Barter, the indigenous tradition that continues in our days

Either by necessity or by fashion, this ancestral trade modality is emerging again in Latin America, but now it takes over the cities

Barter, the indigenous tradition that continues in our days

Barter centers or clubs have become a trend in several Latin American countries. Although some have appeared as an alternative to traditional trade, as in the case of Colombia and Mexico, in others the need and the economic crisis have made them arise in an accelerated way, as is the case of Argentina and Venezuela. Although it is a custom widely used in the countryside, according to what Marcelo Gryckiewicz tells in an interview to No Oficial, the barter has taken over the cities.

Leer en español: El trueque, la tradición indígena que continúa en nuestros días

From the marketplace to the comfort of the house

It is 7:15 am in the Marketplace of Paloquemao and the mass of people is increasing. In this point of Bogotá, Colombia, there are products of all kinds. Don Ulises brings from his house a basket with a great variety of products that, as he tells me, "I no longer use them because they are no longer useful, or because the children gave them to me without paying attention if they were useful." Don Ulises approaches Gloria, who sells fruit. The moment of the transaction is approaching: a glass jar for 1 pound of strawberries and two kiwis. Don Ulises tells me that he has been doing this type of transaction for more than 3 years, and he does it when the money runs out and he has to bring food for himself and his wife.

For his part, Manuel Chávez tells me from his comfortable house in the north of Bogotá, that the exchange groups on Facebook are much more common than you think. "On Facebook, you type the name of the product you are looking for and without thinking you can offer to exchange it for something. If they say no, you keep looking. There are even groups in which only the exchange of products is allowed." Manuel has already changed electronic items and football shirts using this social network.

In the huge city of Mexico, there is an antique market that is formed every Sunday called "Lagunilla". From my experience in this place, I remember how bartering is done for products that have a considerable historical value, from old phones to accessories now used by hipsters. In a phone call, I was able to communicate with Ricardo Martínez, a professor of the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM), who tells me that "bartering is only allowed when products are antiques, but if there is nothing in return, a normal transaction is made with money."

The barter clubs in the country are concentrated mainly in the regions with the greatest presence of rural population. Marcelo Gryckiewicz points out that in Mexico bartering is a Mayan custom, which is why it is much more common to find it in the Yucatan Peninsula. "It is a custom that takes much more than a commercial exchange, carries an exchange of needs and satisfaction. In the center of the country and the north, until now the barter is returning to flourish, but it is more for fashion, and almost all exchange is luxury material, "he says.

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When necessity forces barter

"There is no cash here, only barter," Mileidy Lovera, age 30, told Reuters as she walked along the shore of the lagoon at Río Chico in Miranda state. But the curious thing about the Venezuelan case is that barter is not being given for luxury items or antiques, but rather for food or medicine. The case of Mileidy Lovera demonstrates that need since she changes some of the fish that her husband catches for other foods and medicines, to treat one of her children who suffers from epilepsy.

Luis Vicente León, president of Datanálisis, told Reuters that "it is a very primitive payment system, but the lack of cash in the country is also primitive, and it is the only way to get what is needed." For Leon, this is not a system used only in some parts, but it is used throughout the country.

In the Argentine case, bartering takes place mainly in the suburbs. In Buenos Aires, in the province of San Miguel, people get to exchange food, clothing, and other basic goods now that inflation is rising, according to data from the Central Bank, because people are dissatisfied with the loan requested by the government of Mauricio Macri to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The resurgence of these places of barter in Argentina recalls the crisis of 2002, according to El Clarín, when the exchange was the only way out to get what to eat or what to wear. The surroundings of the Argentine capital are the most common places for these exchanges, since they are sites of poverty, as the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said in its 2013 report.

In these exchanges, those present are of all types of social stratum, because even the wealthiest will exchange for items that are no longer easy to found in the markets. "As is the case with milk and flour," says Lucila Gómez, a housewife from Puerto Madero, to El Clarín newspaper. "You come for two or three things, and when you arrive here you realize that there is more to offer," she explains.

LatinAmerican Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella

Translated from "El trueque, la tradición indígena que continúa en nuestros días"

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