| || Gauchos are inseparably associated with the vast expanses of the pampas, often sporting their traditional dress of black hat and two-colored Indian poncho. These experienced horsemen are descended from mixed marriages between Indians and Spanish colonizers who were often fugitives or adventurers. Originally they were nomads who loved their freedom, but since the end of the eighteenth century, the increase in private land ownership has obliged them gradually to become sedentary, and they have turned to herding animals. Gaucho culture, which survives in remote areas of Argentina, is still tied to the estancias, vast farms that helped make the country the world’s biggest beef exporter for many years. Although Argentina is still the world’s fourth-biggest food exporter, 20 percent of children in the country were malnourished in 2002. Ever since the economic and political crisis that came to a head in December 2001, social conditions have progressively worsened. Today, more than half of all Argentines live below the poverty line—a 40-percent increase between 2001 and 2002.
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