Phoo via sube.gob.ar/

Another government attempt to breathe life into the country’s asthmatic economy? Kirchnerista propaganda in time for voters to hit the polls? A macchiato enabler?

SUBEnificio allows residents of the greater Buenos Aires area and other major cities throughout the country to use their SUBE cards to acquire discounts in selected establishments, in a purported attempt to reactivate consumerism.

Rolled out over a month ago on April 2nd, the new program has garnered shockingly little attention.

“Nobody gives a shit,” was the first pronouncement I obtained on my odyssey through the dark world of government-sponsored benefits programs.

“It’s just another government project that’s really not going to do much,” my interlocutor, an Argentine acquaintance who preferred to remain anonymous, sighed.

I consulted the official SUBEnificio website to get a preliminary feel. First impasse: little seemed to actually work. The site did, however, provide a list of the various establishments participating in the program – an interesting mix of commercial ice cream shops, exercise facilities (to counter the former?), coffee shops, movie theatres and clothing stores, as well as the interesting and prominent inclusion of McDonald’s (given the current government’s loud aversion to that institution’s provenance).

Donning my most Bogart-worthy (and only) trench coat, I hit the mean streets of Palermo Soho to further investigate.

First stop: Havanna. A tough crowd of stylishly clad cortado-sipping, platform shoe-tapping coeds plucked away at iPhones, occasionally running a hand through recently alisadoed locks.

I shook off the feeling of unease coolly dripping down my spine. No one with hair that straight and shiny should ever be trusted.

It was 5 o’clock and I needed something hard, so I made my way to the bar. I considered banging my fist on the counter and braying “Give me a double Bourbon and leave the bottle,” but I thought better of it and ordered a macchiato instead.

When I asked for the SUBE discount, however, I was met with a blank look. Another employee jumped to my barista’s rescue and informed me that yes, I could use it, but which box would I like?

Turns out the discount only applies to a 145-peso box of alfajors – probably one of the least-purchased items in the franchise – and only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. Thus far, only five people have bought the box using the SUBE discount. That’s five people in one month.

“It’s just not convenient,” the employee told me, barely concealing an eye roll.

I asked him why he thought Havanna was participating.

“For the ‘benefits’?” he ventured, making an exaggerated show of air quotes. “I don’t know. One day, our manager called and said we had to include this discount. But it’s pointless. You’re supposed to have your SUBE registered with the government to get the discount, but we have no way of verifying that customers are actually registered.”

It used to be obligatory for commuters to officially register their SUBE cards with their DNIs in order to activate them (a pain in the ass for foreigners registering the card with their passports since one could only do so in a single location in all of Buenos Aires), but nowadays, registration is optional. The Transport Ministry still encourages commuters to sign up, but many prefer not to, balking at the idea of the government tracking their every move.

I asked if Havanna was doing anything to publicize the discount.

“No. We haven’t even been given a poster or graphic to advertize it. No one knows about it!” he said thrusting his hands skyward.

I quickly got out of there and skulked on over to my next destination: Freddo.

The parlor was almost deserted, save for a few patrons forlornly licking multi-colored ice cream in silence.
Guido, the employee on deck, informed me his manager hadn’t even bothered telling him about the discount.

“I found out about it over the radio,” he said.

At least the Freddo deals come out to be a little more handy than Havanna’s – they actually apply to ice cream (one offers users ¼ kilogram free of free ice cream when purchasing 1 kilogram). However, that discount pales in comparison to the five Freddo offers, Guido explained.

Supermarkets such as Coto have jumped on the bandwagon, offering 10 percent discounts on some items. These deals are similar to discounts already provided by other cards. Local “chino” grocery stores are in talks with the government to join the SUBE discount party too.

So for mild financial benefits that may or may not rival discounts already provided by your institution of choice, be sure to sign up for SUBEneficio.