#ForeignAffairsMonday, August 18, 2014
For The Herald
Some experts say that “all politics are domestic,” including those involving foreign affairs. So — at first glance — the “intermesticity” of our foreign affairs should not cause concern. However, this begs the question about how much impact of domestic politics on foreign policy is acceptable and normal, even if it is a bit of nuisance. Like the noise coming from our neighbours’ flat, beyond a certain level, the intermestic mixture ceases to be “a bit of nuisance” and turns into a big problem. And it may be worth considering if we are not already reaching that limit.
The Donnelley printing company flare-up might well be the signal that intermesticity has gone beyond acceptable limits. Regardless of the company’s sins — which vary, or even exist, depending on the eyes of the beholder — the fact is that they do not seem to be worse than those of other companies in other industries. However, Donnelley attracted the wrath of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who devoted a significant portion of a national broadcast to explain in detail her views about the conduct of the company, its possible associations, and the announcement that the government will try to throw the anti-terrorist law at Donnelley. To be more precise, a criminal prosecution which would be against some of its executives. And — in line with the speech — we then had a modest dose of anti-US demonstrations. Suddenly, the printing company was made to sit in the same dock as the holdouts/vultures.
The problem is that, in the current context, when lay-offs — temporary or permanent — are part of the daily agenda, singling out a company for presidential public chiding and anti-terrorist prosecution instead of normal bankruptcy law treatment, seems a bit over the top. But if — in addition — the company is from the US, then you are on your way toward a new level of politicization of the issue. And this might not be such a good tactic. Or — to put it bluntly — it might be a mistake in terms of choice of enemy. And what — to a certain extent — worked in the case of the holdouts/vultures might not function in this case.
The problem is that — in terms of politicians, media and public views abroad — the two cases seem to differ substantially. It is relatively easy to barrage the holdouts. There is sufficient testimony from highly respected non-Argentine observers so as to support the case against them. Moreover, due to the damage that they can inflict on Argentina, the priority in the attention of the president is more than justified.
But a printing company with a payroll of approximately 400 is — in comparison — small fry. Not to mention the fact that its trade is much more palatable than that of the holdouts/vultures. And that, whatever sins they have committed seem to be within the realm of normal bankruptcy laws, including the provisions for criminal prosecution in case a fraud attempt is detected.
It has been argued that Cristina’s attitude was aimed at sending a signal to unfriendly, or unhelpful, or even hostile, Argentine business sectors. This might be the case and it might even be justified. Local politics are highly acrimonious with the country divided in two apparently irreconcilable sectors. And neither of them are using kids’ gloves. So right now, we have a land with no saints, and should not expect constructive attitudes from any of the players. However, it is desirable over none of the players trying to use the intermestic factor to up the ante beyond the borders and against the national, general and non partisan, interest.
Whatever the short term poetical gains, attacking a US company might, in this context, backfire. And the same players that support Argentina’s case against the vultures might raise their eyebrows in this new case. Moreover, many sensitive US skins might start to look — once again — into the resilient, whether justified or not, anti-US feelings attributed to Argentines. This could backfire at a time when reserves are thin. Important as the currency swap agreement with China can be in terms of short term needs, or even of geopolitics, its size is far from enough to offer a long term reserve solution. And the BRICS’ development fund which might at some stage offer Argentina financial facilities, is still a project. In short, perhaps we do not want to send the Yankees home so quickly. We might still need them.