Argentina’s Foreign Policy: In the Path to Change?

By Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


Next 1st December, Argentina is going to take over the presidency of the G-20. In late 2018, it will host the summit of the International Trade Organization. The Macri administration argues that this role is an ‘acknowledgment to the change’ the country is undergoing. How much changed has happened since Mauricio Macri took office in December 2015? The recent mid-term elections (on 22 October 2017) offer an opportunity to assess the records.

cumbre-del-g-20-2263999w620.jpgIn an effort to highlight contrasts with the predecessor and expand its base of support, change has been the key slogan of the coalition in government called, indeed, Cambiemos (let’s change). In foreign policy, two ideas summarised this proposal: ‘re-joining the international community’ (volver al mundo) and adopting pragmatism (des-ideologizar). In other words, Argentina now attempts to resume its historical goals, principles and roles, open and integrate itself to the world, and pursue what officials call an ‘intelligent’ and ‘mature’ positioning in world affairs. The underlying goal is to re-establish other countries’ confidence, presumably lost in the past decade due to a confrontational rhetoric and conflictive actions mostly inspired by economic and political nationalism.

Two years down the road, there are some signs of changes, although these are still a work in progress. First, efforts to mend relations with the US led to establishing a good rapport at the presidential level during the Obama administration. This continues under Trump’s term as trade negotiations progressed and changes in Argentina’s policy orientation and discourse are welcome in Washington.

Second, expanding and diversifying partnerships follows from an aggressive trade and investment strategy. These include reviving MERCOSUR (the regional trade bloc of which Argentina is founding member), pursuing trade agreements with the European Union, and joining as observer the Alliance of the Pacific in June last year (another regional organization formed by Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Chile). This last move is consistent with increasing economic links with China and Asia more broadly –where four of the ten main destinations of Argentina’s exports are (i.e., China, Vietnam, India and Indonesia, in that order). In other regions of the world, redefining relations has proved to be more controversial at the domestic level: the agreement with Iran (signed during the previous administration) has been declared non-constitutional. The President accepted this judicial decision and did not use his veto power in this case. Iranians have been linked to the 1990s terrorist attacks to Israeli institutions in Buenos Aires. Former president Cristina de Kirchner and other high officials were to be prosecuted when a federal judge died the day before presenting the evidence. Both legal cases are still open in the context of increasing efforts of the Judicial power to re-gain autonomy and enhance transparency.

Third, relations with regional partners deserved special attention in the last two years because of the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. In clear contrast with the Kirchners’ alliance with Chavez and Maduro, Macri forcefully requested the liberation of political prisoners, denounced violations to human rights, and was in favour of not allowing Venezuela to take over the pro-tempore presidency in July 2016. He was keen on ‘passing from rhetoric to action’ and even applying the Organization of American States’ Democratic Clause. This position finally prevailed within the bloc: on 5th August 2017 MERCOSUR finally applied the 1998 Ushuaia’s Protocol, suspending rights and obligations of Venezuela as member state for indefinite time (i.e., ‘until the democratic order is restored’).

Fourth, the bilateral relationship with the UK also shows some signs of change. Aware of the constrains posed by the long-standing dispute over the Malvinas/Falklands Islands, Argentina argued that this item should not be the focus of the relationship as it represents, at most, a figurative 20% of the links with the UK; instead, Macri’s government proposed to concentrate efforts on the remaining 80% which promises mutual benefits. This new approach led to a joint declaration in early 2016 and some progress afterwards. One of the goals in that document was achieved: clarifying the identity of Argentine soldiers who died during the war and were buried in the islands. The other two are still pending: resuming flights to/from the islands and ending sanctions to economic activities by islanders. Political, diplomatic and cultural relations improved and intensified in the last two years, in the spirit of ‘construction of empathy,’ as the British Ambassador to Buenos Aires called it, that is, setting a positive, mutually beneficial and long-term bilateral agenda.

These incipient changes are not exempt of pitfalls and criticisms. The 20/80 figure used to represent relations with the UK is questioned by the opposition, which also charges the government with a lukewarm approach in the defense of sovereign claims at international forums and an ambiguous approach to the case of Venezuela. Trade partnerships also represent a source of concern because of Argentina’s trade deficit and specialization in commodities. This is more of a continuity than a change between the current and the past administrations, and a pending issue in the governmental agenda. Another sign of continuity is to be found in the management of this area of public policy: as usual, presidential diplomacy is at the driver’s seat of most initiatives in foreign policy. Signs of dissent within the Cabinet (as the ones recorded between Macri and his former minister of Foreign Affairs over the issue of Venezuela) are seen as detrimental to the overall strategy. The replacement of Susana Malcorra by Jorge Faurie in that post (last June) was presented, in the official discourse, as a sign of ‘continuity and trust,’ presumably meaning that, from now on, no fundamental changes and disagreements in foreign policymaking are to be expected.

