May 19, 2013
Notes from the hinterland
By Michael Soltys
Buenos Aires Herald Senior Editor
During the summer vacation season with so many citizens of this metropolis leaving town, now would be a good time to look beyond this capital — and not necessarily in the direction of the Atlantic coast where most seem to be heading. Not everything revolves around the national government (whose head will also be out of town all this coming week) — regardless of whether we look north or south or whether the focus is political or economic, there is news elsewhere. Thus in the north we find Chaco Governor Jorge Capitanich and his lieutenant-governor at daggers drawn over the latter firing the provincial education minister in the former’s absence (it would seem that Buenos Aires is not the only province with a tricky second-in-command) against a backdrop of violent deaths in the Qom indigenous community while in Patagonia Bariloche Mayor Omar Goye remains under intense Kirchnerite pressure to take the rap for the pre-Christmas lootings (a disregard for his electoral mandate which was not the criterion in last year’s Paraguayan crisis, for example). Yet over and above any single province, the hinterland will have far more say in this year’s midterm elections than in presidential voting — whereas the Buenos Aires half of the population also accounts for almost half the electorate in general elections, Buenos Aires province and city between them have only 48 of the 127 Lower House seats up for renewal this year or 30.5 percent.
Meanwhile behind the political arena regional economies are falling into crisis even more than a stagnant economy as a whole. Always vulnerable in the cases of those products and regions lacking the economies of scale enjoyed by the beneficiaries of the global commodities boom of recent years, their competitive position on export markets is now worse than ever as a result of a combination of an exchange rate lagging behind inflation, steeply increased transport costs and a heavier tax burden. Oddly enough, the most politically turbulent province at the moment, Chaco, also has the worst export losses for its staple product with cotton fibre sales abroad down 71 percent but other regional products also have dire figures — lamb exports down 56 percent, garlic 48 percent, onions 38 percent, rice and fruit 21 percent, tobacco 20 percent, lumber 18 percent, etc. with such cases of strong growth as the peanuts of southern Córdoba or Misiones maté being the exceptions to prove the rule.
Such provinces do not have 70 percent of the population but they do have almost 70 percent of the seats in Congress so this might seem a good year to pay attention to their plight.