Thursday, May 21, 2009

Barter Clubs are Back

Barter Clubs are back in Buenos Aires.

Last Saturday, I visited one in the gritty rustbelt town of Isidro Casanova, about 45 minutes west of downtown Buenos Aires. I filed a report about it for CNN International and for You can watch the video here and read the article here. I also filed a 'behind-the-scenes' report for the CNNI show "Backstory" which you can see here.

As I note in the story, barter clubs are not a new phenomenon in Argentina. The network of clubs was first established in 1995, but it wasn't until after Argentina's economic collapse in 2001 that they really became popular. The founder I interviewed, Ruben Ravera, told me that in 2002, more than 2 million people used to participate regularly. That's a lot for a country of just 40 million. In recent months, more clubs have popped up, especially in the rural northern provinces of Argentina, and participation in urban Buenos Aires is on the rise too.

During the shoot, we met Nelly Vasquez (above, with her 6-month-old daughter, Antonella), a 29-year-old mother of two who lost her job at a clothing factory last year. She said she comes to the barter club every week because it's her only way for her to put food on the table. She brought bunches of wool, clothes and shoes and fortunately had some takers that day, as I saw her sell a blouse that she then traded for vegetables. Nelly wasn't enthusiastic about speaking to us on-camera, but once we chatted for awhile, she agreed to speak, and she had some great things to say. Antonella was mostly cooperative while we were rolling, although she did rip the microphone off her mother's shirt at one point. We cut, pinned the mic again, and started over. It happens.

After we finished shooting, we were introduced to Alberto Censi (above) who brings baked goods and booze to the club every weekend. He insisted, and I mean insisted, that cameraman Eduardo Aragona and I sample his homemade Gancia, which is a popular Argentine spirit. It tasted what I imagine lighter fluid tastes like, but I grinned and beared it, and finished my glass. All in a day's work.

I met some very nice people that day, although not everyone was nice. In fact, one woman yelled at me, really yelled in my face, because she felt we were taking advantage of the club members by filming them. She also accused me of being a politician who was trying to exploit the club for money. I had to politely explain to her that our intention was to show Argentina's current economic reality, nothing more. Needless to say, we steered clear of her table the whole day.

I really enjoyed doing this story, and hopefully we shed some light of what's happening in Argentina, and gave viewers/readers around the world some insight into how people in Argentina (who are very accustomed to instability) are coping with the global economic crisis.


Anonymous said...

bartering is not only making a comeback in argentina but all the US as well. is leading the way for bartering online. check it out.

Brian Byrnes said...

Thanks. I just checked out the site, very cool. Thanks for the tip, and for reading.

Unknown said...

I totally agree! Another great website for trading online is On this site you can barter for your unneeded goods and you can offer your services - for free!