Barack Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit Argentina in more than a decade as his counterpart Mauricio Macri seeks a rapprochement with the international community following a decade of financial and diplomatic isolation. Obama, arriving from an historic state visit to Cuba, will meet with Macri and is scheduled to attend a business forum in Buenos Aires before visiting the southern city of Bariloche.
He’s likely to get a warmer reception than his predecessor George W. Bush, who during a Summit of the Americas held in Mar del Plata in 2005 was snubbed by former President Nestor Kirchner and faced the scorn of then Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and 30,000 protesters rejecting his push for a regional free trade accord. Macri, whose victory in elections in November ended 12 years of government by the Kirchner and his wife Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is seeking to rebuild Argentina’s reputation abroad, said Cabinet Chief Marcos Pena.
“Our first objective is to build confidence and clearly we see it as a vote of confidence that the president is coming,” Pena said in an interview in the presidential palace. The government must convince investors that this time is “going to be different from the past.”
Argentina, which defaulted in 2014 after refusing to obey a New York court ruling ordering it to pay holdouts from a 2001 default in full, was described by the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2013 as “a uniquely recalcitrant debtor” and has often been accused of moving the goalposts for investors.
Macri, who has removed foreign currency controls and export tariffs on most agricultural products and is close to sealing a deal with holdout creditors, has said he expects Argentina’s change of direction to attract $20 billion in foreign investment this year.
Obama will view Macri as an ally following a decade in which the U.S. has been frozen out of some portions of the region by the rise in anti-capitalist sentiment in countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.
Relations with Argentina got so bad that at one point Fernandez even dropped hints there were plans to assassinate her, saying that “if something happens to me, don’t look east, look north.” “For the Argentine government this is a visit that is transcendental to show a more Western profile,” Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, a professor in international relations at Torcuato Di Tella university in Buenos Aires, said by phone. “It’s also transcendental for the U.S. because this is the first government in the region to triumph against what some have nicknamed the pink tide.”
Anti-U.S. sentiment in Argentina is still strong amid perception of complicity with the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983. That’s been exacerbated by the timing of Obama’s trip which falls on the 40th anniversary of the military coup. In a bid to assuage the situation, Obama’s administration, at the request of the Argentine government, said it will declassify military and intelligence records on the coup.