Argentina and United States Renew Close Relations after Years Apart

By Geraldine Cook
March 25, 2016

U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Buenos Aires on March 23rd to inaugurate a new age in U.S. relations with Argentina. President Obama and his Argentine counterpart, Mauricio Macri, expressed their enthusiasm to work together to bolster security, trade, education, and technology.

“Under President Macri, Argentina is reassuming its traditional leadership role in the region and around the world,” President Obama said at a press conference at Casa Rosada, the Argentine government’s seat. The U.S. leader said he was “enormously impressed” with the work President Macri completed during the first 100 days of his administration to create more sustainable growth and renew Argentina’s ties with the international community.

“We seek good relations with all the countries in the hemisphere, but obviously Argentina – historically one of the most powerful, largest countries in the hemisphere – needs to be a critical partner with us,” said President Obama, recalling that [the partnership] “is for us not only to help our own people, but also to help promote prosperity and peace and opportunity in the region as a whole.”

President Macri said that he has been inspired by the leadership of President Obama, whose visit has a special meaning. “We have interpreted it as a gesture of their consideration and friendship at a time when Argentina is embarking on a new journey. We believe that our countries share profound values: respect for human rights, individual liberty, democracy, justice, and peace.”

President Macri highlighted that both countries have a “gigantic” amount of work in common before them. “After years of nearly non-existent relations, many opportunities are now open that could create jobs for Argentines and U.S. citizens,” he said.

The last time that a sitting U.S. president visited Argentina was in 2005, when George W. Bush attended the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, and during President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s two terms (2007-2015), the U.S. share of Argentina’s foreign commerce has been less than 10 percent, the lowest level in the past 80 years, according to Argentina’s Chamber of Commerce.

To reverse that trend, the two governments have announced measures to boost investments and deepen their cooperation in the G-20. “Reflecting significant private-sector interest in Argentina, U.S. companies announced multi-billion dollar investments that will help build upon the more than $20 billion in annual United States-Argentina trade,” the White House said in a press release. “In the coming months, six trade delegations will help U.S. and Argentine businesses identify further opportunities.”

After talks in Buenos Aires between presidents Obama and Macri, the White House announced the signature of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement and support for Argentina’s full participation in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other key international financial institutions.

Terrorism and drug trafficking

The terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium, which left 31 dead and approximately 270 wounded, cast a pall over President Obama’s visit to the Argentine capital. Presidents Obama and Macri denounced the attacks and promised to work together to fight terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime. “My top priority is to defeat ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and to eliminate the scourge of this barbaric terrorism that’s been taking place around the world,” President Obama said.

Both countries announced the implementation of various bilateral agreements to enable cooperation. “The United States will help build Argentine law enforcement capacity, including through assistance from the Department of Justice related to terrorism and terrorist financing in the Tri-Border region,” the White House said in a press release.

The Argentine Ministry of Security and the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security (DHS) signed the “Preventing and Combating Serious Crime Agreement” to facilitate the exchange of information on suspected criminals and terrorists. The Joint Interagency Task Force-South agreed to exchange information with the Argentine Ministry of Security, whereas the Department of Defense invited the South American country to participate in the State Partnership Program so as to cooperate with the National Guard.

The Argentine Ministry of Security and the DHS also signed an agreement to augment protection measures on board airplanes. Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network signed a memorandum of understanding with Argentina’s Financial Information Unit to intensify cooperation against money laundering and terrorist financing.

“The United States will also assist Argentine efforts to reduce drug demand, train Argentine officials at the International Law Enforcement Academy, arrange study tours to the United States for Argentine officials, and provide training by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),” the White House wrote in a brief. “The FBI will also help Argentina’s Ministry of Security establish a nationwide network of Intelligence Fusion Centers to detect and disrupt terrorism and organized crime.”

In May, the U.S. Department of Defense will hold its first Bilateral Working Group with the Armed Forces of Argentina since 2009. The schedule includes peacekeeping efforts, disaster planning and response, and cooperation in defense of the Western Hemisphere, according to the White House.

Argentine Minister of Defense Julio Martínez stated that President Obama’s visit marks the beginning of a new era for the two countries. “It is our fondest wish that the U.S. president’s visit go as smoothly as possible, and that it be just the beginning of a new stage in the relationship between our countries,” Minister Martínez said on March 22nd, while overseeing the Air Force Defense System at the El Palomar Air Wing.

Speaking to civil society

After a press conference at the Casa Rosada, President Obama went to the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, where he paid his respects to General José de San Martín – considered the prime leader of the southern part of South America’s successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire – and also visited a mural honoring Holocaust victims. Later, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech about the “Let Girls Learn” program – a U.S. government initiative to provide young women with access to education – to young women at the Metropolitan Design Center in the district of Barracas.

President Obama spoke with young Argentine entrepreneurs at the Usina del Arte in the district of La Boca for over an hour, as he answered questions and elicited surprise from his audience with his frank and informal tone. He spoke about having read Argentine writers like Borges and Cortázar at school, saying that since then he had been curious to try mate.
“And I am proud to announce that I just tried mate
for the first time,” President Obama said.

That evening, the Obamas hosted a formal dinner at the Kirchner Cultural Center that was attended by approximately 400 guests, including business owners and politicians from the government and the opposition party. The U.S. president accepted an invitation from a famous dancer to dance to the famous tango “Por una Cabeza,” by Carlos Gardel (music) and Alfredo Le Pera (lyrics).

Declassified files

On the morning of March 24th, presidents Obama and Macri concluded the official visit by paying their respects to the victims of the last Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983). They marked the 40 years since the last coup d’état at the Parque de la Memoria (Remembrance Park), in Buenos Aires’s North Coastal region.

In a strategic gesture to Argentina, President Obama requested ahead of the visit to declassify sensitive military and intelligence records linked to the “dirty war.” President Obama announced that, at Argentina’s request, he would declassify more. “We all need and are entitled to know what the truth is,” President Macri said, according to AFP.

Both presidents finalized the ceremony by throwing flowers into the Río de la Plata (River Plate), an offering in remembrance of those who disappeared. “This is a tribute to their memory, but also homage to the bravery and perseverance of those whom we remember for refusing to abandon their efforts in the search for truth and justice,” President Obama said, prior to heading to Bariloche, where he rested with his family before flying back to Washington.