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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 15-06-2019 08:58

Put out more flags

Santa Fe, the cradle of Argentina’s 1853 Constitution, was Juan de Garay’s first choice to found a city (1573) ahead of Buenos Aires in 1580.

Santa Fe, which votes tomorrow along with San Luis and Tierra del Fuego (already covered in this series), is especially interesting for various reasons. In general terms, it is a cross-section of the country on a smaller scale than Buenos Aires province with a better balance than most provinces between the urban and rural, industrial and agricultural, middle and lower classes, etc. This feature helps explain why it is the only province, other than Entre Ríos, which has voted for the future president in every first round (except in 2003 for Carlos Menem, who won that round). But this year Socialist Santa Fe also stands out as the one prov ince where this electoral season’s steady trend of incumbent wins could be bucked (and not just because it is one of the few provinces without re-election) – not only is it the only provincial government apart from Neuquén which is neither a ruling coalition partner nor one of the various strands of Peronism but it is also perhaps the most vulnerable, jaded by the natural erosion of 12 years in office and by Rosario’s massive drug problems.

Also tested will be the reliability of the PASO primaries (the biggest opinion poll of them all) as a forecast of the real thing. In Santa Fe’s case these were held on April 28 with more than one winner. The top candidate was Socialist Antonio Bonifatti (simultaneously the chosen heir and predecessor of outgoing Governor Miguel Lifschitz) with just over half a million votes or 29 percent but nearly 200,000 more votes or almost 40 percent accrued to the two Peronist rivals, Senator Omar Perotti (26.3 percent) and former lieutenant-governor María Eugenia Bielsa – tomorrow’s vote will thus obviously hinge on how much of Bielsa’s third of the Peronist vote can be retained by Perotti.

Bonfatti and Perotti are thus clearly the main contenders but with little over half the PASO votes between them. Only three of the seven PASO lists cleared the threshold of 1.5 percent of the electorate with tomorrow’s third man being Santa Fe Radical Mayor José Corral going out to bat for Cambiemos after trailing a distant third in the PASO with 18.3 percent. Corral’s Radical party simultaneously belongs to the national and provincial ruling coalitions, which is one of the great complexities of Santa Fe politics. While always naming a Socialist governor, Santa Fe’s ruling Progressive Civic and Social Front is a five-party coalition including Radicals (all of them until the creation of Cambiemos) and Margarita Stolbizer’s GEN among others.

This complexity gives plenty of scope to tactical voting tomorrow from the almost half of the electorate not already committed to Bonfatti or Perotti. Some Cambiemos Radicals might opt to join their correligionarios in the provincial government but some supporters of Mauricio Macri’s PRO (whose Miguel del Sel came within 2,000 votes of frustrating his namesake Lifschitz in 2015 after winning the PASO by around 4,000) might prefer the conservative Perotti to a Socialist although others will want to frustrate Peronism at all costs. Bielsa’s following is generally the more progressive wing of Peronism – as a protest vote, their decision tomorrow might well depend on whether they are angrier with the national or provincial government.

No preview of this province would be complete without a paragraph on Rosario, Argentina’s third city with some 1.27 million inhabitants of whom just over a million are enfranchised for tomorrow – Santa Fe is the only province north of Patagonia where the provincial capital (usually with the same name) is not also the largest city, all of which does not prevent Rosario’s main newspaper from being called La Capital, founded in 1867. The traditional rivalry between these two cities will be a factor tomorrow since Corral as the provincial capital’s mayor will not command much sympathy in a Rosario whose industrial belt is hard hit by recession (even if grain exports are looking up). Tomorrow stands to be a historic day for Rosario, which will cease having a socialist mayor for the first time in three decades since outgoing Socialist Mayor Mónica Fein’s heiress-apparent Verónica Irizar lost the PASO to her Progressive Front rival Pablo Javkin (of Civic Coalition origin). Since the combined Front vote of Javkin and Irizar (36 percent) comfortably outweighs the 22 percent of Peronist Roberto Sukerman, a Cambiemos ally is likely to triumph in Rosario tomorrow even if the candidate of Macri’s coalition – PRO’s Roy López Molina – stands to trail

