Argentina: A tiff over time zones

BUENOS AIRESArgentina is a huge country, north to south. But not so much side to side. With only 20 degrees of longitude at its widest point, the country should easily fit within a single time zone. Yet as of this month, Argentina has three different systems for telling time.

An American expat in Buenos Aires related how he was asked the time by an elderly Argentine man on New Year’s Eve. “Quarter to midnight,” he replied. The man, suddenly wary, asked, “Is that the time of Kirchner or of Perón?”

An enthusiastic President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner brought the country an hour forward to daylight saving time last summer, in the wake of an energy crisis that put a big damper on Argentina’s resurgent industrial output and forced the normally energy-self-sufficient country to have to import power.

But more than half of the independent-minded provinces rebelled this year and refused to change their clocks. One cited the “lost sense of time-equilibrium.” Another pointed out that any energy saved was lost by businesses keeping later hours: Argentines wouldn’t think of going out to dine when it’s still light outside.

One province – San Luis – has now taken this a step further. Though located right in the middle of the country, San Luis opted this month to shift its time back to that of neighboring Chile.

Provincial Electricity Regulatory Commission president Adelaida Muñiz pointed out that this change puts San Luis more in line with actual solar time. She happens to be right. According to international time zone standards, all of Argentina should follow San Luis time. But only time will tell whether other Argentines choose to follow Buenos Aires, Mother Nature, or their own whims.

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