Sidewalks and Scavengers

Trip Start Jan 06, 2008
Trip End Mar 31, 2008

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Everywhere we have been, less so in Chile but about the same everywhere else, it has been necessary to keep at least one eye on the ground in front of you when walking on the sidewalk. In addition to the leavings of the aforementioned stray (and not so stray) dogs, there is a constant need to watch out for holes in the sidewalk. Most sidewalks are paved with ribbed concrete tiles about 9 inches square. They inevitably come loose and pop out forming holes which get larger the longer they are not attended to; also the loose tiles form small piles which can also trip you. There is also a commendable plethora of trees planted along the streets to provide shade (or drip on you when it rains). Their roots play havoc with the sidewalk tiles. Incidentally, all of the photographs of the sidewalks were taken within a couple of hundred yards of our apartment in a far from poor neighborhood.
This neglect of the sidewalks is symptomatic of a much larger problem, lack of maintenance of public spaces and buildings. Again I exempt Chile from much of this criticism but that is probably because most of the infrastructure is newer.
I understand that there has been an economic meltdown and that many items have had to be postponed but something needs to be done, and soon, if the sidewalks are to be anything but muddy footpaths. As a sidelight to this, it seems that Uruguay introduced income tax for the first time last year. It was received as if there had been a Bolshevik revolution (they have a left of center government here for the first time since the early 20th century). I also understand that property taxes (rates) are low (although there is a 23/24% VAT for most items).  It would seem that funding for public projects is being neglected in a desire to keep taxes low Where have I heard that before?
I had another view of this from a delightful guide who showed us around the Legislative building. It is very difficult to implement an income tax when inflation is eroding the value of incomes and leaving people materially worse off than they were before. I would have expected that the extremely regressive IVA (VAT) would have been reduced at the time of implementation but that seems not to have happened.

 The effects of the economic 'meltdown' of 2002 have still to be eliminated. The most obvious evidence of this is the presence of garbage scavengers in most neighborhoods. The practice of leaving garbage containers out on the sidewalk makes it easy for the scavengers to gain access. While they are performing a useful social role in minimizing the waste of resources, it is difficult to imagine how they bring themselves to do it. Some better off residents leave food in plastic bags on the garbage containers for the scavengers. Their ponies are in worse shape than they are.

Since writing this I have learned that these scavengers are licensed by the city and deliver their spoils to a licensed recycling center. They are also, at least nominally, required to pay income taxes and social security. They are also forbidden to use child labor, although this seems widely ignored.

Lest it seem that I am being too critical, I would like to stress that we like Uruguay very much. It is a much quieter, calmer, and more agreeable place than Argentina.  But it would be misleading to omit entirely some of the less agreeable aspects of life here.
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