‘Patriarchal’, said our friend, describing the curious system of give and take still at work on Argentina’s backward mountain ranches.
‘Well, yes’, we explained. ‘We help them…they help us.’
Today, we write more about conflict than cooperation. Both may be inevitable. But one pays. The other doesn’t.
The US sanctions war against Russia, for example. How will it turn out? Will the Russian bear be forced to withdraw, bruised and humbled, so that Americans can rejoice with their first real win since 1945?
Maybe. But more likely, even a victory will hasten the decline of the US’s empire and its dollar-dominated money system.
‘Wars also upend the dominance of currencies and serve as a doula to the birth of new monetary systems’, says Zoltan Pozsar, an analyst at Credit Suisse.
Edward Luce in the Financial Times adds:
‘America has shown its remarkable power to blockade a big economy and target its global elite. Other national elites, who also count westernised kleptocrats in their ranks, are now looking for fallback plans.’
China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran…most of the world’s people are not part of the US’s sanctions war against Russia. But all have seen what the US can do with its ‘weaponised’ dollar. Now, they’re speeding up efforts to find a replacement. A strong yuan? A gold-backed ruble? A new digital or crypto money? We don’t know, but we don’t doubt they will find something.
Chest tumours and wife-beaters
In the meantime, on our mind today is a different kind of ‘war’…and the grim events taking place in our fight with the Originarios…right here.
Mariela has a tumour in her chest. The public health service is very slow. It will take months before it can take her in.
So she came to us. And last night, we drove her and her family down to ‘nearby’ Molinos…a three-hour drive on dirt roads. From there, she will take a bus to the capital city, where we arranged for her to go to a private clinic. She is to be operated on today. That’s how our ‘patriarchal’ system works.
But, of course, there’s always more to the story. Recent rumours told us that Mariela has gone over to the other side — joining the Originarios in their war against property rights. Still, she asked for our help. And Carlos (one of our workers who drowned last month) was her brother. Another worker is her (common-law) husband.
The plot thickens…
Mariela recently got a court order prohibiting her husband from visiting after he allegedly beat her. But last night, the family seemed to be reunited…perhaps by this new health emergency.
We took them all, with five family members crowded into the backseat of the truck, to a house owned by Mariela’s sister, where they would wait for the bus. There was another man staying there, a brother, who has also been prohibited from visiting his wife and children. He too was accused of wife beating.
‘I don’t know’, commented a woman we’ve known and trusted for many years. She continued:
‘It is almost like a fad. Women get mad at their husbands. All they have to do is accuse them of violence. Sometimes it is true. Sometimes it is not. But the courts don’t know…and they don’t want to take a chance; so the man is banned from his own family.’
One of the wife-beaters asked to speak to us privately. We went into a storeroom. Mattresses were stacked against the wall. A bare light bulb hung from the ceiling, lighting up a rough cement floor. His grandmother was already there, waiting for us. She is a frail woman in her 80s.
She spent almost all her life at a remote ‘puesto’ — an oasis with enough water to support a family — and is hard to understand because she speaks in a mountain dialect. We sat down on the bench with the grandmother and greeted her warmly; we’ve known her for many years. We’ve never understood a complete sentence from her, but we trust her. And she trusts us. A sister brought mate…a local herb tea.
The grandson wanted to tell us what happened to his dead brother.
To bring new readers fully into the picture, we’ve owned a ranch down here in Argentina — in the far northwest, where it is high and dry — for about 15 years. We’ve gradually learned the language, the culture, the history, ranching, the people, and so forth.
It’s been a wonderful and exciting adventure. But more than we bargained for.
The scenery is majestic…spectacular. Always something new to see. And always some new problem to reckon with. Yesterday, calves somehow got out of the corral. One wandered into the house.
Source: Bill. Calves on the run.
Some of the problems are ones we can solve. A bigger reservoir, along with drip irrigation, has greatly improved our use of the water. Better bulls have improved the cattle. Solar energy and solar hot water heaters improve our quality of life.
