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OP-ED | 21-01-2022 22:03

Into More Friction

The government keeps looking for back doors to an agreement with the IMF, while the veep constantly writes oblique letters conditioning the president – why cannot the government stick to negotiating directly with the IMF while the president and vice-president simply speak to each other?

It would seem that his transfer from heading the Cabinet to the Foreign Ministry has not saved Santiago Cafiero from remaining a pet target of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, given the way his moment of stardom meeting up with his Washington counterpart Antony Blinken last Tuesday was blighted by a fiery vice-presidential missive less than an hour later, thus complicating Argentina’s already laboured efforts to reach agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) yet further.

That social network outburst was more remarkable for its timing than for its contents. Nothing at all new about Fernández de Kirchner accusing the IMF of lending money to the Mauricio Macri presidency to “save his government and help him win the elections” when presenting her case for the “Macri pandemic” costing the country even more than the coronavirus pandemic (an analysis based purely on last year’s data with none from 2020 and curiously omitting any mention of almost 120,000 deaths). The impact of this umpteenth repetition comes purely from its timing on top of the meeting in Washington, which nevertheless was hailed by the government as a significant advance towards an agreement. 

The vice-presidential torpedo fired from the social networks, aimed firmly at her successor in office, does nothing to help the consensus across the political spectrum demanded by the IMF, which Fernández de Kirchner herself proceeded to flag as lacking within government ranks. That internal front was undermined along with the external by the visit to see jailed Jujuy indigenous social activist Milagro Sala by ministers Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro (Interior) of La Cámpora allegiance and Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta (Women, Gender and Diversity), Sala’s lawyer, in a curiously timed gesture of solidarity with a “victim of legal persecution” – a slap in the face for Jujuy Province Governor Gerardo Morales, simultaneously the main factor behind Sala’s imprisonment but also the leading opposition advocate of dialogue with the government.

Quite apart from these vice-presidential manoeuvres, the government was probably overrating the significance of Cafiero’s meeting with Blinken – a secretary of state with very much other things on his mind, jumping onto a flight to Kiev immediately afterwards to deliver explicit United States support to the Ukrainian government against any Russian attack. Given that context, Tuesday’s meeting was already clouded by the upcoming travel agenda of President Alberto Fernández without any vice-presidential mischief in between since he plans to be lunching in the Kremlin with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on February 3 ahead of attending the opening of the Winter Olympics in China (Washington’s superpower rival), a visit which both Fernández de Kirchner and Argentine Ambassador to Beijing Sabino Vaca Narvaja hope will be crowned by Argentina joining the New Silk Road (aka the Belt and Road Initiative) and embracing China’s 5G technology.

So what was the upshot of Cafiero’s meeting? Blinken congratulated Argentina on heading the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva – but not on heading the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in its Spanish acronym), which excludes Washington and Ottawa. The US official also professed his firm support for “a vibrant Argentine economy,” without clarifying whether he already saw this as a reality or whether this was just a hope – his use of the future rather than present tense in saying “that will strengthen bilateral relations and Argentina’s leadership in the region” could argue against the former. The main common ground between the two officials was to agree on making Iranians suspected of terrorism personae non gratae in the region within the framework of the Organisation of American States (OAS) – an initiative spurred by the presence of Iranian vice-president Mohsen Rezaee (suspected of masterminding the 1994 terrorist bomb destruction of the AMIA Jewish community centre) at the inauguration of Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega. But even the most cordial of meetings last Tuesday would have gained little ground with the IMF, which refers to Janet Yellen’s Treasury to seek US approval, not Blinken’s State Department.

This editorial will conclude with an appeal to the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle. The Alberto Fernández government keeps looking for back doors to an agreement with the IMF, whether via Washington or Europe or a Sino-Russian Plan B, while the veep constantly writes oblique letters conditioning the president – why cannot the government stick to negotiating directly with the IMF while the president and vice-president simply speak to each other?

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