October 21, 2014
Of capital importance
Regardless of the idea’s future, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s proposal to move the national capital (to Santiago del Estero, by implication rather than explicit statement) deserves serious consideration. Her commitment remains to be seen — was it just a good speech topic or a political gambit for today’s Santiago del Estero municipal elections or even to boost Lower House Speaker Julián Domínguez (the pioneer of this idea early this year) as a ruling party presidential hopeful? — and even if committed, whether she can give it priority amid all the other fronts (whether the voluntary agenda of the clash with the vulture funds or the more involuntary economic pro-blems). But there is nothing wrong with such long-term thinking beyond the opinion polls.
A change of capital has thus received presidential sponsorship for the first time since 1986 when then Radical President Raúl Alfonsín picked the Río Negro provincial capital of Viedma (approved by Congress the following year). Oddly enough, CFK does not echo Alfonsín’s Patago-nian choice despite her own political roots in that region but there are good reasons for that. A northern capital projects Argentina into the rest of Latin America and towards the Pacific instead of the Atlantic. This matches both the Pacific rim’s future as the world hub and the current patterns of immigration into Argentina — when immigration came so overwhelmingly from Europe as in the 1850-1930 period, having the ca-pital in the nearest port of entry to that influx made sense but times have long changed. One of the biggest clichés of those who like to bemoan Argentina’s underdevelopment is to point out that this country was on a par with Australia and Canada a century ago — what such compa-risons rarely add is that these nations house their capitals in Canberra (which only had 8,000 inhabitants when promoted) and Ottawa, not their largest cities. Not the only examples (Brasilia, Washington DC, Ankara, etc.) while in the United States only 18 of the 50 states have their capitals in their largest cities. Nor do the big cities suffer, often acqui-ring greater dynamism through a clearer identity as a business hub.
If this vast but overcentralized country crowds almost 35 percent of the population into this metropolis, CFK’s “strategic thinking” of chan-ging the capital (even if not necessarily to Santiago del Estero) deserves attention.