Geographical perspectives of the bicentennial in Argentina

Geographical perspectives of the bicentennial in Argentina

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By Lic. Diana Duran

The environmental issue is rich in myths, which leads us to reaffirm geographic education as citizen training. In rural areas, contamination by agrochemicals, desertification and deforestation are added.

I was born in Buenos Aires, ergo I am Buenos Aires to the core and I have lived for many years the geographic concentration, residing in the primary city. However, the itineraries of the geography of my daily life led me to inhabit the Interior –San Carlos de Bariloche and now Punta Alta-, and I have been able to experience Argentina with vivid perplexity.

More than twenty years ago we wrote with Albina Lara and Celia Daguerre a very endearing book, “Argentina. Myths and realities ”(1992) in which we expressed the conviction that the“ marked contradictions between myths and realities, between the mental country and the real country, have hampered Argentine development ”. And also, we said, as Argentines we suffer from false perceptions and beliefs sometimes transformed into national myths. Today, in this Bicentennial, we continue to be a promise, we continue to characterize ourselves as a country of opponents -as Ernesto Sábato expressed-, and we have the same problems and potentialities that we raised in that essay.

Some of the Argentine myths outlined in that book and other current perspectives related to the Bicentennial are considered below.

Among them, “he who does not want to work does not work”, a typical Argentine statement that is still in force although not as a myth but as a cruel reality - “he who can work” - since the State Reform in the 90s - initiated in the military dictatorship -, caused a notable decrease in jobs and a precariousness and flexibility of work worthy of times of slavery, apparently abolished by the Assembly of the year 1813.

Another myth is that in Argentina "people do not starve" when in reality our food sovereignty today is surrounded by the processes of agriculturization and soybeanization that limit the capacity of our country, -another granary in the world-, to produce food, especially for the most vulnerable populations.

The environmental Argentina of the Bicentennial

The environmental issue is rich in myths, which leads us to reaffirm geographic education as citizen training.

We have described as a myth that Argentina "is immensely rich, it has everything and we don't know how to take advantage of it." The same author identifies in urban space the deficit in sanitary services, water and air pollution, the loss or degradation of urban public spaces and the inadequate management of urban solid waste.

At the national level, the unforeseen management of environmental risks and impacts on biodiversity, as well as the negative consequences of climate change, are notorious. In this sense, let us remember that in 2009 Argentina suffered the worst drought in 70 years. The situation affected both the Pampean region and more marginal areas, especially in Santiago del Estero and Río Negro, to name distant provinces. As it always happens, the first measures against droughts were taken improvised, when the climatic phenomenon was already taking place.

In "The utopias of the environment", Di Pace and others (1992) also allude to environmental problems specifying their geographic location in the setting of the active agricultural frontier (Selva Misionera, Selva Tucumano-Oranense and Gran Chaco), the agricultural border interstitial, inside already cultivated areas such as depressions with grasslands, south of Bs. As, the rice front of the Pampean zone in the Mesopotamian sector and the porotero front in the Tucumano-Oranense jungle and the desertification fronts of the High Andean zone . All this due to the agriculturalization process and its dire consequences.

Meanwhile, it continues to be thought - and not only vulgarly but in terms of speculative agricultural policies and territorial appropriation by foreigners - that Argentina is a humid temperate country, when in fact three-quarters of the territory belongs to the arid Latin American diagonal for what is understandable the growth of the soybean octopus.

However, Argentina does not have all the climates in the world or, at least, a large part of them as is thought, but the reality is that "the Argentine climate is the Argentine climate" (Bruniard, 1986) and it is repeated very rarely outside its borders. Thus, for example, the Puna shows unique climatic features in the world; Patagonia presents a regime with rainfall throughout the year with a maximum in summer, which is a distribution that seems to distort the usual one over the oceans in temperate latitudes. From the Río de la Plata to the north there is an exceptional annual march, with rains throughout the year and maximum winter. In reality, the entire South American mass is presented as a great exception that does not easily fit into planetary schemes, whose origins must be sought in a special conjunction between an atmospheric circulation model, typical of the southern hemisphere, and a continental device that has a outstanding feature in the Andean mountain range. The rainfed agricultural activities contradict the geographical rationality compared to the reality indicated.

