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National UCR lawmaker and former Mendoza Province governor Alfredo Cornejo sparked debate and mischief online this week after declaring in an interview that the region he used to lead "has everything it needs to live as an independent country."
In his comments, delivered during an interview with a local radio station, Cornejo also accused the national government of "harming" Mendoza, expressing dismay over delays to the Portezuelo del Viento hydroelectric power mega-project.
Users on social media were quick to jump onboard with the UCR lawmaker's idea, with hundreds quickly expressing their support for secession, using the hashtag #MendoExit (we at the Times prefer '#Mexit', so we'll keep for that for now).
Cornejo accused the national government of seeking to delay the hydroelectric project deliberately. It has been delayed while an environmental impact study is carried out. Officials in the provincial government seem to agree – unnamed officials told La Nación this week that the region was being "discriminated against" because of its "political colour."
"The national government sorted three provinces so that they would vote differently from what they had voted before," alleged Cornejo in his interview, referring to the provinces of Río Negro, Neuquén and Buenos Aires, which in recent months changed their position on the project and adhered to La Pampa's request that an environmental study of the Portezuelo del Viento's potential impact on the Colorado River be carried out prior to work continuing.
The Colorado River goes through Mendoza and the four aforementioned provinces, running to around 48,000 km² in length. It runs north to southeast ranging from heights of approximately 4,600 metres above sea level at its source in the Andes, to 835 metres above sea level at its mouth into the Argentine Sea.
The Portezuelo del Viento project is expected to cost more than US$1 billion and to supply energy to more than 130,000 homes. However, it has been criticised in some quarters for its potential environmental impact on the river and local communities.
Earlier this week, Mendoza's current governor, Rodolfo Suárez, met with opposition national legislators to analyse the situation. Afterwards a statement emerged co-signed by lawmakers and senators from Juntos por el Cambio.
"The national government punishes Mendoza for doing things well for years, but also for being of a different political sign," it read. "The policy of the whip and the wallet is back. Today, more than ever, the country needs a concerted federalism to get out of the crisis.”
‘They are forcing us’
In comments guaranteed to raise eyebrows, Cornejo later said that Mendoza has everything it needs to be an autonomous nation.
"The truth is that I don't like the idea of separating ourselves from the nation but they are forcing Mendoza to assert itself in its own values and identities," he warned.
"Mendoza has everything it needs to live as an independent country, but it does not have that today. Today it needs Argentina and Argentina is damaging it in the risk rating, in the access of international credit, to bring investments, etc," he said. "It could be a country with a common programme, for its business political elite to develop that path."
"We are far from having autonomy with our current productive structure. We are far from seceding but we have to start thinking about it seriously," he added.
He confirmed that he was in agreement with his successor as governor over the tender and awarding of the project.
"My opinion is that they will continue to work on it. And I hope that they will not lock the payments because if that happens, we will have to go to court to execute each of the fees that they owe us," said Cornejo.
Opposition figures also claim the province is benefitting less than its peers from discretionary funds the Casa Rosada designates to regions across the country.
"The problem is political. The government aims to harm Mendoza. There is no other way to read it," alleged Cornejo.
Some in the government's ruling coalition have also expressed their dismay at delays over the hydroelectric project.
National Senator Anabel Fernández Sagasti, a Kirchnerite politician representing the province, said that the decision was "regrettable," prompting surprise in opposition ranks in Mendoza.
"More money and more bureaucracy for a work that is the most studied in history. Foolishness cannot delay progress. I will continue to join all the people of Mendoza accompanying the governor in this fight at all times," said Fernández Sagasti.
Last week, the Inter-Jurisdictional Committee of the Colorado River (COIRCO – a group of governors from the five provinces overseeing the river’s management – ordered an environmental impact study be carried out.