But our ‘war’ with the Originarios — like so many of the US’s wars — has no upside.
The Originarios are a group of local people who believe that they should have some special rights, thanks to their claim that they are ‘indigenous’. They’re not really any more indigenous than the rest of the population of this area. But a fellow came down from Bolivia a few years ago and showed them that they might enhance their pride, power, status, and wealth by proclaiming themselves to be descendants of a long-lost tribe.
In this case, that meant exhuming a tribe that was probably exterminated by Inca invaders some 500 years ago — the Diaguita. The language has been lost. The religion has been forgotten. So have the customs. But the Originarios reject everything of European origin — except electricity, pickup trucks, medicines, TV, painless dentistry, etc. — and claim to restore their ancient Diaguita culture. At the funeral for Carlos, for example, the family avoided the traditional Catholic service. Instead, they invoked ancient rituals.
‘I’ve been here all my life’, said a 70-year-old:
‘…and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s customary, when a man dies, to break his horno (an outside clay oven). But they strangled his dog and dropped it into a pit…and then they put his clothes on top of the dog and then threw food and drink into the hole. It was the most barbaric thing I’ve ever seen.’
The ‘tribe’ is mostly made-up. But the idea is attractive. Thanks to reckless legislation in Buenos Aires, intended to protect people who live in a traditional way on traditional tribal lands, they enjoy very untraditional rules. They live on our farm. But they don’t pay rent. They believe they own the place. They steal our water and our cattle. They burned down two of our remote cabins…and tore up three miles of hose that was used to bring them water.
(Curiously, we had let the Originarios use the water…and offered them bulls to improve their herds. But they want nothing to do with us…until they actually need us. One young man was accused of killing or neglecting his young son, who died. Our lawyer helped keep him out of jail. Another needed to go to the hospital in an emergency, so we brought out our horses to help bring them out of the mountains.)
We call the police regularly. In one case, the Originarios were stealing our water during a drought. Water is precious here. Everybody knows that taking water when it is not your turn is a serious crime. We called the local gendarmes. But word got around that the police were on their way. By the time they arrived, the irrigation canals were all running properly.
Still, early this year, everything seemed to be settling down. And then Carlos died. Drowned. The police ruled it an accident. Nobody thinks it was an accident. Either he was murdered or he committed suicide.
And now, his family (who consider the Originarios little more than scamsters) want us to do something.
‘Look, they are trying to take over the valley’, explained the grandson, whispering:
‘You have to do something. I think they murdered Carlos to get him out of the way. Because they want their people there. Or maybe Carlos found out something…
‘I don’t know…you’ve got to stop these people, or they’ll take over the entire ranch.’
Our young friend wants action. It is not fair, he said. It is not right. ‘You’ve got to do something.’
But what we have discovered is that when the government and the police turn against you (or won’t help), you find you are living in a glass house. And the Originarios have plenty of stones.
‘Let me spell it out for you’, advises another landowner, whose family has been in the valley for hundreds of years:
‘We are few. They are many. And you are a foreigner. You don’t even have a single vote.
‘That’s democracy for you. It’s where the wolves and the sheep vote on what to have for dinner. And we’re the sheep.
‘The last thing you want is violence. You can’t win that war. They can sabotage your tractors — easily. They can break your windows. They can open the valves at the reservoir — it’s hours away from the house, up in the mountains — it would flood the fields…and then your grapes would die later when you didn’t have any water.
‘Yes, they steal cattle. But only a couple a year. They could kill them all. You couldn’t stop them.
‘And what could you do? In the old days, we could get together some of our field hands and run the troublemakers off. Anybody stole water…and their house would be burned down. But today, if you try to do anything on your own, they’ll put you in jail. You have to play by the rules. The Originarios don’t.
‘All you can do is to sit tight and wait for a change of government.’
The patriarch speaks; baa-aah…
For The Daily Reckoning Australia