A man walks past a currency exchange bureau in downtown Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires - AFP
"Change! Cambio, cambiooo!" chants a rhythmic voice on Calle Florida, a busy pedestrian shopping street in central Buenos Aires. "Dollars!"
It is the day before a presidential election in Argentina, but this is not a cry for political reform. It is the daily call of a key need for locals: the illegal money-changers.
Some businesses and workers rely on the unofficial "blue dollar" exchange rate to boost their income in the face of foreign currency restrictions imposed by the outgoing government.
Money-changers on the street pay up to 15 pesos for a dollar, 50 percent more than the official fixed rate.
But now the blue could die out when a new leader takes charge in the pink-brick presidential palace near Florida Street -- either pro-business right-winger Mauricio Macri or center-leftist Daniel Scioli.
Both agree the dollar restrictions must be lifted to draw in more foreign money and boost the economy. The question is how quickly.
"I hope Macri does everything he has to do to improve the country," said one money-changer working furtively on Florida Street.
"The most important thing is the dollar. It is very high," said the man, who asked to be identified only as Cesar, because what he does is illegal.
"I want that to change, so there is just one dollar rate and it is lower," rather than the five or so different rates currently used, he added.
Along the road stood Carlos Quinteros, who supports his wife and six children by selling handmade leather bags and purses.
He fears Macri would abruptly devalue the peso by immediately scrapping the fixed rate.
"That is bad for workers' pockets," he said.
"Salaries will go down. The price of leather will go up. This handbag costs $25 at the moment, but with devaluation, it will cost $40. I can't sell it at that price."
- 'Giving money away' -
Analysts say foreign markets favor Macri, a former football executive who has promised to liberalize the economy and strengthen the public finances.
He is favored to win according to polls -- but polls here have proved unreliable in the past.
"Even if Mr Macri were successful in implementing his program, the necessary macro adjustment means that conditions in the real economy would get worse before they get better," warned Edward Glossop, an analyst at research group Capital Economics.
Scioli has vowed to defend Argentine industry from foreign competition and to ease the dollar restrictions gently.
He has promised to preserve the social welfare subsidies that some blame for Argentina's fiscal woes.
"The government gives money away to people who don't work," said Cesar.
Some of his customers are employees whom the government permits to save part of their salary into dollars converted at the lower official rate. They come to him and change them into pesos at the higher rate, instantly multiplying their income.
"The government is giving money away like that too," Cesar sniggered.
Due to government limits on currency transactions, "companies that do business in dollars can't buy them from the banks. They have to buy blue dollars. That is why businesses are doing badly."
Nearby, Quinteros has sold several of his leather purses to passing tourists during the morning. The leather comes from Argentine cows. Quinteros and his wife cut and stitch it at home.
"I will vote for Scioli. He would reform the economy too, but gradually. Macri wants to sweep all this away," he said, gesturing around him at the vendors along Florida Street.
"He wants shopping centers and arcades for the benefit of big companies. I sleep five hours a night and work all the time to put food on the table. That is the reality in Argentina."