Argentina keeps a global focus
Elected Oct. 24, President de la Rua plans to reorient Argentina fromthe US to Western Europe.
When President Clinton wrote a letter recently wishing happy trails to outgoing Argentine President Carlos Menem, the gesture marked more than just the golf-buddy friendship the two leaders have struck up.Skip to next paragraph
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The letter was acknowledgment of a special relationship forged over the decade of Mr. Menem's presidency that turned Argentina from one of the United States' more suspicious and arms-length southern neighbors into perhaps its closest and most reliable ally in the region.
That transition is indicative of a shift away from anti-American ideologies across Latin America and toward a wider opening to foreign influences and the international community - with the Argentine swing being the most dramatic.
Now with Menem leaving office the relationship with the US won't be so close, analysts say. But the opening of Argentina - and Latin America - to the world is here to stay.
"What happened in Argentina in this decade was a strategic rethinking of the country," says Daniel Geraci, undersecretary of defense for policy and strategy. "Such shifts aren't subject to a political campaign or a change of government."
According to Admiral Geraci, this rethinking was not so much based on a desire for alignment with the US as it was a conscious embrace of international values emerging in the post-cold-war years. Instead of going against the grain Argentina wanted to move with the international community on democracy, human rights, and a freer economy, he says. "The change of values led to a congruence with the US."
No more 'automatic alignment'
An Argentina under incoming president Fernando de la Rua will maintain friendly ties with the US, but what came to be called Argentina's "automatic alignment" with the US on international issues will end. Mr. de la Rua, who takes office in December, will shift Argentina slightly to a more traditional orientation toward Western Europe, observers here believe. They say the country will side more firmly with regional partners like Brazil in any conflicts with the US in areas such as trade. Washington will no longer be able to count Argentina in the "with us" column when it comes to key United Nations votes, participation in international military interventions, or a position on Cuba's communist government.
US officials say the symbolism is not lost on them that de la Rua plans to visit Europe before he goes to Washington. Since his election Oct. 24 de la Rua has said in interviews that relations with the US will change "categorically" although within a context of friendship, and that Argentina's frequent participation with troops in foreign conflicts - as in the Gulf War or Yugoslavia - is "over."
No return to anti-American past
What will not happen is a return to an anti-American past. When former president George Bush visited Argentina in 1990, leftist political parties sought to have the American president declared persona non grata. When President Clinton came here in 1997, leaders of the left-leaning parties sought private meetings with him.