In terms of surface water, Argentina has a relevant supply and probably the Iguazú Falls or the Perito Moreno Glacier are the tourist symbols of the myth of the water surplus; however, its distribution in the territory is very uneven. Thus, 80% of the average flow of the rivers corresponds to the Uruguay and Paraná rivers of the Plata basin, while 45% of the country's territory is occupied by the river basins that only contribute 1% of the average flow , or completely lack surface water. The waste of drinking water and the inadequate use-aptitude of the soils, consequently, could be considered as the result of the myth of the water supply, not without first noting the reality of the Andean buttresses with their glaciers today in the process of being sold of mining companies and private capital.

For the rest, the issue is aggravated if we consider the official document Geo 4 (…) where it is recognized that “for large sectors of the population, the unmet demand for sewage and drinking water forces the coexistence of blind wells and home boreholes: the layers from which these boreholes feed are contaminated by the sewage effluents themselves ”. And he points out the dump "without prior water treatment" as a "general problem in Argentine cities." Only 42.5% of the population have sewer drains and only 78.4% have mains water. The result is diseases, of which "the most common are viral hepatitis, acute diarrhea, typhoid and paratyphoid fever." The report proposes "that sanitation services should be available to the entire population, regardless of their ability to pay."

Beyond these issues, it is known that being a low-basin country has been a weakness and not a strength - as was thought in the face of the myth of having the "door of the earth" in the Río de la Plata, which is enhanced with the metaphor of the great head of Goliath in the port city-, in front of the water uses that Brazil has made in the upper basin and that make us dependent on its unsupportive decisions -in contrast to the principles of the General Environmental Law, so little applied in our country-, regarding the transboundary management of shared water resources.

In short, as we have expressed in an article on the Argentine environmental fabric: “Instead of taking care in time that populations at environmental risk due to the location of their homes, jobs or environmental itineraries coinciding with the geographical distribution of some anomaly of the nature in their relationship with society -flood, pollution, volcanism, tornado, among others- are warned of upcoming events that could affect them; We do it afterwards.

Instead of warning agricultural producers not to advance with their farms in areas at risk of drought or flooding, government policies promote speculative agriculture and livestock. Then they mourn the loss of crops or the liquidation of bellies.

Instead of locating new infrastructure works after evaluating their environmental impacts or building new establishments in areas where geographic logic so indicates, we regret the dire consequences of the reservoirs on the population and the landscape or we will have to eradicate them in the future. upcoming new educational establishments built on underground arsenic lakes in an arid province of Argentina.

In short, we act without foresight, we do not knowingly warn because responsible professionals and scientists have written and disseminated it, because otherwise, the problems would be in the process of being solved or, at least their consequences, would not be so dire ".

Our country –outside its notorious central geographical position with respect to its neighboring neighbors-, has not ceased to be an isolated territory –even in the knowledge of large pharaonic infrastructure works such as the Hidrovía or IIRSA (Initiative for the Integration of Infrastructure South American Regional), of doubtful application to land use planning, unless it is understood in terms of central countries. In return, we should consider the protection of the Guaraní Aquifer System as one of the largest underground water reservoirs in the world. It is found in the subsoil of an area of ​​around 1,190,000 square kilometers (an area greater than those of Spain, France and Portugal combined). In Brazil it covers an area -in square kilometers- of approximately 850,000 (9.9% of the territory), in Argentina 225,000 (7.8%), in Paraguay 70,000 (17.2%) and in Uruguay 45,000 (25.5% ).

We must also point out with deep national interest that, as is known, another economic activity, open-pit mining, has become an agent of plunder and predator of the environment, in addition to the multiple consequences it causes on human health and general life. of the communities. Our country, due to the deficit of environmental policies and land management, suffers the devastating impacts of this activity without regulation of the national State that is a participant and an accomplice in this situation, a result of economic globalization.

Moreover, another event that instead of promoting sustainability will deepen the weaknesses of the Bicentennial Argentina occurred after on October 22, 2009 the National Congress sanctioned Law No. 26,418 on Protection of glaciers and the periglacial environment. The Chamber of Senators of the Nation signed into law the bill that establishes minimum budgets for their protection in order to preserve them as strategic reserves of water resources and providers of water for recharge of hydrographic basins. The project establishes a clear and precise definition of what is understood by glaciers and periglacial environment, prohibits and / or restricts the execution of projects or activities in them, such as the release of polluting substances, the construction of architectural works, exploration and mining exploitation and the installation of industries, among others. It also imposes the obligation to inventory and monitor the state of glaciers for sustainable purposes.

