An editorial that might help a lot to explain the question posed in this thread...
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(by Mariano Grondona, La Nacion)
It was an intense weekend in the Americas. Lula (Brazil) and Bush (United States) reestablished, in Sao Paulo, around the formidable endeavor for bioenergy, a preferencial friendship, an axis that had already joined the English-speaking giant and the Portuguese-speaking giant at other times in history. Chavez, meanwhile, confirmed in Buenos Aires his pretentions to lead the anti-Northamerican movement.
Chavez always seeks shock value. And he generally succeeds. This time, by inviting the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, to the rally in Ferro Stadium, even as he could not succeed in bringing Morales in from Japan on time, the Venezuelan caudillo gave the signal he wanted to give: that in Argentina he feels so at ease that he can afford the luxury to invite other foreign leaders as if he, and not Kirchner, was the one calling the shots.
The United States-Brazil axis as well as the Venezuelan leadership banner in the region, which manifested themselves more strongly than ever this past weekend, can be praised or criticized, but one must recognize that, for now, they exist. Right or not, the United States, and Brazil, and Venezuela now have a "Latin-american" policy.
Each with their style and their objectives, this weekend the presidents of the Americas accelerated a timetable common to all of them: the time to finally define what will come next. As Bush travelled the region, presidents like Lula (Brazil), Tabare Vazquez (Uruguay), Uribe (Colombia), and Felipe Calderon (Mexico), decided to look in the direction of the last remaining superpower, which will continue to be there two years from now, when Bush leaves office.
Bush, who had no Latin American policy objectives to speak of in six years in office, now is trying to shape one so that his successor may perhaps carry it through. Lula, who for a time took a step back from the United States, now finds in that country it's great partner in bioenergy. And after big uncertainties with multiple elections across the region, now presidents like Mexico's Calderon, Alan Garcia in Peru, and Uruguay's Vazquez have opted for the US sphere. Others, such as Morales in Bolivia and Ecuador's new president Correa have gone in the opposing direction.
It now can be said that there is finally a great alignment in the hemisphere. Every country tends to their own goals within it. But one exception confirms this rule. Where does Argentina lie today? With the United States and against Venezuela? With Venezuela and against the United States? For now, Argentina has decided to fall under the category of 'dribbler'. Which as you will read below, is really no choice at all, for more than one reason.
It was the beginning of the 1960s, with Frondizi in Buenos Aires and Kennedy in Washington. Frondizi was to mediate between Kennedy and Castro. On that occassion I had the chance to chat with historian Arthur Schlesinger, at the time an adviser to the US president. I tried to explain to him that his government should not be surprised at Argentina's mediation because it was a last effort, friendly effort, to diffuse the situation (the Cuban Missile Crisis).
Schelsinger returned a pithy but punchy response: "Contrary to what you might suppose, Argentina does not surprise us. She has always been surprising. Unpredictable. It is also now with the current Cuban Crisis. With Brazil and Mexico with have big differences, but we also know that, when the kitchen is burning, Brazil and Mexico are there. We can count on them. Argentina has confirmed to the people of my country time and time, and time again, that when the kitchen is burning, she isn't", he said. And added "The good news about that is that neither is she with the "other" side, whoever that is."
Then, in an extremely awkard mental exercise, we scrolled through all the times in which, apparently, Argentina "was not there" (from the perspective of the United States):
- She "was not there" in 1862 when The Argentine Republic was perhaps the only nation in the hemisphere that could economically help the then warring "Union" in it's fight against a confederation of rebel US states in their Civil War.
- She "was not there" in 1889, when after decades of warfare and civil wars across the hemisphere, 24 nations led by the United States were ready to sign what would have been an incredibly historic agreement, the Pan-American Union. It would have created virtual free economic trade and a forum of cooperation. Only one country vetoed it's creation: The Argentine Republic.
- She "was not there" in the great World Wars by declaring itself neutral, and by sheltering during the first presidency of Peron Nazis that were fleeing Europe.
- She "was not there" during the cold war when Peron famously declared "neither Yankees or Marxists, Peronists".
- She "was not there" when economy minister Martinez de Hoz, in times of the Videla Junta, refused to boicot exports of wheat to Russia, as the US government was asking.
- She "was not there", and this one needs no explanation, by waging war against non other than the United Kingdom, and by extension NATO, to resolve the sovereignty question of the Falkland Islands.
Argentina... Never there?
The only time Argentina was perhaps with the United States unconditionally was during the Gulf War of 1991 against Saddam Hussein. It was then when Foreign chancellor Di Tella pronounced the now famous phrase "With the United States we share 'carnal' relations".
Was it going overboard? At the time the use of such phrase by Di Tella was taken as a gesture, to change the from the root up Washington's image of Buenos Aires, that image that Schlesinger had described.
And it was going overboard, because neither Mexico nor Brazil ever had "carnal" relations with the United States. Imagining Argentina as a totally pro-US country would contradict an old tradition: that conservatives, peronists, and leftists in this nation never had any "love" for the United States. Brazil always vied to compete with the United States on the basis of their geographic and population size, but Brazil also sent thousands of troops to fight in Italy during the toughest days of WWII, "when the kitchen was burning". Mexico never forgot that the United States took away over one million square kilometers in a blatantly expansionist conflict in the XIX century, but also helped the United States in the Phillipines during WWII, and joined NAFTA 15 years ago.
What has distinguised all nations in Latin America at most times is that they, while not loving the United States, look at things with realism and converge in areas that serve their own purposes. And yes, even the United States, at times, has bent over back to reach points in common with many countries in the region, Mexico for example, if it serves the interests of Washington.
Argentina, meanwhile, continues it's tradition of "Non Quid Quo", neither caring too much for reaching agreements with the people of the United States, nor with the people of Latin America. Just last year, Argentina said it could "not support" (as opposed to "oppose") , the South American Union, for the time being. All this without coldly measuring the concept a national historic figure like Alberdi was called "the intelligence of our interests".
Today, president Kirchner seems to follow this "dribble" game with Venezuela, and the United States, and Brazil and the rest of the region. In some of Chavez's tantrums, Kirchner joins. But when the US-taunting by Chavez becomes too unconfortable, like in terms of Chavez's relations with Iran and in his dealings with the Jewish community, Kirchner, discretely, retreats. The ultimate question therefore is, Kirchner's "dribble" game, does it correspond with "the intelligence of our interests"?
Some may say yes, because from Chavez Argentina is getting some juicy, even at times overly beneficial one way (to Argentina), economic arrangements, which the United States does not offer. Macchiavelli once pondered if neutrality is convenient to nations, specially those that are not "superpowers": He said no, because those who are neutral, to avoid the punishment of the losers, completely miss out on reaping the benefits of the victorious. Argentina could have been "the big three" in the US-Brazil bioenergy agreement. But due to Kirchners tempations to anti-US rhetoric, was not.
Argentina was never pro-US, nor was she ever much involved in Latin America because it considered herself European. But it was an Argentina that for six decades lost economic clout and retreated in positions, to Brazil and the rest of the world, a trend that perhaps only now has finally been broken. Nontheless, can she afford to continue to "dribble" between two sides of the road, only to gather dirt once more because she refuses to stay in one side, or the other?
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