Santa Fe’s three senators (two Victory Front and one Cambiemos according to their labels when elected and not up for renewal until 2021) are all originally Peronist but each has a different perspective. Carlos Reutemann, a world-class Formula One motor-racing ace in his youth, entered politics via Carlos Menem as the 1991-5 and 1999- 2003 Peronist governor of Santa Fe (no re-election here, remember) – in mid-2002 he was caretaker president Eduardo Duhalde’s first choice to succeed him (followed by the late José Manuel de la Sota and only then by Néstor Kirchner) but “saw something he did not like.” The grain export duties of 2008 were too much for Reutemann’s farming family background – since then he has been in an anti-Kirchnerite Peronist limbo years before the current Alternativa Federal in a five-seat mini-caucus with Salta ex-governor Juan Carlos Romero and two Neuquén senators, allying with Cambiemos for the 2015 election. Perotti from the agro-industrial hub of Rafaela largely shares Reutemann’s rural sympathies but as gubernatorial candidate he has to cover as broad a spectrum of Peronism as possible. The third senator, María de los Angeles “Marilin” Sacnun, is more genuinely Victory Front than Perotti – a product of La Cámpora and an avid Cristina fan.

As for the Lower House, 10 of Santa Fe’s 19 deputies must vacate their seats this year (see box opposite). These deputies include some heavyweights, as befits a major province. Agustín Rossi, a presidential hopeful up to the definition of the Alberto Fernández-Cristina Fernández ticket, has plenty under his belt – over a decade in Congress (most of it as caucus leader), two years as Defence minister and two gubernatorial defeats in Santa Fe. Marcos Cleri is one of the more militant Kirchnerites while Alejandro Ramos was a surprise choice to be Transport Secretary under then Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo (2012-5). Josefina González and Lucila De Ponti are both conspicuously feminist. On the other side of the Lower House, Budget Committee chairman other side of the Lower House, Budget Committee chairman Luciano Laspina is one of the government’s most telegenic and lucid economic voices.

Santa Fe, the cradle of Argentina’s 1853 Constitution, was Juan de Garay’s first choice to found a city (1573) ahead of Buenos Aires in 1580. The province was also the scene of the first independence war fighting at the convent of San Lorenzo in 1813 while in the previous year Manuel Belgrano marked the first edition of this coming Thursday’s Flag Day by unfurling the sky-blue and white colours on the Paraná riverside at Rosario. The first two decades of the province’s history were dominated by the strongman Estanislao López (1818-38). He was followed by 21 governors (including the bloodthirsty Pascual Echagüe and Rosendo María Fraga, ancestor of the pundit) and three trustees in the next pre-democratic eight decades – relatively stable when compared to other provinces. That period saw Santa Fe transformed by mass immigration with Rosario explosively outstripping the provincial capital – from barely 3,000 people in mid-century, it grew to 50,000 in 1887, almost 200,000 in 1910 and over 400,000 in 1926, the “Chicago of South America” thanks to its meatpacking (complete with Mafia).

In the 20th century the cradle of the 1853 Constitution was also a prime force for democracy with the Progressive Democrats and the FAA Argentine Agrarian Federation (both founded in Santa Fe) helping the Radicals institute universal manhood suffrage in 1912. The 1912-83 period saw trustees outnumber elected governors by 29 to 15, typical for those coup-ridden times. Tagged the province of Perón, Santa Fe lived up to that name with six consecutive Peronist terms in the current democratic period from 1983 – following Luis María Vernet (1983-7) and Víctor Reviglio (1987-91), Reutemann alternated with Jorge Obeid (1995-99 and 2003-7). But in 2007 Rosario Mayor Hermes Binner broke that streak to become Argentina’s first socialist governor, followed by Bonfatti and Lifschitz.

Over 60 percent of Santa Fe’s population of almost 3.5 million is concentrated in and around Rosario and the provincial capital (653,073 in the 2010 census). The only other six-digit population is Perotti’s Rafaela while other important cities in the 19 departments are Venado Tuerto (82,000 and founded as Caseytown by the Irish-Argentine Eduardo Casey in 1884) and Reconquista (77,000), centre of the northern half of this 720-kilometre-long province. Its economic profile of twothirds employed in services, a quarter in industry and a tenth in agriculture corresponds to modern patterns.

Sorry, readers, no room for tourist tips – tomorrow’s elections are too close.

 

 

#21 Santa Fe

Electorate (PASO 2019): 2,699,884

Governor: Miguel Lifschitz (Socialist)

Senators: Three (2 Victory Front, 1 Cambiemos)

Deputies: 19 (9 Cambiemos including 5 PRO, 3 Radicals and 1 Civic Coalition, 4 Victory Front, 5 other Peronists, 1 Progressive Front)

On the ballot: 10 of 19 deputies

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Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys, who first entered the Buenos Aires Herald in 1983, held various editorial posts at the newspaper from 1990 and was the lead writer of the publication’s editorials from 1987 until 2017.

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