Moving the capital
Argentina has faced many difficulties so far this year. It is on the brink (1) of yet another economic default (2). Inflation is high, second only to Venezuela in the world. And Argentina’s national soccer squad lost against the Germans in the World Cup final.
To reinvigorate the country’s spirit and economy, Julián Domínguez, the leader of Argentina’s lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, has come up with an interesting idea: to move Argentina’s capital from the fairly hectic Buenos Aires to the much smaller and calmer northern city of Santiago del Estero.
The proposal seems to be linked to a traditional tension between Buenos Aires, which is very European, and the provinces, which are mainly dependent on mineral extraction and agriculture. Many people in Argentina simply feel that their capital has too much say over what happens elsewhere in the country.
In other countries, official reasons for relocating the capitals included congestion and overcrowding (in Nigeria, which switched from Lagos to Abuja in 1991) or helping to develop an economically fledgling (3) region (Canada in the 19th century and Australia and Brazil in the 20th century).
Political “security” for governments is also a factor in choosing the capital, although it very often goes unmentioned. Large urban areas can spark massive political protests, which might begin quite innocently. Think Paris 1789; or, more recently, Tripoli, Cairo or Kyiv. A government which has difficulties controlling its population might therefore be attracted to the idea of changing places. Perhaps this, too, could be relevant in Argentina. Yet, an opposite argument could also be made: large cosmopolitan capitals tend to give rise to a political class governed by special interests and detached from the interest of the common people.
Be that as it may, relocating a capital might not bring about the expected improvement. When Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília, it hoped to break the link to its colonial past, to build a city without slums. Today, however, the new capital is surrounded by shanty towns (4) which house a large number of workers (and their families) who have to commute long distances to earn their livelihoods in the city proper.
Although we tend to view capitals as mere symbols, the choice of where to locate one actually has very real economic and social consequences.
- Why has this year, according to the article, been so difficult for the Argentines?
- What are the official reasons behind the proposal to relocate the country’s capital?
- What other official reasons for moving a country’s capital are described in the text?
- What might, according to the article, be the unofficial reasons for moving the capital away from Buenos Aires?
- What is the conclusion of the article? Does it support changes in the location of capitals as a good policy?
- Do you think moving the Czech capital away from Prague would be a good idea? Why/ why not?
brink (1) – a situation when you are almost in a new situation, usually a bad one
default (2) – failure to do something that you are supposed to do according to the law or because it is your duty
fledgling (3) – a fledgling state or organization has only recently been formed and is still developing
shanty town (4) – a settlement lacking basic amenities and inhabited by very poor people
You can find additional explanation and more examples to help you understand and use English words and phrases at https://dictionary.reference.com, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/, https://www.merriam-webster.com/ or https://www.ldoceonline.com/