In sum, foreign policy might not have been a top consideration for voters in the recent mid-term elections, but it certainly contributed to construct a narrative about the identity of the coalition in power and to suggest a path to the future, a projection of national interests in a certain direction that seeks social support. Macri won the recent elections, defeating the dominant political force (Peronism, in its multiple forms). However, a narrative based on contrasts with the predecessor inevitable has limits in the long-run. Interest groups and society at large are eager to see, for instance, if Argentina has the capacity to resume steady economic growth, capture foreign investments, or play a leadership role at the regional level. In other words, the challenge is now to show if slogans translate into concrete changes at both the domestic and international level.

Lessons for Jeremy Corbyn from the Argentinian left

By Pia Riggirozzi, Associate Professor in Global Politics at the University of Southampton (@PRiggirozziAcademia.edu). You can find more posts by Pia here.


 

Jeremy Corbyn won a decisive victory over Owen Smith in a second Labour Party leadership contest on Saturday. With it Corbyn not only strengthened his authority but also the right to lead his party. This election was interesting on many counts, not least because it opens questions about where political power and legitimacy reside. The emergence of Corbyn in Labour politics has been politically and ideologically divisive from the outset, confirming a chasm between what is considered the Labour establishment, and ‘the people’ who have rallied to Corbyn’s support, including unions and local activists. Corbyn has revealed his intention to give more prominence to ‘the people’, to ‘do things differently’, and to build a more just and decent society. These promises put a spin on the Labour Party, reclaiming its role within the global resistance to neoliberalism.

Take Argentina, for example. From 2001 to 2015, the challenge to neoliberalism came from electorates that refused to accept parties committed to free markets. Furthermore, Kirchnerismo, the movement associated with the legacy of the 12 years administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband Néstor, led on the promise of moving beyond neoliberalism, ‘putting politics at the service of people and the economy at the service of the well-being of all citizens’. And it did so in the context of a global political economy where rising commodity prices and strong commercial and financial links with China gave the Kirchners resources to focus efforts on Argentina’s poor. The nation made significant progress on reducing poverty, introduced universal child benefit plan as well as higher pensions, and the expansion of civil rights, including same sex marriage. But this political project undoubtedly proved to be very divisive. For some, it represented a real commitment to prosperity and the expansion of citizenship rights. For others, it represented a quasi-authoritarian, state-led interventionist system, leading to mistaken exchange rate policies, ruinous energy subsidies and unsustainable fiscal deficit. With the economy slowing and inflation worsening, this polarisation explains Kirchnerism’s defeat in November 2015, and a swing to political and economic conservatism with the election of Mauricio Macri.

As for Corbyn, he won the mandate to do something different and he will thus have to provide an alternative to the unravelling of neoliberalism in the UK, where Labour has so far failed to refashion a social contract of ‘capitalism with a human face’ while Conservatives, caught off-guard by the Brexit vote, double-down on their endorsement to an economic model based on rising inequalities.

Argentina departs from the Kirchner model, but Mauricio Macri now has to govern a divided nation

By Pia Riggirozzi. Pia Riggirozzi is Associate Professor in Global Politics at the University of Southampton (@PRiggirozziAcademia.edu). You can find more posts by Pia here.


Read Dr Pia Riggirozzi’s new piece for The Conversation on the outcome of Argentina’s 2015 presidential elections.

Follow this link for the full article.

Dr Ana Margheritis on the National Elections in Argentina

DipticBy Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


PAIR’s Dr Ana Margheritis has been busy in the national and international media over the past week, offering reflection and analysis on the current national elections in Argentina. Ana has contributed to discussion programmes for Radio FM4 in Austria and for the BBC World Service, and featured in an article in the Daily Express.

You can listen to/view each of Ana’s contributions by following the links above.

All Change in Argentina as Sun Sets on the Kirchner Era

By Pia Riggirozzi. Pia Riggirozzi is Associate Professor in Global Politics at the University of Southampton (@PRiggirozziAcademia.edu). You can find more posts by Pia here.


