Argentina-Obama's Visit

By Nieves, Edwin | Washington Report on the Hemisphere, April 18, 2016 | Go to article overview

Argentina-Obama's Visit


Nieves, Edwin, Washington Report on the Hemisphere


For awhile, President Obama's tango at the Argentine state dinner was the first thing to appear if you search for his visit in English, but it was at best foot-note to a visit to meet with Argentina's new president, Mauricio Macri. Obama arrived in Argentina on March 23 immediately after his more highly publicized visit to Cuba. This trip can be seen as support for President Macri, who has stated his intentions to improve relations with Washington in marked contrast to the foreign policy of his two predecessors, Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández.

President Obama's visits in Latin American nations seem aimed at improving the United States' image in the region after the turmoil of the Cold War. His main talking points in Argentina, however, were dominated by investment, trade, security, energy, and the rise of drug trafficking.

President Obama's visits in Latin American nations seem aimed at improving the United States' image in the region after the turmoil of the Cold War. His main talking points in Argentina, however, were dominated by investment, trade, security, energy, and the rise of drug trafficking. This last topic, mentioned by the U.S. Embassy in Argentina shortly after President Macri was elected, is a new potential source of either collaboration or contention between the two nations.

"Under President Macri, Argentina is reassuming its traditional leadership role in the region and around the world," Mr. Obama said. "On a range of areas, we discussed the way in which the United States and Argentina can be strong global partners to promote the universal values and interests that we share."

Neoliberal economic policies and improving relations with the United States had been key tenets of President Macri's 2015 electoral platform. Argentina has been cut out of the global capital markets since it defaulted on payments of its external debt in late 2001, and Macri wants to reverse this. Argentina has settled with about 90 percent of its creditors, but some holdout U.S. hedge funds have rejected the idea of settlements of any kind. Most of these are the so called "vulture funds" that bought Argentine bonds at a fraction of their face value and want to settle for the whole price.

In early January, President Macri's administration resumed negotiations that had broken down during 2015 when U.S. hedge funds filed suit against Argentina after its default. In 2014, Judge Thomas Griesa controversially blocked Argentina's attempted partial settlement and insisted that the funds be paid in full. This move has been criticized widely and damaged the U.S. reputation in the region. President Macri has said he hopes to resolve the issue and make his country a trusted investment opportunity as it moves back from financial isolation. President Obama could be a potent ally in these negotiations and could help both leaders substantiate claims that they want to improve political and economic relations between their nations.

President Obama's welcome in Argentina was set to be frosty from the February scheduling of the visit for the 40th anniversary of the 1976 coup which installed the last military dictatorship in Argentina. Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Madres de Plaza de Mayo), one of the foremost Argentinean human rights groups, objected to the U.S. president's proposed visit to the former Higher School of Mechanics of the Navy (ESMA, for Escuela Superior de Mechánica de la Armada), which served as a detention and torture center during the dictatorship. Hebe de Bonafini, the president of the group, rebuked the U.S. president and the government he represents in an interview with TeleSur:

"Ese hombre tiene las manos manchadas de sangre y acá no lo queremos. …

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