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Argentina's Caputo: 'the West is not (just) the US'

By James Nelson GoodsellStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 16, 1983



Buenos Aires

He looks a bit like ''an Argentine Jerry Colonna,'' quipped a United States observer, likening this country's new foreign minister to Bob Hope's onetime sidekick comedian.

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With his heavy mustache, shock of black hair, big horn-rim glasses, and rumpled look, Foreign Minister Dante Caputo also looks much like his boss, President-elect Raul Alfonsin.

Once, during the presidential election campaign, a television anchorman asked a reporter covering an Alfonsin rally, ''Who is the other guy with a big mustache?''

''Must be someone in the family,'' the reporter replied.

Alfonsin's surprise choice of Dr. Caputo as foreign minister confirms the feeling here that Argentina will move quickly to restore traditional ties with Western Europe after Alfonsin assumes office Dec. 10.

Caputo has close ties with Social Democratic forces in Western Europe. He is a close friend of Willy Brandt, the former West German chancellor and prime mover among West Europe's Social Democrats.

Although he is relatively little known in Argentina, Caputo has written extensively about the need for Argentina to reassert its historical and fraternal links with Europe.

The incoming President is known to regard Harvard- and Sorbonne-educated Caputo highly and to lean on him for advice. For the past two years, Caputo has edited Argumento Politico, a magazine that reflects ''Alfonsinista thinking.''

After getting a degree in political science in Argentina, Caputo did advanced studies at Harvard University in 1966 and 1967, then went to the Sorbonne in Paris, where he obtained a doctorate in political sociology.

There are hints that he savors his Sorbonne experience more than his Harvard years, but he speaks of both schools with affection.

An author of several books on political science, Caputo is also a frequent contributor to Argentine scholarly publications. He has taught political science at the national university here and has gathered around him a number of young men and women interested in international affairs.

Some observers note, however, that interest in foreign affairs does not necessarily prepare one for conducting foreign policy. Even Caputo has no diplomatic experience as yet, they say.

Caputo says Argentina needs to define itself and its role in the world. ''It is true,'' he says, ''that we are in the West, and this is not an empty phrase. . . . We share a series of fundamental values with this part of the world.''

He worries that Argentina has drifted from Western moorings. In part, this is the result of internal Argentine problems and preoccupations. But Argentina's ties with the West, and particularly Western Europe, were buffeted in the late 1970s as Europe sought to distance itself from Argentina'a military rulers. Argentina had became something of a pariah in the Western world because of its widespread human rights violations.

Moreover, the 1982 war between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands caused additional strains in relations.

Caputo says he wants to ease these strains. He also puts greater stress on improving ties with Western Europe than on ties with the US. He is known to be piqued by many US attitudes as well as actions.

''It just so happens,'' he says, ''that the 'West' is not a country. The 'West' is not the United States.''

He told newsmen here that the Alfonsin administration shares the political and economic ideals of some Western European nations and that this provides alternatives to ''the savagery applied by certain forms of capitalism in some countries.''

''For us,'' he says, ''Western Europe has a great deal of importance.''