May 22, 2013
No freedom for Libertad II
Neither Defence Minister Arturo Puricelli’s assumption of responsibility for choosing Ghana as a port of call for naval training frigate Libertad nor Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman’s list of nearly 30 frustrated (and hitherto undisclosed) creditor attempts to impound state assets change any of the fundamentals of the debt situation causing the vessel’s plight. Any “the buck stops here” assertion deserves praise in a political culture riddled with shrugging responsibility but the personal merit of the gesture is not accompanied by any real political sacrifice for the administration as a whole — with far more past than future in politics, the Santa Cruz ex-governor was never seen by the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration as much more than somebody to fill the seat vacated by Nilda Garré’s move to the new Security Ministry and there is no real reason to discontinue that formal role (hands-on ministers are the exception rather than rule in the CFK Cabinet). Timerman’s list of narrow escapes from predatory creditors only underlines how isolated and vulnerable Argentina’s unresolved debt situation has left this country in the last decade.
Beyond these ministerial statements, there have been some basic errors in Argentina’s handling of the Libertad’s plight — and not just CFK’s oft-criticized bravado that creditors could keep the frigate as long as Argentina retains its far more abstract liberty, sovereignty and dignity. The focus on domestic political responsibilities necessitating Puricelli’s statement has led the CFK administration to lose sight of that fact that the Libertad crisis is essentially an international relations problem — as well as yielding to the temptation for regional grandstanding when some support from Ghana’s African neighbours (and — dare we say it — from Argentina’s future United Nations Security Council colleagues) would be more useful. Nor has it been very diplomatic to treat Ghana largely as a naive or even corrupt puppet of evil “vulture funds” — it would perhaps be truer to say that after belonging to the minor leagues of rogue states for most of its independent history and after finding a conscientious attempt to heed democratic and market economy rules over the last two decades to be rewarded (13.6 percent growth last year and more foreign direct investment than Argentina), Ghana feels obliged to defend the financial rules of the game against an irresponsible debtor.
The lack of support against what seems such a gross violation of international law as the Libertad’s seizure only underlines how dangerously isolated Argentina has become.