Tierra Del Fuego Tech: A New Silicon Valley On South America's Southern Tip

After Brazil successfully turned the city of Manaos into a tropical Silicon Valley, now Argentina is bringing high tech down to the far southern island of Tierra del Fuego, where Blackberry, HP and Motorola are opening operations. But is the industrial pu

Ushuaia, Argentina on the island of Tierra del Fuego
Ushuaia, Argentina on the island of Tierra del Fuego
Rodrigo Lara Serrano

Does it make sense to produce laptops and cell phones on an island 3,000 kilometers away from consumers if someone 12,000 kilometers away can do it more cheaply? At least in Latin America, how people answer that question probably depends on whether they think politics or economics is more important.

The current Argentine government's decision to try to do for the far southern island of Tierra del Fuego (which is shared with Chile) the same that Brazil has done in the Amazon region city of Manaos has everything to do with the first of the two options: politics.

Still, the decision has major implications both for importers and local manufacturers of these products. Backers of the policy are also hoping it will help prevent the reappearance of the traditional "double deficits' so common in Argentina throughout the second half of the 20th century.

Last month, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner inaugurated four manufacturing plants all in the same day. What made the event especially novel was that she did it all by videoconference, from the new factory owned by Banghó, an Argentine laptop manufacturer based in Buenos Aires' "Technology District."

Right now the country's laptop computer market is booming. In 2010, Argentines bought up roughly 1.6 million laptops. That number is expected to nearly double this year, and laptop sales could reach 3.7 million units by 2012. But computer importers aren't as happy as you might expect. That's because in mid-2010, the government altered the tariff regime and imposed new taxes with an eye toward ensuring that a big portion of the surging demand for laptops is satisfied "locally" – specifically by manufacturers in Tierra del Fuego. The same policy goes for cell phones.

At this time of high demand, Argentina's carrot approach, combined with the stick of tariffs and taxes, has proven to be successful. Industry Minister Débora Giorgi, who joined the president in last month's big multi-factory launch, noted that by 2012, 50% of the laptops purchased in Argentina will be produced locally. The country's almost there. "Argentina has already quadrupled domestic laptop production, from 289,000 units made in 2010 to 1.3 million expected for this year," said Giorgi.

The situation has generated a flurry of activity on Tierra del Fuego. Right now at least 17 different companies have either set up shop there or announced plans to do so. The list includes BlackBerry, HP, Motorola and the Argentine firm Banghó, whose brand name is PC Arts.

"We have plans to set up a new production plant Tierra del Fuego province. As opposed to other companies that go into partnerships with assembly plants already operating there, Banghó will set up its own independent facility," says Omar Nieves, the company's marketing chief.

PC Arts, which recently opened a new plant in Buenos Aires, currently has a production capacity of 960,000 units. With its Tierra del Fuego plant, the company is expected to expand production by an additional 300,000.

Ulterior motives

Special tax breaks have given the island a real advantage over the continent when it comes to attracting production. Critics, however, say the policy amounts to a subsidy that is being paid for by Argentine consumers, forced to spend more for computers than in other countries that import with low tariffs. The beneficiaries, they point out, are companies that do little more than assemble foreign-made parts.

But Banghó"s Omar Nieves disputes this description, noting that the company is currently producing RAM memory under the brand Mangum Tech, another branch of PC Arts Argentina. "This memory is being manufactured to meet international quality standards," Nieves said. "Our current RAM production is 20,000 units, all of which go into our own computers."

Critics also complain that there is little in the way of economic integration occurring in Tierra del Fuego. "Unlike in Manaos, there's been no effort in Tierra del Fuego to improve quality, to invest in R&D," says economist Mauricio Claverí, an international trade analyst with the consulting firm Abeceb.

In order to better emulate Brazil's efforts in Manaos, he adds, Argentine "should form clusters and focal points for interaction among companies in order to lower logistical and production costs. Otherwise, the boom remains very much dependent on current circumstances. If the government changes its political leanings tomorrow, all of this could quickly disappear."

But Argentina's interest in Tierra del Fuego, some analysts point out, isn't purely economic. To reinforce its claim on the isolated island, Argentina needs to better integrate Tierra del Fuego with the rest of the country, and that means making sure people are living and working there.

"The issue with Tierra de Fuego isn't so much about industrial policy as it is about capturing territory," says Carlos Schwartzer, a specialist in industrial economics. "The island is like a big Lego. It's not generating innovation, nor a transfer of technology, but it did need to be inhabited."

Either way, the decision to promote production on the island has its costs. Transportation to and from the far southern island, is a particular problem. One solution, according to Mauricio Claverí, would be for the state – like in Brazil – to guarantee low transportation costs.

For now, the Argentine government thinks the extra sacrifices are worth it. Determined to diversify the economy, the country's leaders are desperate to avoid a return to the "double deficits' – deficits in both trade and fiscal payments – that haunted the economy for decades, pushed Argentina into deep debt and later triggered a serious economic crisis.

"The truth is that this policy is more than anything about avoiding the volatility that can come about as a result of fiscal restraint," says Claverí. "That's why the industrial promotion policy is all about large-scale production, and focused on things like computers that are commercially relevant."

Read the original article in Spanish

Photo - giladr

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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