When Argentina Elected A Populist President, Some Companies Left The Country


Ten years ago, Argentina was in a situation that may sound a bit familiar. The country had just elected a populist president, Cristina Kirchner, with big plans for their economy. Kirchner wanted to control imports and exports and bring manufacturing to Argentina, so she placed huge tariffs on items made overseas. For some products, she said, if you want to sell this in Argentina, you’ll have to make it in Argentina. One of those items was the cell phone. Stacey Vanek Smith from our Planet Money podcast has the story.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Cristina Kirchner’s made-in-Argentina rule drove some companies away. Apple stopped selling iPhones in Argentina, but other companies played ball, including the company that made Blackberry phones.

HUGO BONOFACCINI: In Argentina, everybody was crazy for BlackBerry.

SMITH: Hugo Bonofaccini (ph) was a systems engineer for a small manufacturing company. And one day, huge shipping containers full of BlackBerry parts started showing up outside his office.

BONOFACCINI: We don’t have warehouse to store this.

SMITH: So all the parts would arrive, and you didn’t have anywhere to put them.

BONOFACCINI: Yes, yes. They’re right on – right on – some people ask, in your house, you have a space (laughter).

SMITH: BlackBerrys were assembled in Mexico, but Argentina was a really important market for BlackBerry. So it partnered up with Hugo’s company, and suddenly this little town was responsible for making all of the BlackBerrys in Argentina.

BONOFACCINI: All production explode – exploded, Stacy. It was amazing.

SMITH: Especially amazing given where Hugo’s company was based. Wes Nickel (ph) ran BlackBerry’s South America operations.

WES NICKEL: The law was that you had to manufacture it down at the very southern tip of Argentina.

SMITH: Tierra del Fuego…