But, on Monday, November 10, the Presidency of the Nation, through decree No. 1837/08, VETTED this law for the protection of our glaciers as a strategic source of drinking water to sustain life and development of our community. Various social organizations involved in caring for the environment and civil society in general firmly expressed their deep concern about the future consequences of this dire decision for national sovereignty.

200 years of a proven social geography

In the demographic area, Argentina continues as 200 years ago as a sparsely populated territory (39,356,383 in 2007, according to the Ministry of the Interior), that is to say, with a reduced population size, which brings certain advantages -low carrying capacity- and disadvantages, for example, in terms of economies of scale. The great concentration in the province of Buenos Aires and in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area in the face of demographic gaps in other regions such as Patagonia constitutes the sign of a dual country. The low population growth and the accelerated urbanization process and, on the contrary, the significant decline in the rural population are also part of a contrasted social geography. The demographic composition tending to aging for a young country that requires a growing number of active population, an issue that goes hand in hand with the tendency to evolve from a country of immigration to a country of emigration and the deterioration of their quality of life in different countries. aspects, especially in relation to the increase in poverty and unemployment.

In an article published in Ecoportal, we pointed out that on a global scale, Argentina is experiencing a situation of decline in human development indicators, in correlation with the installation of the neoliberal model in the context of world globalization, the consequences of which are the hindrances of the unemployment, extreme poverty and the pauperization of vast sectors of the population.

Infant mortality in Argentina reached 13.3 per thousand in 2007 –the last year with available national figures–, against 12.9 in 2006. The increase cuts a historical downward trend, which had only altered after the 2001 crisis. A notable increase occurred in Chaco, where the rate went from 18.9 in 2006 to 21.2 in 2007. The province with the highest infant mortality continues to be Formosa, with 22.9. On the occasion of the public recognition of these figures in the Tucumán province, the Ministry of Health attributed it to "a peak in respiratory diseases" while the Pediatric Society, to "a crisis in the health system."

These data reflect a situation far removed from that of first world countries, but at the same time, it is higher than those of Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile or Uruguay. Being a national average, it hides the differences between regions. If we appreciate the situation of infant mortality in developed countries, we will see how far Argentina is from being, as it has been mythically designated as a First World country with Third World ills, when we are actually a Third World country, although Human Development reports from organizations such as UNDP include us in high HDI countries.

The globalization process has led to the aggravation of situations of structural poverty in regional and provincial contexts with special socio-environmental and cultural singularities. The case of Tucumán, a regional enclave of Argentine structural poverty, is just one example, which is repeated in other Argentine provinces such as Jujuy, Chaco or Formosa.

The origin of these situations of poverty is found in the deterioration of regional economies and their social impacts in especially suburban and rural contexts. The most obvious manifestation of this situation is the cultural uprooting and social marginalization of poor families, the destruction of the social fabric and of social solidarity networks, despite all the efforts that civil society is facing.

Faced with all the indicators of apparent Argentine economic health, poverty has increased in recent decades and, moreover, in terms of infant mortality we have maintained a situation comparable to underdeveloped countries while other social and economic indicators revealed a more promising situation.

The core of the problem is political and cultural. Our small and medium agricultural producers have stopped feeling the land as a place of belonging and have put aside sustainable practices, transforming themselves into functional social actors in the markets. This makes them potential internal migrants to overcrowded cities in their peripheries and also speculators like so many other urban social subjects.

The first place where soy arrived in Argentina was the province of Tucumán, several decades ago, the outbreak of famine is not surprising then. It is its direct consequence. As was the case throughout the country, the depopulation of the countryside, the disappearance of hundreds of towns and the growing poverty in the cities.