Argentina’s open presidential primary is over, and the stage is now set for the election in October. With the current president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, constitutionally barred from running again, the autumn poll looks set to be a fight between Argentina’s two main political coalitions.

On the left is Daniel Scioli, the current governor of Buenos Aires province, who leads the official Peronist party Front for Victory. He is Cristina de Kirchner’s candidate of choice, though has stayed shy of taking on an explicitly Kirchnerist political identity. On the right is the current mayor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri; he heads a coalition of strange bedfellows called Cambiemos (Let’s Change), which comprises Macri’s conservative Republican Proposal party, social democrats, and the Radical Civic Union.

The primary system pits all the parties’ candidates against each other in one poll to determine who runs in the general election. Scioli and the Front for Victory got the biggest share with more than 38%. That sets him up well for the elections in October, bodes well for the nation’s verdict on the highly contentious and deeply personalised Kirchnerist legacy.

Twilight

When Fernández de Kirchner’s term ends in December 2015, she and her late husband and predecessor Néstor Kirchner, who ruled from 2003-7, will have enjoyed the longest unbroken presidential tenure since Argentina became a democracy, in the course of which they left a profound mark on their country. As Juan and Eva Peron did before them, the Kirchners have managed to establish a political style that will bear their name long after Cristina finally leaves office.

Governor Scioli: Cristina’s best hope?
Reuters/Martin Acosta

The political project now known as Kirchnerismo (Kirchnerism) is undoubtedly very divisive. For some, it stands for a return (at least in aspiration) to economic growth, prosperity, and the expansion of citizenship rights, all led by the state. For others, it represents a corrupt quasi-authoritarianism, combined with cynical populism and meddlesome state intervention.

Nonetheless, the expansion of rights and welfare provision under the Kirchners has been so widely welcomed in Argentina that none of this election’s contenders dares to challenge it. And with such a strong consensus on a big tranche of Kirchner-era social policy, the campaign might fast descend into a game of character mudslinging.

That’s partly a factor of the weakness of the candidates themselves. De Kirchner has failed to cultivate a strong heir, and the opposition isn’t faring much better. Cambiemos, for its part, has not developed a convincing and comprehensive political platform to take Argentina in a new direction.

All it seems able to do is mount fierce attacks on the personal and political style of Fernández de Kirchner and her entourage – something the last few years have hardly made difficult.

Counting the days

Throughout their 12 years in office, the Kirchners have been dogged by accusations of corruption, which have badly eroded Fernández de Kirchner’s popularity and legitimacy. Things have only gotten worse in recent years. Discontent and distrust have grown under Kirchnerist statism, with its apparent reluctance to protect private property, and alleged propensity to favour government cronies with subsidies and contracts.

Conflicts with the media and opposition media groups have also led Argentine investigative reporter Jorge Lanata to investigate a possible network of international bank accounts and unaccounted wealth connected with the state.

Things reached a fever pitch when prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in his apartment on January 18 2015. His body was discovered just hours before a judicial inquiry was expecting to examine claims that Fernández de Kirchner and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, tried to cover up Iran’s role in the country’s deadliest ever terrorist attack. Nisman’s case against Fernández de Kirchner and Timerman was dismissed on February 2, but it dealt a heavy blow to the government’s credibility and authority.

Adding to the twilight atmosphere is a seriously beleagured economy. Some pessimists are even predicting collapse, a forecast born of creeping inflation, slow to non-existent growth, a serious dependence on commodities markets, and a deeply destructive default.

Detractors of Fernández de Kirchner, and Kirchnerism, want Argentina to save itself from true disaster with a return to capital markets, even becoming a major regional economic power again if the right economic policies are implemented and sustained. Such accommodation with global neoliberalism would mark the true end of the Kirchnerist project.

A lasting legacy

Latin American politics expert Steven Levitsky argued that we might in fact be facing “the end of the left in Latin America”. The commodity boom has all but ended, and many of the leftist movements that rode it to power in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay are running out of steam after too many years in power.

But what this analysis misses is the depth of the left’s legacy – a plethora of policies for social inclusion, citizenship and rights that has left a deep imprint on the continent. Kirchner-era Argentina, for its part, has taken bold steps to widen its social safety net and citizenship rights. Targeted cash transfer programmes, which were initially short-term, were extended by the plan Argentina Trabaja, supporting co-operative enterprises in poor neighbourhoods.

