December 23, 2014
On Latin American solidarity
For the Herald
The continent has failed to unite behind Argentina in its battle to avoid a default in the US courts
NEW YORK — As the Argentine government struggles to avoid defaulting on its debt, little effort has been made by Latin American countries to speak with a united voice in support of the country’s position. Though the continent’s countries have championed integration initiatives and regularly pay lip service to standing together in defence of each and all Latin American countries, few leaders have come out to offer political support to Argentina in the international arena or to lobby on behalf of the country to work out a solution to the debt impasse.
Part of the reason for the lack of solidarity with Argentina might be what is happening elsewhere on the continent.
Brazil is in the middle of a presidential campaign. President Dilma Rousseff is understandably more concerned with securing her own re-election than with spending her reduced international political capital to lend a hand to the Argentine government. Besides, the Argentine default problem revives old tensions between the two leading Mercosur countries.
Elsewhere in South America, other governments are either too preoccupied with their own problems or simply do not want to get involved in helping Argentina at this critical crossroads. In Colombia, recently re-elected President Juan Manuel Santos is fully immersed in negotiating for peace with the FARC guerillas. Though the second most populated South American country could use this opportunity to assert itself as a regional leader, Santos is determined to align Colombia with the Pacific Alliance and is thus more concerned with strengthening ties with Chile, Peru and Mexico.
Argentina’s ideological partners in the region — Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia — have spoken in favour of the government’s position. Yet, as they have marginalized themselves from the international arena for different reasons, their voices carry little weight beyond left-wing and anti-capitalists leaders in the world. President Nicolás Maduro is fighting for his own survival in Venezuela. Bolivian President Evo Morales has failed to transform his favourable international image as the country’s first indigenous president into an influential voice in the world. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has made a name for himself in the world arena, especially after offering political asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Yet, he is such a harsh critic of the current capitalist world order that his support for Argentina is both unsurprising and unlikely to strengthen their case. Other potential candidates that could have stood up for Argentina were simply not interested in doing it, like Mexico, or were not persuaded by the Argentine government to get involved, such as Chile.
Part of the blame for the lack of international solidarity lies with the Argentine government. In its effort to strengthen the Mercosur and the Bolivarian initiative, Buenos Aires has failed to deepen ties with Latin American countries not involved with those groups. Putting all your eggs into one basket is always a risky bet. Just as other Mercosur partners have championed their own initiatives — with Brazil embracing the BRICS and Brazilian-African integration, and Uruguay conducting bilateral cooperation with the United States — Argentina would not have undermined its own commitment to the Mercosur by building stronger relations with countries outside that framework.
Perhaps the one lesson that Argentina can learn from this ordeal is that it needs to strengthen relations with other Latin American countries, far beyond declarations of good intent, photo-opportunity summits or short-lived regional integration initiatives.
Another key reason for the lack of clout Argentina has in the international arena is the way that the country has managed bilateral relations with the US. Today, the five-hundred pound gorilla in the room during the negotiations to avoid default is the absentee role played by Washington. Unlike the recent economic crises in Portugal and Greece, which were dealt with using political tools, the default crisis in Argentina has not elicited a similar political response from leading nations in the world.
It is true that the Argentine and European default crises were triggered by different causes. The way the Argentine government dealt with the results of the 2001 default did not earn the Néstor Kirchner administration many allies in political and diplomatic circles in the United States. Even those who maintain that the Kirchner’s government dealt with the default in the best possible way for Argentina’s interests would agree that mending the country’s relationship with the US government in the subsequent years would have done more good than harm. Fixing relations with Washington was not an easy objective to accomplish, but it was worth trying. Besides, the US has historically embraced pragmatism in international relations.
As a result of past mistakes and omissions, Argentina is now fighting this battle alone in the US courts and in the international arena. Regardless of the good arguments in favour of and against Argentina, the fact of the matter is that this default situation has uncovered the absence of a unified voice among Latin American leaders.
Despite the many instances of regional integration and the proliferation of presidential summits in the region, this new Argentine default crisis has revealed the limits of coordination and cooperation that exists today among Latin America’s presidents.