Why has U.S. President Barack Obama decided to visit Argentina? There are two basic reasons: to insist on Washington’s view that the neo-liberal marketing approach is the ONLY option for those countries that want to snuggle up to Uncle Sam and to work towards the construction of an economic-political fence strong enough to keep China on the other side.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s enthusiasm for market politics—verified in his naming of CEOs of multinational corporations to key ministries—has given Obama the excuse he needed to announce a “new era” in U.S. relationships with Latin-America. However, many Argentines and Latin-Americans still find it hard to forget the history of invasions and support for brutal rightwing military regimes during the 1970’s.
During the 1970’s, in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, repressive anti-communist military dictatorships sprang up throughout the continent with the clear backing of Washington and particularly the Pentagon. Numerous military officers were trained in anti-subversive tactics at the School of the Americas. These tactics, also promoted by the CIA and other organizations, “inherited” policies used in Vietnam and by the French in Algeria and included psychological warfare. These tactics were “reinterpreted” by dictatorships which represented the elite that in country after country opposed populist or leftist attempts to bring about social change.
The Latin-American dictatorships almost in unison attempted to impose one or another form of neo-liberal economic medicine, in line with Washington. In the “new era” military coups are out of the question. However, the rightwing, the mass media and the corporate owned mass media have begun to exert strong pressure on populist governments in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela, charging reformist governments with corruption and other unverified abuses. In this context Argentina is a great “success story.”
This is what Obama has come to applaud, the rise of the “new” rightwing and its love affair with neo-liberalism, which presents a good opportunity for U.S. banks and corporations; likewise the rise of the rightwing is seen as a shield against growing Chinese involvement with populist governments in the area.
Although the U.S. president plans to express his concern for human rights by visiting one of the most abominable centers for torture under the dictatorship of 1976-83, many view his intentions with a let’s wait and see attitude. It is pointed out that human rights abuse was tolerated or overlooked in the 1970´s due to the expediency of the U.S. global struggle against the Soviets, likewise embargos such as that against Cuba are considered gross violations of human rights, as are invasions and bombings with drones. In today’s violent world the view of the U.S. as an “exception” is strongly questioned.
There are of course strong sectors of the middle and upper classes that hail Obama and Macri´s snuggling up to Washington as a great event and an opportunity to warm up the traditionally distant relationships between Buenos Aires and Washington. These sectors, traditionally anti-Peronist and anti-populist, no doubt view the warm up as an opportunity to travel and to import the latest technological gadgetry, while grain and cattle oligarchs see good business in the making.
The question remains: will Washington’s formula of “democracy and neo-liberalism” be the success story its advocates claim it will be, or will it fail and bring about another struggle between reformists and conservatives? Latin-America is one of the most socially unequal areas of the world and an economic policy based on the drip down theory is not likely to change that. In fact, countries in the area that have adopted neo-liberal policies have actually seen an alarming increase in social inequality.