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August 23, 2014
Sunday, January 12, 2014

Of capital importance

For the first time in almost two decades the issue of moving the national capital has been revived — and not by some eccentric backbencher but by the Lower House Speaker Julián Domínguez himself. The last time around this idea was authored at an even higher level by the first president of these three continuous decades of democracy, Raúl Alfonsín, who announced the transfer of the national seat of government to the Río Negro provincial capital of Viedma in 1986 and even pushed the corresponding law through Congress the following year. Alfonsín should be given full credit for his statesmanlike vision (if perhaps not so much for his choice of relocation) but there could also have been a streak of political calculation in the Radical president’s proposal — a perception that the hyper-centralization of Argentina could hold elections and hence governments eternally hostage to the Peronist masses of Greater Buenos Aires. But while hailing from a Buenos Aires province pampa town like Alfonsín (Chacabuco and Chascomús, respectively), the Peronist Domínguez has completely opposite political loyalties and also wants to move the capital north not south, projecting into the rest of Latin America instead of the Atlantic.

Nobody can call this idea a pipe dream of Argentine exceptionalism — examples abound worldwide of countries moving their capitals (Brasilia, Washington DC, Canberra, Ottawa, Ankara, etc. just to name the most important) from their largest urban centres while in the United States only 18 of the 50 states house their capitals in their largest cities. Not that in any of the cases mentioned above have the large cities suffered unduly as a result, often acquiring greater dynamism through a clearer identity as a business hub — in the case of neighbouring Brazil, Rio de Janeiro has not exactly shrunk since ceasing to be the capital while Sao Paulo is considerably larger than our national capital.

Also for these reasons, without jeopardizing the city housing this newspaper, we broadly support the idea of changing the capital of this vast but overcentralized country crowding almost 40 percent of the population into this metropolis. How, where, when all remain to be seen — Domínguez did not enter into too many specifics and nor is there any obvious candidate to be the future seat of government (after over a decade of Patagonian presidency, most people would probably agree with the Speaker on moving in the opposite direction). But by all means let the debate begin.

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