In terms of health geography, Lic. Sergio Páez pointed out for Geoperspectivas that “poverty and indigence are distributed very unevenly in Argentina, with disparities between provinces and within them, differences that are worrying and put into shows very different living conditions and the disparity in the protection of the social and economic rights of Argentines. Seventeen of the twenty-four jurisdictions in the country have poverty rates above the national average. In Argentina –country of recognized quality of medical professionals-, the presence of infectious diseases, such as HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis, Chagas disease, Dengue, Hantavirus, Leishmaniasis and Yellow Fever is recognized. Some of these diseases are related to the deterioration of the environment. The deterioration of the environment has to do with the alterations suffered by the human habitat, as a consequence of clearings, droughts, floods and the increase in temperature. This affects the advancement of tropical diseases and the reproduction of insects and rodents, which act as disease transmitters. Mosquitoes, for example, are becoming more and more resistant to spraying. But also the poor diet, the dirt or the contact of the people with the garbage, the lack of drinking water for vast sectors of the population and the precariousness of the houses and the services form an adverse context to the containment of the viruses ”. (Páez, Sergio. Social inequities, climate change and tropical diseases).

One, two or multiple countries

The country shows a great landscape and environmental heterogeneity that offers varied natural resources for the use of society in its productive activities. It is a mosaic of landscapes in which a first great geographical differentiation can be established between Arid Argentina and Humid Argentina. Disparities are also identified between western montane Argentina of the Andean buttresses, tourist and energetically endowed and the agricultural and urban eastern plain Argentina; or between populated and depopulated Argentina or demographic gaps. But all these typifications are added and are substantiated in one that is the following.

The Argentina of the Bicentennial is a diverse and complex country characterized by the endowment of its natural and human resources that, however, has not reached a position of excellence in the world concert, distant and irrelevant for the Triad of power, despite certain shallow presences in the Group of 20 and other contemporary political actors. Our great “partner” of MERCOSUR, Brazil, has managed to stop being a backroom country unlike Argentina with its undulating and discontinuous foreign policies.

So lofty dreams and myths throughout history have led us to feel failure as a national essence, despite the bombastic speeches of the Bicentennial.

Argentina is, par excellence, the country of territorial disparities, which are expressed through marked inequalities in economic activity and the standard of living between the different regions, especially in the eternal dichotomy of Buenos Aires and the Interior. Since its origins, the country has organized its territory as a consequence of a kind of counterpoint between Buenos Aires and the Interior, finally resolved in favor of the port-capital-industrial center, we said in the cited book (Daguerre, et al. Óp. Cit. .) to which we can add in favor of the financial and globalizing center, which concentrates power and absorbs the benefits of development

In recent decades, Argentina has the singularity of being a country of territorial disparities that are expressed in the permanent dichotomy of Buenos Aires vs the Interior, an aspect that is maintained in the 200 years of history and that has worsened with the destruction of the regional economies and the consequent process of systematic destruction of the social fabric. Overcoming this issue must be based, according to Roffman (2000) “on a determined action by the State, at all levels, that modifies its current abstentionism in the face of the social economic drama. A comprehensive strategy to attack the structural causes of backwardness, unemployment and poverty does not allow for delays ”. For now, no such action is envisaged, but rather a deepening of concentration in today's minimal privileged spaces.

We can add, in recent times, another Argentina, the Pampean, related to the imposition of the Pampean industrial agricultural model to non-Pampean ecoregions, such as the Chaco, Mesopotamia or the Monte that expands and exerts strong pressure not only on the territory, but especially on the communities of small farmers, owners in their twenties, peasants or native peoples, who receive all kinds of pressure to abandon their fields. (Pengue, Walter. 2009)

In the same itinerary of interpretations, a recent geographic study (Velásquez, 2009) concludes that the NOA and NEA, historically labor-providing regions, are epicenters of adversity, while the remaining Argentine regions (Cuyo, Pampeana, Metropolitana and Patagónica) appear in a more favorable position. This, the author assures, is not related to a naive regionalism, because these latter territories reproduce the same mechanisms of differentiation shown by the national scale, in which there are minority social groups with increasing privileges and, on the other hand, majority social groups increasingly removed from the supposed benefits of well-being. When analyzing the weight of the differentiation factors, it can be seen that Argentines who reside in inaccessible areas also suffer negative phenomena related to population expulsion, lack of services (particularly educational and health) typical of a certain urban scale, low generation and appropriation of wealth, early labor insertion, high fertility. These deficiencies and many more also occur in more conservative contexts and with greater social polarization than those of other regions. In contrast, favorable conditions also tend to interact with each other, contributing not only to perpetuation, but also to increasing social and territorial differentiation.

