As chance would have it, the only two provinces not electing a governor this year come back-to-back in this series based on ascending order of electorate magnitude – last Saturday featured Santiago del Estero and today the flow reaches Corrientes. But that is not the only thing in common – if Santiago del Estero ranks as Argentina’s poorest province (perhaps because it is possibly the only one where the rural and semi-rural population are still the majority), Corrientes is the runaway leader for urban poverty according to the figures released by INDEC statistics bureau early this month. Almost half (49.3 percent) of its provincial capital lives below the poverty line, followed by the Chaco provincial capital of Resistencia on the other side of the Paraná river (41.4 percent) – Santiago del Estero’s equivalent (38.9 percent) only comes third in this podium of Argentina’s major urban centres. Compare these figures to the notoriously poverty-ridden urban sprawl of Greater Buenos Aires (31.3 percent) surrounding this prosperous metropolis (12.6 percent, little over a quarter of Corrientes levels).
It could also be argued that Corrientes and Santiago del Estero have a Radical governor in common but this would be straining the truth. While Santiago del Estero’s Gerardo Zamora still calls himself Radical (although expelled from the party in 2010) but was as ultra-Kirchnerite as they come when it suited him, Corrientes Governor Gustavo Valdés (elected some 18 months ago with 54 percent of the vote) has been a staunchly mainstream Radical since the age of 14.
One of only five districts aligned with President Macri, Corrientes has swum against the tide much longer than others like, say, Jujuy – the birthplace of independence hero José de San Martín (in Yapeyú, 1778) has almost always bucked the national mainstream. No other province (aside from Neuquén with its neo-Peronist Popular Movement) has never elected a Peronist governor since the return of democracy in 1983 – this goes all the way back to the birth of Peronism in 1946 when Corrientes was the only province resisting the nationwide landslide (an anomaly tolerated for around 18 months before a federal trusteeship was imposed). But such rejection of central authority predates Peronism – in the second quarter of the 19th century Corrientes was the heart of the resistance to Juan Manuel de Rosas and English travellers to northeast Argentina in that period, talking to local notables, observed that in all the Paraná watershed but especially in Corrientes there was almost zero identification with Buenos Aires. Rather there existed the notion that their destiny lay in joining up with both Uruguay and Paraguay as a single state (a country which today would have around 16 million people, not far behind Chile or Ecuador).
No governors or provincial legislators to be elected in Corrientes this year, then, and (unlike Santiago del Estero) no national senators either – Carlos Mauricio ‘Camau’ Espinola and Ana Claudia Almirón of the Victory Front and ex-governor Pedro Braillard Poccard of the Encuentro Corrientes alliance still have two more years in the Upper House. Although Macri’s man in the Senate, Braillard Poccard does not originate from any of the three parties forming the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition but from the Autonomist-Liberal Pact dominating Corrientes throughout the past century (indeed he was its very last governor from 1997 to 1999) – he hails from the Liberal (highly conservative despite its name) half of the pact. Anita Almirón voted for last year’s abortion bill, aghast over maternity conditions in the impoverished province. Like every Peronist since Julio Romero in 1973, ‘Camau’ (the winner of four Olympic medals for his yachting) lost the gubernatorial elections in 2013 but did win the 2009 mayoral elections in the provincial capital and the 2015 senatorial elections. In the latter year he helped Peronist Daniel Scioli (also a success story in nautical sports) to win the presidential voting in both rounds – the first time since 1963 that this province has not voted for the winner.
So Corrientes voting this year is pretty much circumscribed to four of its seven Lower House seats – Julián Dindart (Radical), Araceli Fereyra (Movimiento Evita), Oscar Macias (Justicialist) and José “Pitin” Ruiz Aragón ( Victory Front) will vacate their seats this year while Sofia Brambilla (PRO), Estela Regidor (Radical) and Jorge Antonio Romero (Victory Front) will be joining the senators in 2021. Note that there are five different party labels among the seven deputies. Not worth many more words for at least two reasons – firstly, none of these seven names would evoke the slightest recognition outside Corrientes and secondly, four seats at stake virtually guarantees an even split unless either Cambiemos or Peronism can almost double the other side’s vote.
Guarani country for eight millennia, the city of Corrientes was founded in 1588 with an original population of 148 settlers and grew slowly in colonial times in the shadow of the Jesuit missions with 99 different governors and at least two major 18th century uprisings against Buenos Aires authority. Briefly annexed by Entre Ríos (1820-1821), there have been 93 governors and 44 trustees since then with the interruption of Paraguayan occupation in 1865. Despite this multiplicity, political clans tend to dominate – the Romero Feris in the latter decades of the Autonomist-Liberal Pact and the Colombi cousins in this century’s Radical hegemony.
With 992,595 people according to the 2010 census, Corrientes should be well over the million mark by now although emigration is heavy. That census placed 352,646 in the provincial capital – other urban centres (all 2010 figures) in the 25 departments are the fishing centre of Goya (77,349), Paso de los Libres (43,251) on the Brazilian frontier, Curuzú Cuatiá (34,470), Mercedes (33,551), the gateway to the Iberá wetlands, Gobernador Virasoro (30,666), Bella Vista (29,071), Monte Caseros (23,470 and the scene of a 1988 Army mutiny) and Santo Tomé (23,299). But the main tourist attractions of Corrientes (as the name might suggest) are to be found on water not land, apart from religious tourism (the Virgin of Itatí, Gauchito Gil) – the best fishing in Argentina with the possible exception of Bariloche and those Iberá wetlands covering a quarter of the province with all their flora and fauna (which could easily have been drained even with 17th century technology, as was the case with similar terrain a couple of metres below sea level in Holland or the East Anglian fenlands, but mercifully spared so far).
Last and probably least, Corrientes perhaps uniquely provides an Argentine setting for an English novel, Graham Greene’s The Honorary Consul (1973) – Greene does not actually name the city but the prominent statue of Sergeant Cabral and the proximity to Paraguay make it unmistakably Corrientes.
Electorate (2017): 845,466
Governor: Gustavo Valdés (Radical)
Senators: Three (2 Victory Front, 1 Cambiemos/Encuentro Corrientes)
Deputies: Seven (2 Victory Front, 1 Peronist, 1 Movimiento Evita,
3 Cambiemos including 2 Radicals, 1 PRO)
On the ballot: Four of seven deputies