US-Argentina: A One-Year Hiatus

The latest tug-of-war in which the governments of Argentina and the U.S. participated with hold-out creditors as a backdrop did nothing other than confirm bilateral relations between the countries have entered into a severe hiatus, which has an expiration date of Dec. 10, 2015.

The final day of Cristina Kirchner’s term of office is considered the resumption date for relations between Buenos Aires and Washington by the Argentinian and American diplomatic corps. Further, if there is a debt payment agreement with hold-out creditors before this and erasing the tense moments which were experienced is attempted, it is clear that there will be no turning back, and that it must be hoped that the next Argentinian president reestablishes a common agenda between both countries.

“The U.S. no longer includes Argentina in its foreign policy plans. Cristina Kirchner’s administration also does not rely on Washington’s help. Regrettably, relations are at a standstill and in a long hiatus which will last for a year,” a noted Argentinian diplomat who represents the country in the United States confided to La Nación.

The Barack Obama administration yesterday defended Nancy Soderberg, the official who was named as head of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), and is the co-chair of American Task Force Argentina, a group which defends the vulture funds. A U.S. State Department spokesperson said, “Her responsibilities in the PIDB are not linked to any activity she might have as a private citizen in Argentina’s dispute with bondholders.”

Washington’s response to the tough letter Cristina Kirchner sent to Obama last Friday, which evaluated Soderberg’s appointment to the American administration as having “grave implications for relations between our two countries,” confirms that for the United States, Argentina has already ceased to be one of its priorities in Latin America, and from now on, it will not allow any criticism from the Argentine president of the Democratic administration to go by.

It may be debatable that the American government is getting into gray areas with Soderberg’s appointment to a Congressional advisory board knowing her role as a vulture fund lobbyist. But are there not innumerable cases of Argentinian officials who have tremendous conflicts of interest between their positions and the roles which they occupy in the private sector without blushing? For instance, Vice President Amado Boudou is being investigated by the courts for his dual role as Minister of Finance and lobbyist for the printing house Ciccone. And in this case, it does not pertain to a low-level official like Soderberg. It is clear that Boudou’s example does not justify the American official’s slippery position.

However, the dispute at the heart of the matter is different. The Soderberg affair crystallized the near complete rupture in relations between Washington and Buenos Aires.

The American embassy in Buenos Aires is limited these days to fulfilling tasks related to protocol, and maintaining an agenda limited to the cultural sphere and technical and consular matters. Cooperation between Argentina and the United States with respect to the War on Terror and drug trafficking is fenced in to the most minimal of expressions. Commerce has been diminished in recent months. Yesterday, the American Department of Commerce reported that the U.S. trade surplus with Argentina decreased from $542 million in August to $525 million in September. In the first nine months of this year, the credit balance with Argentina totaled $5.196 billion, compared with the surplus of $4.238 billion during the same period of 2013. And visits of medium or high-level officials between both countries have been reduced almost to zero.

Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman’s challenge to Kevin Sullivan, the charge d’affaires for the United States embassy, who said that his country would welcome that Argentina “exit default as soon as possible,” was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Cristina’s letter to Obama with the tough response regarding the Soderberg affair ends up confirming that there already was no camel or straws to break its back because there will be a hiatus with some shake-ups until Cristina Kirchner leaves power.

Relations between both countries today pass over other bridges which are not necessary: those of diplomacy and government policy.

Sharon Levin, the chief prosecutor of the anti-money laundering section of the New York U.S. Attorney’s Office (Asset Forfeiture Unit) was in Buenos Aires for 10 days to give some talks as a guest of the REAL (Red Argentino-Americana para el Liderazgo — Argentinian-American Leadership Network) and FININT (Fundación de Investigaciones de Inteligencia Financiera — Financial Intelligence Research Foundation) foundations. “I’ve met many attorneys, prosecutors and judges during my visit to Argentina who are very committed to the fight against money laundering. There are many people in Argentina who take this problem very seriously,” the anti-money laundering prosecutor told La Nación. She did not mention the government and there were other signs that cooperation and enthusiasm between both countries come from other spheres with an opposite spirit of that which the presidents are showing. “I’m not qualified to speak about the cooperation between the United States and Argentina in general, but what I can say is that in Argentina, I see great support and cooperation on the part of the attorneys, the judges, the prosecutors of Argentina in the fight against money laundering,” Levin concluded.

It is not the only case of narrow links between both countries. There is an interesting underground dialogue which is taking place between presidential candidates and majority and opposition legislators of Argentina with American politicians or businesspeople. There are also numerous NGOs that work jointly with their U.S. counterparts.

It is likely that the next Argentinian government will redefine its link with Washington. No one will demand carnal relations or links with pliers at the ready; simply construction of mature, serious relations for the long term.

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