On March 23 President Obama will travel to Argentina, the first president to do so in 20 years. Obama will meet with recently elected President Mauricio Macri “to discuss President Macri’s reform agenda and recognize his contributions to the defense of human rights in the region”. The Whitehouse hopes to encourage partnership between the US and Argentina on issues including trade, energy and security. Coupled with Obama’s historic trip to Cuba, the visit to Argentina is framed by the administration as a good will visit, to bolster a beleaguered relationship between the US and the third largest country in the South America
The timing of Obama’s trip is perhaps the most flagrant detail. March 24, the second and final day of the visit marks the 40th anniversary of the Argentine coup d'état, a military coup facilitated by the CIA and US government, which led to the torture, murder and disappearance of between 9,000 and 30,000 Argentines. The coup was an event of the larger “Dirty War” which ran from 1974 until 1983, with tacit US involvement throughout.
The coup was designed to overthrow Isabel Peron, the wife and Vice President to the democratically elected Juan Peron. In her place, a military dictatorship was installed, with leaders sympathetic to US interests.
While Mauricio Macri, a member of the center-right Commitment to Change party, was elected democratically (the dictatorship fell in 1983), the US likely views him as advantageous to our interests once again. Trade and energy seem like boilerplate topics for two world leaders but take on a dubious glow since Macri just last week lifted all taxes on mining in Argentina. Macri also, during is first week in office, moved to devalue the Argentine peso, made the exchange rate on it floating and did away currency controls. This pro-investment move instantly made the US Dollar 30% more valuable against the Argentine peso.
While Obama works to bolster America’s reputation as a leader against climate change, Argentina, like much of Latin America in the 20th century, may once again act as our behind the scenes sausage plant, accepting the ridicule for their ways in exchange from our pious US currency.
Macri may have been preparing for such ridicule in his first weeks in office by hobbling the media law which prevents media outlet monopolization by decree. By absorbing two regulatory agencies into one, the future of democratic media in Argentina is under legitimate threat and the ability to criticize Macri and his political agenda is greatly undermined.
By controlling media, incentivizing mineral and fossil fuel extraction and trade, slashing taxes, laying off 10,000 public sector workers and ruling by decrees in a government similar to ours, Macri aligns more similarly with Ted Cruz than Obama.
Yet, it is his reform agenda and human rights contributions specifically that draw Obama south. Human rights group, Mothers of Plaza De Mayo, which was formed to locate the “disappeared” during the dictatorship, denounced Obama’s visit for its rude or rather tin-eared timing.