May 19, 2013
Bob Cox put it well in his Sunday column for the Herald: Argentina is once again trying to place itself in the wrong side of history. And it is doing so in plain sight: the obscured negotiations between Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman (commanded by the President or yet another free display of desperate volunteerism by this former political refugee who lived in Israel and former ambassador to the US, allegedly nominated to the post due to unbeatable family connections in Jewish-American circles?) and the Iran regime have placed our country on the uncertain and slippery threshold of a geo-political stage that is simply too big for us.
The foreign minister also looks ridiculously small in his suit when one considers that, according to statements released by Tehran, Timerman has been involved in conversations with the Ayatollah’s negotiators since January 2011. While Timerman believes that certain points may have been agreed on, his Persian counterparts deny that they have — meaning that something or a lot may have slipped out of the hands of our foreign minister during the conversations. Or their translations.
This dangerous slide towards the jaws of a country that protects, nurtures and leads radical Islamic terrorism groups at a global level is not merely the X chromosome in a DNA with an unbeatable success track-record. Since the end of 2010, coinciding with Timerman’s arrival on the 13th floor of the Foreign Ministry and Néstor Kirchner’s departure from the scene, Argentina’s foreign policy has travelled in a dubious meander between anti- diplomacy, cold-blooded anger and non-definition. Perhaps some concrete examples might allow this concept to be fleshed out.
Argentina has currently sabotaged almost all of its frontiers. The arrival of Pepe Mujica in 2010 to the presidency of Uruguay promised the return of blocked bridges (and not in the symbolic sense) from the conflict over the pulp mills on the River Uruguay, initiated by former president Néstor Kirchner with Tabaré Vásquez’s government. False promises: Timerman was responsible for setting the conflict ablaze again in 2012, when in order to deny allegations of bribes allegedly put on the negotiation table by (allegedly, again) top officials of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry to continue with the dredging of the Martín García channel, he accused no less than the right-hand man of President Mujica and the core of Uruguayan Foreign Relations.
That’s not all: there are the dollar clamps and the impact that this has on tourism for the neighbours on the other side of the river. Add to the list the inauguration of a bi-national railway line that never got anywhere. Or the obstacles that have prevented the construction of an underwater gas pipeline.
Our diplomatic road with Chile is made of thin ice. Despite the cordial personal relationship between the Piñera matrimony and the President (it goes back to the negotiation over LAN’s air routes, controlled at that time by then-businessman Sebastián Piñera), and the fact that, among the South American countries, Chile has been the most unconditional supporter of Argentina’s sovereignty dispute, the Malvinas issue, the Foreign Ministry has only had its left eye open and kept its right covered in dealings with its Chilean counterpart, governed by a conservative coalition.
For this reason, ideology has tended to provide a screen in bilateral relations, as occurred with the rejection of an extradition request for Sergio Apablaza, a Chilean guerrilla accused of murdering senator Jaime Guzmán. Or the deathly silence over the definitive demarcation of Hielos Continentales, the last of the borders treaty signed during the presidencies of Carlos Menem and Eduardo Frei, and bluntly rejected by the Kirchners from their base in Patagonian Santa Cruz.
Or, in more practical and timely issues, the delay in renegotiating a double taxation treaty. The consequences are not difficult to guess: some businessmen that have been investing heavily here since the 1990s, like Horst Paulmann (Cencosud), do not want to continue blindly and are moving half of their offices — and their gaze — to São Paulo, Brazil.
With Paraguay, Argentina imposed a forced break in relations in 2012. After the resignation of President Lugo and the assumption of his veep, Federico Franco, we pushed for the expulsion of Paraguay from Unasur and Mercosur. Let us hope that whoever is elected in the presidential elections in April is seen as “friendly” to this Administration, to not only ensure the resumption of diplomatic relations but also to respect the “principle of non-intervention,” presented so often by the Foreign Ministry in order to justify its “non positive” vote at the UN Security Council (Argentina is a non-permanent member until 2014, and in January did not vote for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government being tried by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity).
A less thorny path links Argentina and Bolivia: perhaps the nationalizing spirit (and spree) in Evo Morales’ government, which on Monday nationalized the airports in an expropriating drive that began with hydrocarbons in 2006, contributes here. Bolivia also leads us towards the Iranian issue: La Paz has already received Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on three visits, and once, albeit briefly, Bolivia opened its arms (2011) to Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi, on Interpol’s red list for the AMIA case.
Relations with Brazil have suffered well-publicized trade misunderstandings, cooled down either by Guillermo Moreno’s inspiration of the moment or by Débora Giorgi’s saleswoman’s smile. It might be because of a certain affinity or due to convenience, but Argentina’s foreign relations have been lately navigating in the wake left by Itamaraty, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry. A real pity: steering our gaze towards Africa (as Brasilia does) has left us with our back to the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico), the most promising trade club in the region.
However, the main characteristic of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry affairs has been a haughty and angry tone, which is a quite an exotic variable to be recorded in the annals of diplomacy. An example of this is Timerman’s mistreatment of the British Foreign Secretary William Hague or the Israeli government in recent weeks. Or the coarse language used by the Foreign Minister during press interviews or in response to questions. Perhaps we should explain to the world that although he represents us, not all Argentines speak from the same dirty dictionary read by Timerman.
But what is perhaps most concerning about this style of management of the Foreign Ministry are the reactions in foreign delegations. Some diplomats, concerned by the unpredictability and frequently “out of order statements” made by the Argentine Foreign Ministry, have confessed to this newspaper that they have requested an urgent transfer. “In Argentina, you put your career on the line, what has been agreed is not respected and everything ends up being denied,” sadly quipped a diplomat to the Herald. This diplomat, of course, has his bags already packed.