President Obama waves from Air Force One
Source: Associated Press

Obama’s Argentina Visit Provokes Human Rights and Trade Controversy

In All, International by Tola Brennan

President Obama’s Argentina visit on March 23-24 has been altered since March 24 falls on a national holiday commemorating the 40th anniversary of a US-backed military coup. He will instead go to Bariloche, an Argentine resort town 1000 miles away from Buenos Aires. But trade relations, the core mission of meeting with Argentina’s new right-wing president Mauricio Macri, will proceed as planned.

Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the Nobel Prize in 1980 for defending human rights under Argentina’s dictatorship, called on Obama to cancel or reschedule the visit. “I am writing as a survivor of that horror which included financing, training, and coordination by the United States,” he wrote.

Adolfo Perez Esquivel addresses a crowd in 2003.

Adolfo Perez Esquivel addresses a crowd in 2003.
Source:Wikipedia

His appeal comes after many human rights groups have called for the trip to be cancelled. Hebe de Bonafini, head of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (an association of mothers whose children were “disappeared” during the dictatorship), has condemned Obama’s visit saying his “hands are stained with blood” and criticized other US actions abroad, such as the drone program.

The White House press release stated that Obama would congratulate Macri on his commitment to human rights. Analysts interpret this posturing as praise for Macri’s vocal attacks towards Venezuela’s treatment of political opposition.

In light of the recent scheduling controversy, critics Macri’s dubious human rights record. Additionally, Macri faces further scrutiny amid accusation that his father, a supporter of the dictatorship and from one of the wealthiest families in the country, benefited from the country’s history of repression through his management of Socma.

These controversies stand in stark contrast to the previous 12 years of leadership by Nestor and Kristina Kirchner.

“It’s something the Kirchners will go into history for,” said Graciela Mochkofsky, an internationally-recognized Argentine journalist and author. “It’s very clear Macri is trying to undo that.”

While many perpetrators of killings and torture under despotic regimes have escaped prosecution, South Africa’s failure to charge anyone after apartheid for example, many Argentines are proud that, under Nestor Kirchner, many perpetrators were held accountable for their actions during the regime.

“It’s something the Kirchners will go into history for,” said Graciela Mochkofsky, an internationally-recognized Argentine journalist and author. “It’s very clear Macri is trying to undo that.”

Traditionally the right-wing has been quiet on the bloody “Dirty War” from 1976 to 1983 which led to the death of around 30,000 people, many of whom were left-wing activists. Experts say that Argentina’s right is wary of too much attention paid to Macri’s connections to this troubled history.

“They’ve all disavowed the dictatorship,” said Edward Gibson, a political science professor at Northwestern. “But it’s far less comfortable for the right to be talking about this.”

The Kirchners also created the national holiday of commemoration, the date now provoking so much tension. Yet, all the pushback on the human rights front has done little to dent Obama’s primary mission.

“To a large extent, it was an inevitable move,” said Neil Shearing, a chief economist at Capital Economics. “It had become increasingly clear that the currency regime was unsustainable.”

Macri’s December 2015 victory brought a swift changes. He won by a close 51 percent with the promise to deal with Argentina’s debt crisis and straighten out an economy that was moving towards hyper-inflation.

Macri quickly removed currency controls that had kept the Argentine peso artificially high, while it was traded at half the official value on black markets for sought-after American dollars.

“To a large extent, it was an inevitable move,” said Neil Shearing, a chief economist at Capital Economics. “It had become increasingly clear that the currency regime was unsustainable.”

He also moved forward on deals with so called “vulture funds,” hedge funds who had purchased Argentine bonds for pennies on the dollar and held the country hostage seeking repayment. The deal is set to go through on April 14th.

Adolfo Perez Esquivel addresses a crowd in 2003.

Recently elected Argentine president Mauricio Macri.
Source: Santiago Filipuzzi for La Nacion

Macri’s pro-business stance, as well as filling his cabinet with corporate executives, played a role in softening New York’s courts. “President Macri’s election changed everything,” said Thomas Griesa, the judge who moved the settlement forwards.

To settle the 15 year battle once and for all, Macri has secured $15 billion dollars of new loans to pay off the debt. This will let Argentina regain access to global markets and liquidity that have been blocked by the dispute.

But while Macri has achieved progress in his mission to open up Argentina to foreign investors, many note a striking similarity between Macri and Carlos Menem and fear a cyclical history/history repeating itself.. President Menem’s neoliberal economic policies were first celebrated as a shining example of globalization under the WA Consensus. By the end of his presidency, however, the economy crashed dues ballooning debt.

“The US is still seen as an imperialist country that has nothing good to give,” said Juan Cruz Ferre, a doctor in Buenos Aires. “The majority of people think that way.”

The Kirchners, though often criticized by the right for economic ineptitude, led the country through a recovery while also creating social welfare programs and subsidizing utilities like electricity, programs that were tremendously popular among Argentina’s poorest classes. . The ouster of the Kirchers has heralded a return to many aspects of the Menem presidency that many see as disproportionately benefiting the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

Obama’s vocal support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and his intention to discuss renewed trade cooperation further propels this policy.

“The US is still seen as an imperialist country that has nothing good to give,” said Juan Cruz Ferre, a doctor in Buenos Aires. “The majority of people think that way.”