Friday, April 15, 2016
The Economy: "A Visit to Our Old Faithful Ranch Manager, Jorge"
"A Visit to Our Old Faithful Ranch Manager, Jorge"
by Bill Bonner
GUALFIN, Argentina – “We always felt a little ashamed… or we had an inferiority complex… because our government was so bad.” An Argentine friend – a cattle man – was explaining how he felt about his new president, business mogul Mauricio Macri. (To fill readers in, Macri was mayor of Buenos Aires after years working in the private sector in construction and manufacturing. Last November, he beat a populist left-wing opponent to become Argentina’s new president… ending 12 years of rule by the dominant Peronist party.)
“But I don’t feel that way now. This was the first time I voted for a politician that I actually wanted to win. It seemed impossible. But he did win. I’d put him up against any president the Americas have ever had. At least, in recent times. He’s like a conservative, business-minded Kennedy. Compared to your frontrunner candidates in the U.S. – Clinton and Trump – he’s much better.
Of course, it’s still early days. Macri is going to make mistakes. And we still don’t know if a president like him can survive in office in this country. But I am very optimistic. That’s why I’m investing again. We couldn’t export meat under [Marci’s predecessor] Kirchner. Farmers sold off their animals and planted soy. Now, soy prices are down… and beef is way up. We’re making money on cattle again. I’ve got 300 head, including the 230 that we got from you [we shipped our cattle down to the valley as grass dried up] and I’m going to add another 350.”
A Visit to Jorge’s: Meanwhile, up at the ranch, things are looking up, too… if you ignore the drought.
Our dried-up ranch – there’s been little rain this year.
We arrived yesterday. Our faithful ranch manager, Jorge, has retired. He now lives not far from the airport. So, we stopped by to say hello to him and his wife, Maria. After a lifetime spent up in the mountains… riding his horse every day… covering thousands of acres of pasture… fixing fences… repairing roads… wrestling calves… and driving a team of gauchos… we worried that Jorge would find retirement dull and difficult.
He wouldn’t take up golf. He wouldn’t go to Starbucks, buy a latte, and surf the internet. He is out of place down in town. His son was there when we arrived. He teased his father… “Are you going to take dad back to the ranch?” he asked. “He needs to go,” Jorge’s son continued. “He still gets up at 6 a.m. He can’t stop himself. He brought his two horses down from the ranch and keeps them at a nearby farm. He goes over there every day just so he can ride around and look at the cattle. He’s going crazy. And he’s driving us crazy.”
Everybody laughed. We turned to Jorge. He was laughing, too, but it was an insincere laugh. “How are you taking to retirement?” We put the question directly. Jorge shrugged. “It’s okay.” But it wasn’t okay. We could tell from the look on his face. There was a hint of sadness in his usually cheerful eyes. For nearly half a century, he woke up every day and rushed to get out onto the valley… or up into the mountains. There were cattle to take care of. There were problems to solve. There were people to talk to. He could shoe a horse, castrate a calf, and build a stone wall – all before lunchtime. Now, he must wake up and wonder why he bothers to wake up at all.
Our New Capataz: “How’s Gustavo doing?” we asked. Gustavo is the new capataz, the man who has taken Jorge’s place. “I think he’ll be fine. People like him. The ranch is a good place to work. The peones (as Jorge calls the men who work for us) are happy. After all, we pay them. I’ve heard that our neighboring ranches have not been able to pay their workers. They’re running months behind on wages. Our peones feel lucky to be on our payroll.”
We were happy to hear him say “our.” Over the years, your editor developed a great admiration and affection for Jorge. Our main goal came to be nothing more than winning his respect. We’ve been there 10 years. But we were so awkward on a horse when we arrived… so clumsy in Spanish… so ignorant of cattle ranching… it was always an uphill struggle.
Now he’s retired and left the ranch. What is our goal now? “Come up and visit,” we urged him. He agreed to come this Saturday. Up at the ranch, Gustavo has taken over. Young. Nice. Smart. Gustavo grew up here, too. His mother comes from one of the old families on the ranch. He doesn’t know who his father was, not an unusual situation in the mountains. Gustavo moved his family into the foreman’s house in January and has been running things ever since.
We worried that he may not be able to fill Jorge’s shoes; we wondered if anyone could. Besides, Gustavo is younger than the other ranch hands. The tough old gauchos may not accept him as boss. But “so far, so good,” says Gustavo. More to come…”