On to the next one.
Reuters/Marcos Brindicci

Cristina’s government also introduced a targeted programme for children, the Universal Child Benefit (Asignación Universal por Hijo or AUH). It’s not the country’s first child benefit scheme, but it covers the population on an unprecedented scale. The AUH provides around 200 Argentine pesos (US$50) a month to nearly 4m children and families, and 80% of Argentina’s children now receive some form of child benefit.

For the first time, the government is extending welfare programmes directly to children and to workers who are not unionised. In fact, most beneficiaries will be self-employed or in the informal economy – groups that were particularly active in the protests of 2001.

The Fernández de Kirchner government also introduced a “reasonable” minimum wage for non-unionised workers (including domestic workers) in 2008, and has put pressure on private health companies to extend their coverage and reduce their charges. An anti-poverty strategy has brought poverty down to around 25% from more than 50% in the wake the 2001-02 economic crisis.

In this scenario, it is not surprising that the poor voters who have benefited from state largesse over the past eight years remain loyal to the Kirchnerist project. This explains why Scioli is riding high, for now at least. His ascendance is a sign that despite all the problems they and their country have faced, the Kirchners have managed to construct a legacy of inclusion and social rights that may yet endure.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What Is Going on in Argentina with President Fernandez de Kirchner?

By Pia Riggirozzi. Pia Riggirozzi is Associate Professor in Global Politics at University of Southampton (@PRiggirozziAcademia.edu). You can find more posts by Pia here.


[Cross-posted at The Conversation.]

Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has announced plans to dissolve her country’s intelligence services. President Fernandez de Kirchner’s move comes after the controversial death of a prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who had accused her of attempting to cover up Iran’s role in the country’s deadliest ever terrorist attack: the bombing of the AMIA (the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Society) in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed 85 people.

How did things get to this point, and how did Fernandez de Kirchner get into such terrible legal turmoil?

Cristina de Kirchner and Héctor Timerman. EPA/Jason Szenes

Muddy waters

Nisman had allegedly been investigating the AMIA bombing for over a decade. He finally brought things to a head in mid-January 2015, when he suddenly brought an indictment against Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, for their suspected involvement in the cover-up.

Nisman was then found dead in his apartment on January 18 2015, just four days after serving the indictment and hours before a judicial inquiry was set to begin. His death was declared “suspicious” despite the fact that it seemed like a suicide – and the investigation into it has now turned up evidence he may have been planning to arrest Fernandez de Kirchner herself.

Nisman’s allegations about the Iranian connection must be seen in a wider context. There has been a marked shift in Argentina’s policy towards Iran since 2010, mainly led by Timerman, towards trade and diplomatic relations.

At the same time, Iran has been trying to raise its profile in Latin America in general as it looks for ways to ease the pain of Western sanctions. Tehran has forged close ties with leftist governments in Venezuela and Bolivia, and has been seeking trade agreements with Brazil for food imports.

While the shift to Iran, and the lack of judicial progress in the case of international terrorism striking the country still needs to be accounted for, the death of Nisman and the ensuing political chaos has raised profound concerns about the state of Argentina’s democracy.

Alberto Nisman. EPA/Cezaro de Luca

Nisman’s case against Fernandez de Kirchner and Timerman was dismissed on February 2. It relied heavily on transcripts of wiretapped conversations between Argentine negotiators and Iranian officials, and these recorded conversations – provided by the intelligence services – were found to be inconclusive and the case lacking in substantive evidence.

There are suspicions about whether this evidence was all it seemed, and worries that the intelligence service was up to its old tricks once again – muddying the waters of a highly sensitive case, or even supporting sinister plans to destabilise the government.

But those misgivings themselves show that whatever Fernandez de Kirchner’s real reason for doing it, the intelligence overhaul was undeniably long overdue.

Toxic institutions

During Argentina’s so-called Dirty War in the 1970s and 80s, the intelligence services were dominated by the military, and acted as its instrument in the persecution of opposition leaders and social activists.

After democratisation began in 1983, the government of Raul Alfonsin was mainly focused on reforming two main enforcing agencies: the armed forces and the police. The intelligence services were left for later, despite the fact the secret services were still rampantly active, engaging in political disappearances and the extortion of prominent businessmen to “make up” for the dwindling demand for their services.

In part, this was just one of many difficulties facing a fledgling democracy that was struggling to achieve stability and self-confidence. But the intelligence services were also protected by the fact that even democratic governments found them very politically useful.

Taken at face value, then, Fernandez de Kirchner has done the right thing. Dismantling the intelligence services was necessary, a debt of democratisation in Argentina. And while passing the reform will require parliamentary endorsement, Kirchner’s Front for Victory party controls 39 of the 72 seats in the Senate and 130 of the 257 seats in the lower house, the changes will probably enjoy a smooth ride through both chambers.

