Thursday
July 31, 2014

INTERVIEW WITH OUTGOING US AMBASSADOR

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Martínez sceptical about Iran solution

US envoy Vilma Socorro Martínez ends her four-year mission tomorrow.

US envoy speaks to the Herald about AMIA, Media law and bilateral relations

by Michael Soltys and Sebastián Lacunza

Herald staff

You are far from being the first ambassador here of Latino stock (previous names even include a Raúl Castro!) but you are the first woman envoy here and long after Washington first started having female secretaries of state fairly regularly (most of your mission overlapped with the most recent.) What factor would you say gender played in your mission, especially with a female president here the whole time?

It is a great time to be a woman. Under the leadership of Secretary Hillary Clinton, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other Latin American female heads of state, we’ve seen a new emphasis placed on the promotion and advancement of the rights of women and girls. More and more people are coming to understand that the world’s most pressing economic, social and political problems simply cannot be solved without the full participation of women. Yet when you think about women worldwide who don’t have opportunities to join the formal economy and girls who don’t have access to education, it’s clear that there is much more to be done.

Here in Argentina, we have invested in training and mentoring programmes for women leaders, and provided scholarships and exchange opportunities for some of the nation’s best and brightest girls. It’s been a true pleasure to work with these women and girls, especially as we start to see our efforts paying off. Three alumnae of our 2008 Global Women’s Mentoring Programme went on to found Voces Vitales Argentina. Within just a few years, the organization has positioned itself as one of the country’s leading women’s organizations and remains an important partner for the Embassy. Their successes highlight a growing and vibrant community working hard to increase opportunities for Argentina’s women and girls and we are proud to be a part of it.

From our newsroom standpoint, US-Argentine relations seem not so much good or bad as unpredictable. For example, when WikiLeaks broke, you might have logically expected a storm here but they could hardly have been milder or more reasonable; then a few months later when all you were doing was a routine shipment of police training equipment as one of many US aid programmes, you had the biggest crisis of your mission. Did you find yourself surprised too by the ups and downs?

“Ups and downs” are a part of our shared history and a part of any mature relationship. We cannot forget these shifts, but we can look at our past to understand and shape our relationship going forward.

Some observers said that the shipment seizure made no sense other than as a proof of good faith to Iran. What comment would you make on Argentina’s agreement with Iran this year?

We continue to stress that the Iranian government has a responsibility to cooperate fully with Argentine authorities in seeing that the perpetrators (of the 1994 AMIA terrorist attack) are brought to justice. We have also said that we are sceptical that a just solution can be found in the arrangement announced, given Iran’s profoundly deficient record of co-operation with international authorities. Iran’s involvement in the Western Hemisphere is a matter for concern and the Administration continues to monitor it.

It could also be said that US-Argentine relations are not so much good or bad as non-existent if the name “Argentina” hardly ever crosses President Obama’s lips. Would you agree that Argentina has lost visibility in Washington compared with other Latin American countries and how would you explain it?

There is a huge level of positive engagement between our countries. We’re working together at the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to promote bilateral, regional, global and multilateral interests on strategic issues including nuclear non-proliferation, human rights, social inclusion and UN peacekeeping operations. In my tenure alone, we’ve welcomed to Argentina representatives from all three branches of the US government, including former Secretary Clinton, former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, five Supreme Court justices, and multiple Congressional delegations from both sides of the aisle. Former Vice-President Al Gore was here just last year working with us on climate and energy issues. Our countries launched a satellite together and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden visited to personally brief President Fernández de Kirchner on the initial scientific findings. These visitors are witness to and supporters of our joint engagement on strategic issues. Particularly in the areas of science and technology and education, not to mention trade and investment, our relationship continues to grow.

Surveillance issues in the US have raised basic questions about freedom and democracy. Would you like to comment on this and perhaps also where you see democracy and freedom heading here in Argentina?

The highest priority of our intelligence community is to work within the constraints of law to collect, analyze and understand information related to potential threats to our national security. There is a robust legal regime in place governing all activities conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which ensures that those activities comply with the Constitution and laws and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.

The programme in the news now, as a result of leaked documents, is conducted under authority granted by Congress and is authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). By statute, the Court is empowered to determine the legality of the programme. There are strict restrictions on the handling of all information that is acquired under this order, and is overseen by the Department of Justice and the FISA Court. As President Obama has said, we welcome a debate on the issue of striking the right balance between security and privacy concerns, and that debate is healthy for our democracy.

When it comes to questions of freedom and democracy, I think it is important for us to remember that we’re talking about much more than just elections and majority rule. In a well-functioning democracy, one must consider and value minority rights, shared decision-making, protection of individual rights, the rule of law and an independent judiciary. Democracy is always a work in progress which requires that we strive to uphold these values.

There are many opinions of your mission but perhaps the most important is your own as the protagonist. This is your chance to sum up your mission in your own words, what were the highlights, in which areas did you think you made the most progress and what are the main aspects still pending for your successor?

I came to Argentina almost four years ago to promote President Obama’s vision of a new kind of engagement with the world — a foreign policy focused on growing together and sharing responsibility. As I look at the totality of US-Argentine relations, I am struck by the breadth and depth of this engagement.

In the agricultural sector, collaboration between US and Argentine government and private industry is improving food security by addressing global trade barriers and obstacles to the introduction of new technologies. Looking at trade and investment, the US is currently Argentina’s fourth-largest customer, its third-largest supplier, and its largest investor, with over US$15 billion in direct investment. The 500 US companies operating here are generating more than 170,000 jobs.

From our jointly launched satellite to signing the Framework Agreement on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, our cooperation in science and technology is yielding real results. Meanwhile, working with the Government of Argentina and several provincial and city governments, we have quadrupled scholarships and funding for Argentine students to study in the US and raised more than US$2.5 million to support educational exchanges. Of course, this is all in addition to our continued engagement on global strategic issues at the United Nations and Organization of American States.

Over these past four years, we have worked to forge a mature relationship between our countries. We have tried to keep focus on longer-term interests and larger goals, rather than the good or bad news of the moment. I’ve sought to put into action President Obama’s vision of working with our partners to seize the opportunities and address the challenges we face together. The United States and Argentina have much in common and many opportunities to continue working together in the future.

The Kirchner government media legislation has drawn attention abroad, including in the US, either for attempting to do more or less what was done in the US to bring the Rupert Murdochs under control or, on the contrary, for offending press freedoms. What is your opinion?

A free and democratic media environment requires laws that guarantee not only freedom of expression but also an independent, diverse and pluralistic media, free from government and political interference. In the US, freedom of the press is a fundamental freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. There are both federal and state regulations governing both telecommunications and print media. These regulations have been shaped by practice and experience. They are frequently and openly discussed, analyzed and amended in response to an evolving media environment. Of course, when comparing laws between one country and another, it is important to consider the distinct regulatory, judicial, and commercial environments of each place. But regardless of these elements, we must remember that an environment for dialogue where all people, including the media, can speak freely and openly without fear of reprisal is essential to a well-functioning democracy.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I leave with the knowledge that our mission is in the very capable hands of our Embassy team, led by Deputy Chief of Mission Kevin Sullivan, who will serve as Chargé d’Affaires until the designation and confirmation of a new Ambassador.

I am honoured to have served here on behalf of President Obama, who recognizes that our shared global destiny means shared decision-making and shared responsibility. I want to thank the Argentine people for their warm friendship and the opportunity to work together.

@sebalacunza

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