Obama aims to boost trade with Ar­gentina

The Pak Banker - - 6BUSINESS -

Af­ter years of anti-Amer­i­can pos­tur­ing by its leader, Ar­gentina has a new pres­i­dent whose out­stretched hand has been ea­gerly ac­cepted by the United States. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama will re­ward the South Amer­i­can na­tion on Wed­nes­day with a state visit aimed at keep­ing that promis­ing tra­jec­tory on track.

Obama has made no se­cret of his pref­er­ence for Ar­gen­tine Pres­i­dent Mauri­cio Macri over his left-lean­ing pre­de­ces­sor, Cristina Fer­nan­dez, whose me­an­der­ing mis­sives were a source of fre­quent frus­tra­tion and eye-rolling in the White House. So Obama was all too glad to see her re­placed in De­cem­ber by Macri, who has af­fa­bly ac­cepted U.S. help with his mis­sion to mod­ern­ize Ar­gentina's strug­gling econ­omy.

"Pres­i­dent Macri rec­og­nizes that we're in a new era, and we have to look for­ward," Obama said ahead of his trip.

Obama ar­rived in Buenos Aires for his two-day visit in the middle of the night. Af­ter a few hours' sleep, he was head­ing to Casa Rosada, the Ar­gen­tine pres­i­dent's pink-hued of­fices, for a wel- come cer­e­mony and meet­ing. The two planned to hold a joint news con­fer­ence be­fore Obama lays a wreath at the Buenos Aires Metropoli­tan Cathe­dral.

Obama planned to hear from young Ar­gen­tini­ans later at a town hall meet­ing, in what's be­come a hall­mark of his trips abroad. Joined by first lady Michelle Obama, the pres­i­dent was to be feted by Macri at a state din­ner in the evening, mark­ing the first such visit by a U.S. pres­i­dent in nearly two decades. De­spite best ef­forts to keep the fo­cus on the fu­ture, Obama's visit has been clouded by a re­newed look at painful chap­ters in Ar­gentina's past, re­turned to the fore­front by the 40th an­niver­sary this week of Ar­gentina's 1976 coup. Ques­tions about Amer­ica's role in the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship that fol­lowed are a re­minder of what many see as a shame­ful U.S. his­tory of back­ing re­pres­sive Latin Amer­i­can regimes.

It was un­clear whether Obama would use his visit to apol­o­gize or ac­knowl­edge decades-old U.S. mis­takes. But as con­tro­versy about the tim­ing of his visit grew last week, Obama's ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced plans to de­clas­sify se­cret in­tel­li­gence and mil­i­tary doc­u­ments from the pe­riod, po­ten­tially shed­ding more light on a story left par­tially un­told un­til now.

"He will be more than will­ing to speak to what took place 40 years ago, to the suf­fer­ing that took place af­ter the coup," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

In an­other ges­ture di­rected to­ward the vic­tims of Ar­gentina's "Dirty War," Obama planned to visit Re­mem­brance Park in Buenos Aires on Thurs­day. Ar­gentina's govern­ment es­ti­mates some 13,000 peo­ple were killed or dis­ap­peared un­der force dur­ing the crack­down on left­ist dis­si­dents, though ac­tivists say the num­ber is as high as 30,000.

Obama's visit to Ar­gentina, like his visit this week to Cuba, aims to bol­ster his ef­forts to keep the U.S. fo­cused on eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant re­gions like Latin Amer­ica and Asia, even while deal­ing with press­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns in the Middle East and else­where. Over­shad­ow­ing his trip were ter­ror at­tacks Tues­day in Brus­sels that killed scores and trig­gered fresh panic in Europe about the spread of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism.

Those dis­trac­tions not­with­stand­ing, Obama is hop­ing his fi­nal year as pres­i­dent will be one of crit­i­cal progress for the U.S. and Latin Amer­ica.

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