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Argentina is a nation that once was among the wealthiest in the world. It long reigned as the preeminent power on the South American continent. Every building in Buenos Aires, every legend emerging from the Pampas, every abandoned church in the missions, overgrown with vines, tells of this vast country's glorious past. Even the faces on the streets of Argentina's cities are a reflection of a history full of accidents, desires, and the sheer force of a nation's will to shape itself and its perception within the outside world.

Today -- Cristina Kirchner's term as president has been anything but boring. Early on she picked a fight (egged on by her husband) with the powerful farmers' unions that led to road blockades and fuel shortages and much antigovernment sentiment. Runaway inflation saw prices rise 30%, though government statistics insisted it remained at 7%, discrediting the administration further. The farmers' crisis came to a head when congress split evenly in two, and the deciding vote of the vice president, Julio Cobos (a supposed ally of the Kirchners), dramatically sided with the farmers. Since then, the deep global recession has affected exports, despite a weakening peso. Some hard times are expected ahead, with many questioning Argentina's ability to service its huge foreign debt. Cristina's popularity rating is extremely low, and it is expected that her husband will attempt to retake the reins at the next election in 2011, which is probably what he planned all along.

Despite the clouds on the horizon, nobody is expecting the chaos of 2002, when police shot protestors on the street. Argentina is certainly a more stable country, and the fact that you hold this book in your hand means you are one example of the millions who have come to Argentina as a guest, eager to experience its rich, diverse culture and excellent quality of life. The country is now celebrating its 200-year-old existence, and a new era in the nation's history has begun.

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