Argentina and New Zealand: Two Countries of the South: Enrique De la Torre Discusses the Links between His Country's and New Zealand's Approaches to the World. (Cover Story)

By de la Torre, Enrique | New Zealand International Review, November-December 2001 | Go to article overview

Argentina and New Zealand: Two Countries of the South: Enrique De la Torre Discusses the Links between His Country's and New Zealand's Approaches to the World. (Cover Story)


de la Torre, Enrique, New Zealand International Review


When, in 1997, 1 presented my credentials as the first Ambassador of Argentina to New Zealand since we re-established diplomatic relations in 1984, 1 could not help but reflect on our two countries' history. At the dawn of the twentieth century Argentina and New Zealand belonged to a select group of countries enjoying very rapid economic growth. In the Americas, Argentina, Canada and the United States, and in the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, shared some common qualities that made them unique and distinct from the rest of the world.

These fast-growing countries privileged in soil and climate exported their temperate weather agricultural production to Europe. Migrant labour and capital was sent in return to inhabit their empty spaces and develop further their agricultural wealth. Politically they shared liberal values and institutions and had with different degrees close relations with the United Kingdom, then the leading industrial power of the world.

At the time this advantaged group of countries of `recent settlement' enjoyed with very few others the highest standards of living in the world. Those were the times of the first globalisation wave, and Argentina and New Zealand were riding high on top of it.

But hidden under its initial prosperity, the twentieth century was brewing its own curse in disguise. Nationalism invigorated by the totalitarian ideologies of fascism and communism challenged the dominance of the liberal values of the few leading democracies. After two world wars, the Great Depression and the Cold War at the end of last century, a very different picture of New Zealand and Argentina emerged.

In the 1980s these two countries could not have been more distant from each other. New Zealand had kept its place among the rich democratic countries of the world and was a full member of the OECD. Argentina, according to the World Bank, had descended to the category of upper middle-income developing country, and had estranged itself from the Western world as a full member of the non-aligned movement. Democratic institutions and human rights were strong in New Zealand, while a murky military junta, known for its human rights abuses, was in power in Argentina. Furthermore, diplomatic relations between our two countries had been broken after the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands War. Both countries differed as much as London and Paris did during the French Revolution, as portrayed in Charles Dickens's Tale of Two Cities.

Restored democracy

To understand my country's situation at the beginning of the 1980s, we have to look at continental Europe after the Second World War -- a past of authoritarian ideas had collapsed and a slow but steady healing and rebuilding process based on liberal democratic values started. Democracy was restored in Argentina in 1983 and the military junta members were condemned for human rights abuses in an unprecedented trial by a Nuremberg-style national tribunal.

At the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the rebuilding process accelerated at an exhilarating pace. Relations with the United Kingdom were restored in 1989. Argentina vigorously pursued a foreign policy based on close alliance with the Western world. The non-aligned movement was deserted. During the Gulf War we became the only Latin America country to participate in the collective security coalition promoted by the United Nations. Since then, Argentina has become the most active Latin American participant in UN peacekeeping operations, with the involvement of more than 10,000 Blue Helmets.

A dubious policy on weapons of mass destruction was abandoned for a transparent non-proliferation policy, with Argentina joining all the international control regimes. Nuclear and chemical weapons were forgone, and the only missile (Condor II) in the Latin American region was destroyed. Co-operative security with border countries replaced former mistrust after the solution of border disputes. …

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