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Struggling economy fuels Argentine emigration

By Harris Whitbeck
CNN Mexico City Bureau

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNN) -- The early 1940s in Argentina was a time of progress and prosperity.

The Peronist government was busy building the infrastructure to support what would become one of the region's most dynamic economies, while across the Atlantic in Spain the Civil War had just come to an end, ushering in an era of hunger and desperation.

As a result, tens of thousands emigrated to Argentina, looking for a better future.

Now, the tables have turned and a sharp economic downturn has led Spaniards and other Europeans -- who came to South America in search of a better life -- to flee the very lands they thought would harbor them safely to return to their ancestral homes.

Argentine Senate to debate spending plan  

Flore Alvarez left Spain for Argentina and spent 52 years building a life and a family in this country. But on Monday he and his wife Pilar joined hundreds of others in a line outside the Spanish consulate in Buenos Aires, hoping to obtain Spanish passports for their daughters and six grandchildren.

The younger members of the family want to leave for Spain for the same reasons their grandparents came to Argentina half a century ago -- to look for work.

Return to Europe

The problem isn't limited to Argentina, nor is the solution peculiar to Spaniards. Venezuela, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador have all seen a heavy migration as their economies have plummeted.

Argentina, however, once offered the kind of promise that the United States did to European immigrants. And now those same immigrants are lining up to leave.

"What is happening in this country is shameful," says Flore Alvarez. "This was one of the great powerful nations. Now it is humiliating to see Argentina suffer the consequences of bad governments that have left us in ruins."

The scene at the Spanish consulate is repeated at the Italian Embassy, where officials said they handed out more than 12,000 passports to Argentines of Italian-origin last year and expect to see that number rise by 30 percent this year.

There are simply no jobs. Horacio, 49, also hopes to emigrate to Spain, his parents' birthplace. A computer programmer, he has been out of work for seven months.

"It's not that I can't get work because I don't have an education," he says. "There is simply no work to be had. I know that in Spain there is work."

Argentina's unemployment rate has climbed to more than 16 percent, and economists fear it could get worse before it gets better.

A 3-year recession has crippled the economy that has left many -- young and old alike -- looking at emigration as their only resort.

Soccer drain

And in a country that worships soccer, the crippled economy even may be affecting its future stars. Lilia and Emilio's son who played for Bocca Junior, one of Argentina's most famous soccer teams, now plays for a university team in Honduras.

"Too many young people are leaving," says Lilia. "They are leaving because they don't see a future here. Even those with a profession or an education have to leave."

Pablo Parmo, an Argentine of Italian-origin who dreamed of playing professional soccer, has given up his dream to go to Italy, the home of his great-grandparents, leaving his parents behind.

"It's hard for them, as it would be for anyone's parents," he told the Knight Ridder Newspapers. "But sadly, this is a country where this no work, and they understand it's best."

Argentine President Fernando de la Rua promises things will get better. He has pushed an austerity plan through Congress that would reduce the public deficit to zero by the end of the year -- which would give Argentina access to the financing needed to pay off its loans.

But many Argentines have decided they cannot afford to wait until that happens, and are looking for better opportunities across the sea.


• Argentina government information (Spanish)
• CIA World Factbook -- Argentina

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