But whether Fernandez de Kirchner’s newfound zeal for reform will do anything for the health of Argentina’s democracy is another question entirely.

For democracy’s sake

Instead of opening up engagement with the opposition, Fernandez de Kirchner’s swift intervention has become a piece of partisan grandstanding, and has all but trivialised the judicial process Nisman began.

It has also done nothing to dismiss suspicions about the president’s “real reasons” for dismantling the intelligence service, while sending party politics into a frenzied back-and-forth of accusations and denunciation.

The government stands accused of using Nisman’s case for partisan ends, dodging a major investigation into the president in an election year; it in turn accuses the opposition of not wanting to give up illicit paid access to political information from spooks.

Of course, weak institutions and impunity for the powerful are not the fruits of some latter-day Kirchnerista invention; they are long-established facts of Argentine political life. Still, the current government has done a lot to deepen distrust of the state among its people.

To be sure, the sensation around the death of Nisman made it clear just how badly Argentina’s intelligence system needed reform, and created the context to finally get the job done. But for the sake of democracy, this must not be allowed to descend into a party-political brawl – and certainly not at such a sensitive time, as a two-term-limited president nears the end of her tenure.

Reexamining the 2001 Argentine crisis and its aftermath

DipticBy Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


Ten days ago, the launching of a recently published book entitled Argentina Since the 2001 Crisis: Recovering the Past, Reclaiming the Future at the Institute of the Americas (University College of London) was a good opportunity to revisit the vicissitudes of contemporary politics in Argentina. The volume, edited by Cara Levey, Daniel Ozarow, and Christopher Wylde, gathers the contributions of a multidisciplinary international group of scholars to the analysis of the legacies of the 2001 crisis. In particular, the book explores the responses to the crisis in various dimensions: economic processes, domestic politics, social mobilization, and cultural practices. As invited discussant, I noted several contributions this book is making to our understanding of the implications of such dramatic events. Among other things, I highlighted the following points and encouraged further discussion and investigation.

Ana_IMG_3274I welcomed the introduction of the concept of “crisis intermezzo.” It might be a very helpful analytical concept in the Argentine case and probably other cases too. While transition is defined as “a process during which the previous act is terminated and replaced by a different one, (…) intermezzo is a bracketed act between two acts of the same piece” (p. 144). This conceptual contrast may broaden our historical perspective of what happened in Argentina. In the light of recent developments, it is evident that Argentines have started to anticipate, once again, a new crisis as if they have developed, through recurrent crises, a particular ability to do so and the aftermath of the crisis was just an intermezzo to catch their breath.

A number of things happened during the intermezzo, though. Several chapters in this volume give us tools to analyze both rebellion from below and reconstruction from above. The contributors ably illustrate how citizens mobilized driven by anger and hope, and how the state de-mobilize them and used the opportunity to give the Kirchners’ model its identity, narrative, and historical projection. I note that integrating the two process seems to be a pending task. Doing so might require exploring how crises and intermezzos have become naturalised throughout their cyclical recurrence and how Argentine politics (and Peronist politics in particular) have become the art of managing crisis or using intermezzos to re-invent the (now) dominant party.

With respect to the top-down part of that process, I note that there is an underlying theme in the book: the recasting of state power as post-neoliberalism promised to bring the state back in and mend the damage made by neoliberal policies. In my view, the return of the state seems to be an unfinished, inconsistent, and uneven process across geographies of the national territory and across policy areas; it has also been closely intertwined with the government’s significant efforts to re-write a narrative of the past, present and future of the country (and the role of the Kirchner family in it). This recurrent theme made me think that an emphasis on responses to the crisis might be insufficient. Most chapters, indeed, identify contradictions and tensions between national popular discourses and the policies and politics of dispossession. This suggests the need to elaborate not only on the responses but also on the non-responses, the issues that have been silenced, the mobilization that was de-mobilized, the dissent that was diluted or simply postponed. Doing so might help make sense of the paradox that the protesters’ slogan “que se vayan todos!” (they all must go!) faded in front of politicians’ resilience and resistance to leave and to implement necessary political reforms. Old and new factions continue struggling today as the time of election approaches, while popular discontent persists and focuses on recurrent problems (e.g., corruption, insecurity, inflation) and the component of hope contained in the 2001 protests has not been fulfilled yet.