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Pulitzer Center Update October 24, 2022

Documenting Life With Record-High Inflation


Image by Irina Werning. Argentina, 2022.

How Much?! In Argentina, Money Adorns But Doesn't Buy

Can you imagine a world where covering your walls with money notes is cheaper than buying wallpaper? Or where buying groceries involves taking hours-long expeditions in search of the best deals?

Welcome to Argentina, the land of extreme, chronic inflation. While this year’s CPI is already up 83%, Argentines have been battling inflation for decades—and have become experts at it. Renowned photographer Irina Werning set out to capture the daily consumer acrobatics that are now an integral part of being Argentine in her recent Pulitzer Center-supported project, Inflation!, published in The Guardian, El País, and Der Spiegel.

At a time when rising prices are shaking economies worldwide because of supply chain constraints, COVID-19, and the war in Ukraine, Argentina can offer lessons to the rest of the world. Werning’s photography brilliantly depicts the resourcefulness, the tragedy, and the absurdity of everyday life amid constantly rising prices. And while there is nothing funny about inflation and worthless currency in a country where nearly half of the people are poor, Werning’s work is playful in just the right amount to help readers understand and engage.

One of the pictures—of her husband pasting $10 peso bills to the walls, a cheaper alternative to wallpaper—has already become a bit of an Internet sensation. In the photo, her husband’s trousers are worn deliberately low, "to show how exposed and naked we are to inflation," Werning, who is also an economist, writes.

The images walk us through an array of strategies Argentines use to survive in this economy. We see a father who transports his kids on a bike to save on gas, and a dog walker, Romina, who has had to add two more canines to the 12 that she already group walks, risking a back injury from the extra workload but bringing her much-needed income. There’s also Sara, a young woman with extremely long hair who stocks up on shampoo, fearing price spikes so brutal she would no longer be able to afford it.

Werning’s photos live in the realm of magical realism and tragic comic exuberance. In another picture we meet Lara, a union rep at the makeup store where she works, who sits with her torso naked and her salary stacked up in front of her covering her nipples. As devalued as those bills are, Argentines are extremely attached to cash and distrust banks— the result of collective trauma after the government halted bank withdrawals in 2001.

When I was a reporter in my native city of Mendoza in the late 1990s, one peso was equal to one dollar. Today it takes 292 pesos to buy a dollar. In other words, with the 800 pesos monthly salary I used to earn, today I could buy a gallon of milk and little else.

Now I live in the U.S. and see my husband anxiously using an app to find the cheapest gas near our home, as inflation remains near a 40-year-high at 8.2%. If this inflation rate creates distress among Americans, imagine what it is like for Argentina, where by December annual inflation is projected to be ten times higher than that.

“This is the way we feel with inflation, we’re vulnerable,” says Werning.


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After the publication of “‘This Land Belonged to Us’: Nestlé Supply Chain Linked to Disputed Indigenous Territory,” an investigative exposé by Rainforest Investigations Fellow Elisângela Mendonça, grantee Fábio Zuker, and guest contributor Andrew Wasley, the National Indian Foundation of Brazil (Funai) will now comply with the demarcating of Menkü Indigenous land. 
In Mato Grosso, Brazil, cattle ranchers clash with Indigenous peoples amid legal uncertainty on the border of the Amazon rainforest. The Pulitzer Center-supported investigation revealed that cattle from these disputed lands were purchased by Brazil’s second-largest beef company and linked to major corporations in the global food supply chain including Nestlé, McDonald’s, and Burger King.
The procedure will be sent to the Ministry of Justice to review the boundaries of the Menkü Indigenous land, Brazil’s Public Prosecutor's Office announced this week. "There are several steps until this process can be finalized, but the impact of advancing a case that has been halted for a long time is significant,” Mendonça told the Pulitzer Center.

This message first appeared in the October 21, 2022, edition of the Pulitzer Center's weekly newsletter. Subscribe today.

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