Instead of facing these stony realities, the discourse and the state bureaucracy have created the Undersecretariat of Territorial Planning of Public Investment -constituted as an area under the Ministry of Federal Planning, Public Investment and Services-, in order to launch a mythical policy of strategic territorial development. This has the supreme objective of building an integrated and balanced country from the territorial point of view, with a strong ecological and environmental identity and with an organization that favors the competitiveness of the economy and social development.

The foundations on which this - we insist, mythical - policy is based are:

  • The recovery of planning from the State as a promoter of development and land use planning.
  • The promotion of territorial development, understood as a process through which the capacities of a certain territory are increased to achieve in a sustainable way the economic and social well-being of the communities that inhabit it.
  • The articulation of public impact policies in the territory, overcoming the inherited inertia characterized by sectoral views and interventions that do not account for the complex and dynamic link between environment, economy and society.
  • Participation and transversality in planning and management, fostering articulation between the different levels of government and consensus with civil society organizations.

With absolute sincerity, we still do not see emerging above the neoliberal economic policy in force in our country this contradictory discourse about the policy of strategic territorial development, added to the proposals of the document on the “Argentina of the Bicentennial. 1816-2016. Preliminary Version (1) ”; Rather, the predominance of a spontaneous organization of the territory linked to economic forces and dependent on unfair business, transnational, financial and neocolonial decisions more than those promoted by other relevant social actors is noticed. The document identifies the areas to be qualified, the connectivity corridors that articulate the territory and the polycentric system of urban centers, etc. etc. etc., which are still more words in the void of our vast territory.

What is perceived as real is an increasingly wealthy portion of Argentina - surrounded by the limits of country clubs or "countries" and in segregated cities -, distanced from other Argentines (the poor, the marginalized, the inaccessible, the environmentally deteriorated, the "others" such as native peoples).

To this social geographical disparity is added today –circumstantially or not, in the media or not-, but every day with more force the opposition Country-City or Country-Government, which is one more manifestation of the same thing that we pointed out when we outlined the Buenos Aires dichotomy vs. The Interior, with certain disparities that this is not the time to deepen.

Finally, we would like to have specified another geographical balance for our beloved country, and to be able to distinguish as Harvey "spaces of hope" national, regional and local - there will be, I know, embryonic, identifiable, pioneers - but they are not ostensible in the face of the national reality since the construction of territories for a sustainable and humane future does not offer signs of certainty today in Argentina of the Bicentennial. Consequently, Argentine society will decide and demand in this regard ...

Diana Duran - Degree in Geography from the Universidad del Salvador. Teacher of ISFD Nº 79, ISFT Nº 190 and ISFD and T Nº 159 of Punta Alta.



Cited bibliography:

  • Agüero, Ricardo. (1997). The two faces of Argentina and how Latin America manifests itself in our territory. Geographic reflections Nº7. Río Cuarto: Grouping of Interuniversity Geography Teachers.
  • Bruniard, Enrique (1986). Climatic singularities of South America, Buenos Aires. Senoc. PROMEC series. Geography.
  • Houses, Roberto. (1999). The processes of degradation and soil conservation in the Argentine Republic. In Environmental Argentina. Diana Duran. Comp. Buenos Aires. Editorial place.
  • Daguerre, Celia. Duran, Diana. Lara, Albina. (1992) Argentina. Myths and realities. Editorial place.
  • Di Pace and others (1999) The utopias of the environment. Sustainable development in Argentina. Publishing Center of Latin America.
  • Duran, Diana. The Argentine environmental plot and education.
  • Duran, Diana. Childhood in danger in Argentina.
  • Pengue, Walter. When I have land. GEPAMA. Buenos Aires' University. At
  • Roccatagliata, Juan (coord.) (2008). Argentina. A current and prospective vision from the territorial dimension. EMECE.
  • Roffman, Alejandro (2000) Destruction of regional economies, Buenos Aires, Southern Cone Edition,
  • Velasquez, Guillermo Angel. (2008) Geography and Wellbeing. Local situation of Argentina after the 2001 Census, Buenos Aires. EUDEBA.

Video: A Super Quick History of Argentina (July 2022).


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