Bye Bye Kirchner. Time to Meet Argentina's New Boss.
The champagne has been flowing in Port Stanley, we hear, ever since it became clear that not only was Argentine President Cristina Kirchner leaving, but that her hand-picked successor had lost the race to succeed her in favour of the more moderate Mauricio Macri.
The Foreign Office remains too polite for public gloating but it’s probable that the odd soupçon of taxpayer-funded Moet has gone down behind the net curtains at Whitehall too.
Let’s allow them their libations. Kirchner had been their bogeyperson for so long that you’d need a heart of Peronist stone to begrudge them. Under her rule relations with Britain, strained for at least four political generations, worsened to a truculent, bare tolerance.
In her reliably populist way Kirchner was ever-ready to pick at the scab of the Falklands issue - an issue her successor seems keen to place on one side.
But in truth, if you have to have an enemy you really couldn’t hope for better than Kirchner.
Her economic mismanagement means that Argentina’s military is scarcely much further up the line than it was when found wanting back in ’82. The air force’s primary attack aircraft is a US model which first flew in 1954 for heaven’s sake (Yes yes, ‘plane nerds, they’ve upgraded bits of it, but still, she hasn’t been scary for years).
It’s worth wondering in passing whether Kirchner ever really thought she would ride into Port Stanley on her white charger
Argentina’s commitment to peaceful negotiations over the Falklands were hardly made more virtuous by the utter lack of any military option, even against a distant, debt-sodden, hanging-on-by-its-fingertips power like Britain.
And her pathological inability not to alienate even potential allies meant that she was never able to cobble together the diplomatic clout to make Britain even consider discussing the islands over the heads of an island people determined to stay with the mother country.
There was the odd bit of lip service, a touch of regional solidarity, and Vladimir Putin made mischief with some supposed deal to liven up the Argentine front line with some Russian kit, but nothing came of that.
Then there were her economics. ‘Sketchy’ about covers it. The country has been virtually locked out of global capital markets since it defaulted on its debt in 2001 - and it defaulted yet again last year after a battle with US hedge funds that had speculated in the restructured debt
It’s worth wondering in passing whether Kirchner ever really thought she would ride into Port Stanley on her white charger. Foreign policy may not have been her bag but she was shrewd on her own ground and must have seen that neither the political nor the diplomatic offered her a path.
In truth, Las Malvinas remained what they have long been, a political dog whistle to be blown when the domestic economy looks shaky and some flag-waving is called for that can’t be justified any other way.
No-one sane and uncommitted would risk annoying the UK, or the EU for the sake of currying favour with Kirchner. An expanding, moderate Argentina would look a lot different
Now, great enemy though Kirchner was, we must hope that Macri will true to his word and no sort of enemy at all. We must hope he’s sincere in his desire to reset relations with Britain, a country which has had historically strong links with Argentina, from shared loves of football and beef through to Britain’s massive early interest in Argentina’s development.
A well-managed Argentinian economy offers opportunities not only for its own people, but for foreign firms and investors among which we would do well to be.
But surely there is danger here too. Argentina lost out on a lot of influence under Kirchner because it simply wasn’t a club worth joining. No-one sane and uncommitted would risk annoying the UK, or the EU for the sake of currying favour with Kirchner.
An expanding, moderate Argentina would look a lot different, especially if it comes to be ranged in a battle for influence against a UK finding its feet after leaving the EU. In that world the Falklands issue could become live again very quickly.
So while the champagne may be justified, the prospect of a stronger, growing Argentina reunited with global markets will pose its challenges for Whitehall just as surely as the old one did.
It’s not a certain prospect. Macri will have his work cut out unpicking the machinery of the old regime, and it may yet reassert itself before he can finish his task even if he bends to it as assiduously as he has promised.
But it’s certainly one to watch.
About the author
Born and raised in Swansea West, one of the safest Labour seats in the country, David is perhaps unsurprisingly a High-Tory, Euroskeptic Royalist Libertarian with an unhealthy adoration for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. As a result he is seldom pleased by anything that ever happens, and always on the verge of quitting the whole jamboree. A former Special Writer at the Wall Street Journal, he knew the crash was coming when he saw a piece about Louis XVI reproduction furniture "for your Winnebago."
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