number of middlemen there are between buyer and

In the first instance the state, which has a commercial monopoly,
suffers while the consumer benefits. In the second the consumer suffers
since there is no option but to pay the price or do without the
necessary item.

Up till now thebolsa negrahas been dealt with principally through
repressive measures. These have amounted to spectacular raids, involving
state inspectors and agents of public order, of places where the
activity is known to be concentrated. Beyond the hub-bub and the
shouting, however, the impact has been quite limited. After a few days
it all reappears as usual, only with more gusto.

As has been demonstrated historically, it seems the only way to reduce
it (eliminating it is practically impossible) is with stable supplies
which satisfy the year-round needs of the population without any gaps.
Until that is achieved, we will continue wasting time and resources to
train state inspectors (whose numbers must be in the thousands), paying
them high salaries so that they do not become corrupt or subject to
bribes. Everything will continue as is, or perhaps even get worse.

Thebolsa negrais just one of many negative developments to come out of
the national crisis. As long as it is not dealt with seriously—something
beyond agreements, resolutions and multiple guidelines of dubious
effectiveness and without real results—the bolsa negra will continue to
grow and grow. Although that is not desired by anyone who thinks
responsibly, at the moment it serves as an escape hatch, both for those
who operate it and for its customers, even though it is illegal,
suppressed and subject to prosecution.

As a neighbor of mine says, "From the time we get up in the morning, we
commit crimes. Isn't a good quality cup of coffee (not the adulterated
kind from the store)illegal? And also the glass of milk (the kind you
have not had legal access to for more than seven years) that we drink
every morning?"

Perhaps one day in the not too distant future we can go back to living
legally, even with abolsa negra. In the meantime, as the saying goes,
"Every man for himself!"

*Translator's note: In Spanish the word bolsa means a bag of some sort,
but can also mean a type of market, such as a stock market.

August 23 2012

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