Speech given at Valcheta by the President, Dr Figueroa Alcorta, opening the first Patagonian railway.
“Gentlemen: Thirty years ago the southern territories of the Republic were, in reality, outwith the positive dominion of our laws. They belonged to us politically and geographically, but the effective sanction of our authority was up till now limited, and held back by many barriers, which appeared insurmountable.
Here the aboriginal leadership ruled as absolute lords of the desert; in the desolate wildernesses of the immense land; periodically the savage hoards were organised with a treacherous intention, and brought depredation and death to the populace and to the frontier estancias, then retreat to devour the produce of the malón [armed raid by indigenous peoples] there in the depth of the far-away solitude, and repeat the invader’s assault as many times as was determined by the tribe's instinct and fierceness.
Our military frontier line had hardly enough strength to contain the tolderías [native encampments] in their enormous sphere of devastating action, and this same barrier, insufficient and unstable, was only maintained at the cost of great self-sacrifices and heroic self-denials in the garrisoned fortlets of the frontier.
Adventuring beyond the certain limit in to the inscrutable solitude, was like searching for the shipwrecked in the inhospitable land of the cursed earth, or falling into the ambush of the aduar [small group of aborigines] who, in one way or another, retain for ever what they trap with their claws.
However, one day the patient guardian who for long years had contained the advance of the savage indian on to the territory conquered by work, increased his means of action, reinforced his elements, his forces, tracing a plan, advanced with resolution, and the vigorous arm of the Argentine army revealed for every the mystery of the Patagonian desert.
That military operation with such varied significance for the well-understood economic and political interests of the Nation, had in Doctor Alsina its clear-sighted precursor, in President Avellaneda its most efficient and decisive driver, in General Roca the thought and directive action which brought the great work to a climax, and definitively established the southern frontier of the Republic.
I render in this occasion the honour due to the initiatives and the patriotic efforts dedicated to the realization of that undertaking, which allows us to successfully embark today on the definitive conquest, which seals its dominion with the steel of the rail, which fertilizes the earth by work and opens new horizons to the greatness of the country.
Gentlemen: Examined in detail, our progressive development, as an economic and political entity appeared founded on the truth of the opinion that we progress by jumps, irregularly, by arbitrary shoves and spasms; but the completed portrait, the total collection of the days, won by the general progress of the Nation, demonstrate that the growth worked under the normal regimen of the natural laws of evolution, and that the curves of the line traversed have not deviated from its upward direction.
In the present case, these works of government, which proposes to advance labour and production in a considerable region of the country, do not lack means of seeing that they consider that the undertaking is premature, while the opposing view signals the delays with which we reply to the call of these great interests.
In my view, the dissident is reconciled in the medium term, referred to before, considering that we have opportunely reached the right time, not later nor earlier, when this work does not impinge on the rest of the country which it complements, when the same expansion of our leaders have determined the corresponding need for a greater size in the fundamental factors of development and, at last, when the general situation in politics and economics, allows and indicates the study and the effective adoption of a plan so vast in its diverse aspects, as that of the law which has as its beginning the building of the railway line which we are opening.
The monumental thought of government, to which the law alludes, initiates its realization with this work under one of its phases, which starts by establishing contact with these far-away territories with its own centres of population as the first aim and then in the exterior and interior markets which demand the varied production of which the vast region is capable. A measure that the projected railway lines are constructed and the lands made valuable by this act, are subject to the effort and working by private industry and the flow of immigration is established which has to resolve the problem of the population, the evolution and development of the richness of this great area; regular navigation will come to the southern coasts, the straightening and canalization of the great rivers, and the taking advantage of their flows which today flood and devastatethe areas, which tomorrow will be fertilized by the river, to serve still “the roads which walk” to the same level of production obtained with the fertile concourse of its waters.
The plan traced will in any case be the full realization of its economic propositions and then the political ideal of the law will start to fulfil itself as a fortunate and immediate consequence, then with the sum of the created interests, the centres of population which rise by the natural condensation of the established nuclei, and at last the logical evolution of all the factors of wealth and work will have constituted along with the base of the social and political wholeness of the autonomous state which the Constitution establishes as the future dedication of the present territories.
So much honour is reflected by its initiator, Minister Ramos Mexía, to whom I have seen fighting indefatigably, and seen overcome the obstacles which closed the path to the proposed law – this programme, says that the present and future deficits are not limited to the general results which are inherent by its nature; these railways come here to do everything, from the effective occupation and population of the land, to the creation of ports, the development of the populated centres, the development of fundamental industries, the transport of the products, the awakening of activity and life, determining in turn what we consider as the general conquest of these territories which for complex causes and circumstances have to the present an economic-political orientation in notorious departure from the axis and centre of our national economy.
We start then, gentlemen, the task which will cement in the near future this present-day desolate wasteland region with the flourishing of new factors of prosperity with which the country will grow the already great elements of progress; and when in the relatively short time which the great undertaking requires, are manifested in the fruits of thought and work of government which have raised in turn, above the territories of the Chaco and Patagonia, the efficient and real action of those elements of civilizing transformation, we will be able to affirm with legitimate satisfaction that the country has conquered new symbols for its coat-of-arms, forged by peace and work.
The happy circumstance of our opening the first colonizing railway of Patagonia in the year of the glorious century of our political emancipation, will scarcely excuse the optimism with which we perceive the vision of the future through these initiatives of progress. I see in this South, that the legend presented as dismal and sterile the platform of great centres of civilization and riches; I see our southern cities showing with their opulent growth the generous tribute rendered to work by a soil suitable for the many applications of human industry;
I see our Atlantic coast with its great ports open to all flags, furrowed by ships of all nations in the service of the commerce of interchange of substantial products, I see here the predetermined future of a chosen race, an alloy bringing vigour in the conquering strength of the land and the sea, its organism tempered in the sturdy environment of this latitude and its moral energies imbued with the exercise of the principles of liberty, which inform the political creed of our institutions; and I see at last as a logical corollary of this, the perspective of prosperity and progress in that which a criterion of foresight predominates over the ideals of patriotic desire, I see the nation in the culmination of its total evolution, strong and great by its power, and its civilization marching towards the ideal of its historic destiny.
Gentlemen: under the auspices of these intimate wishes, which make me an interpreter of the most legitimate aspirations of my country, I declare opened the first section of the first state railway in Patagonia.”
The FCE broad gauge network