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Obama Declares a New Partnership After Talks With Argentine Leader
President Obama on Wednesday declared a fresh era of partnership between the United States and Argentina, saying he stood ready to support Mauricio Macri, the country's new president, in his bid to improve the nation's economy and credibility on the world stage.
Mr. Obama, the first American president to hold high-level talks with an Argentine leader in 20 years, used his visit to try to jump-start collaboration on defense and security issues, as well as energy and climate change.
The talks were part of Mr. Obama's push to show that his efforts to improve the United States' standing in the region — including a diplomatic détente with Cuba, on display during his trip there this week — have succeeded after a period in which a leftist tide in Latin America cast the United States as a villain in the hemisphere.
"The United States stands ready to work with Argentina through this historic transition in any way that we can," Mr. Obama told reporters, fielding questions beside Mr. Macri after they met at the Casa Rosada, the president's office.
"Under President Macri, Argentina is reassuming its traditional leadership role in the region and around the world," Mr. Obama said. "On a range of areas, we discussed the way in which the United States and Argentina can be strong global partners to promote the universal values and interests that we share."
Mr. Obama, whose visit coincides with the 40th anniversary on Thursday of the 1976 coup that began the "dirty war" in Argentina, formally announced that the United States would declassify troves of secret military and intelligence documents that could shed light on the atrocities of that era.
On Thursday, he will visit a riverside memorial park here that honors thousands of people associated with leftist ideology who were systematically kidnapped and murdered during the dictatorship, a gesture toward human rights activists who were infuriated by the timing of his visit.
"We are absolutely determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation," Mr. Obama said. "I hope this gesture also helps to rebuild trust that may have been lost between our two countries — and that's a principal message that I have not only for Argentina but for the entire hemisphere."
Still, Mr. Obama was vague when an Argentine journalist asked him what the American government's role had been in the brutal dictatorship, saying he did not want to rehash 100 years' worth of United States involvement in Latin America. "There are moments of great success and glory, and there are moments that were counterproductive, or contrary to what I believe America should stand for," Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Macri declined to guess at what the documents would show about Washington's role in the dirty war, which lasted from 1976 until 1983, but he said Argentina had a right to find out.
"We all need and we are entitled to know what the truth is," he said.
The talks, coming immediately after Mr. Obama's historic visit to Cuba, were somewhat overshadowed by the groundbreaking nature of that trip and by the terrorist attacks in Brussels on Tuesday. Both presidents paused on Wednesday to offer their condolences to the Belgians and to condemn the latest violence.
But the warm tone of Mr. Obama's meeting with Mr. Macri was in stark contrast to President George W. Bush's visit in 2005, when he went to a summit meeting of Western Hemisphere nations seeking to push through a free-trade agreement for the Americas.
During the gathering in Mar del Plata, Mr. Bush was skewered by Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader, in a speech at a soccer stadium. Néstor Kirchner, then the Argentine president, lectured Mr. Bush about regional policies promoted by the United States that had caused "misery and poverty." The free-trade accord was ditched.
A decade later, both Mr. Chávez and Mr. Kirchner are dead, the momentum sapped from their leftist movement, and Argentina's new center-right government is pursuing cozier ties with Washington.
"This is the beginning of a new phase of mature, intelligent, constructive relations in which the only concern for us both is to improve the quality of life of our people," Mr. Macri said. He called Mr. Obama an "inspiring" leader who had shown him and others around the world that by challenging the status quo, it was possible to bring about major change.
Mr. Obama was equally complimentary of Mr. Macri, who took office in December and has made market-oriented policy changes as he seeks new flows of foreign investment to reinvigorate a sluggish economy.
Mr. Macri, the scion of a wealthy family and a former mayor of Buenos Aires, is also repositioning Argentina internationally, courting global business leaders and welcoming his counterparts from Europe and the United States.
The moves reverse the strategy of his predecessor and Mr. Kirchner's widow, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Her nationalist policies often hindered trade and investment, and she reveled in pitting herself against Argentina's business establishment and the United States, preferring to cultivate ties with Russia and China.
Mr. Macri has moved to end a prolonged debt dispute by reaching an agreement with litigating hedge funds in New York, although the deal still requires approval from the Argentine Senate.
Mr. Obama declined to comment Wednesday on the agreement because it is pending in a United States court, but he called Mr. Macri's approach "constructive," comparing it to his own decisions early on in his presidency to address the American financial crisis.
"Sometimes, short-term pain and taking decisive action early is the right thing to do, rather than putting it off to mañana, and then you end up having a perpetual set of problems and you never restore the kind of stability and trust that's necessary," Mr. Obama said.
The president was taking in as much Argentine culture as he could during his first visit to the nation. On Wednesday he had his first drink of maté, calling it "quite good," and was to attend a state dinner in the evening.
On Thursday, he and his family plan to take a day trip to Bariloche, a lakeside tourist city in Patagonia visited by Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bill Clinton.
In Buenos Aires, Mr. Obama's visit stirred mixed feelings from residents grappling with whether closer ties with the United States was in their country's interests.
"They have always tried to put it into our heads that the United States is the enemy," said Alberto González, 59, a watch salesman who had come to the plaza opposite the presidential palace here to soak up the atmosphere. "But I think we need to have good relations with the whole world."
Facundo Toloza, 19, an industrial painter, said he was "not convinced" by Mr. Obama's visit.
"Unfortunately," he said over a morning coffee at a street stall, "the United States has a history of using other countries and exploiting their resources for its own needs."
[Source: By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Jonathan Gilbert, The New York Times, Bs As, 23Mar16]
DDHH en Argentina
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