So long, Kirchners

Years of Kirchner rule in Argentina contributed to polarized politics in the Western Hemisphere, but the arrival of a new government offers a reset. 

By: /
November 26, 2015
Kirchner
Outgoing Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner waves at supporters after attending a ceremony in the Posadas Hospital in the province of Buenos Aires, November 25, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

The Kirchner era in Argentine politics and economics is thankfully coming to an end. The importance of last weekend’s presidential elections in Argentina cannot be over estimated. With the election of Mauricio Macri as its new president, Argentina can now look forward to new and positive developments for its people and their society. But just as important, this historic change will hopefully give birth to a different and constructive role for Argentina in the Western Hemisphere and, of special interest for us in Canada, a rejuvenated and re-energized relationship.

From the election of Nestor Kirchner in 2003 and continuing with the succession after his death of his widow, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, in 2007, the Kirchner rule has been characterized by the divisive and corrosive politics of populist nationalism. These policies were based on an ideology that worked hard to relentlessly confront Argentina’s perceived enemies, at home and abroad.   

Internationally, Argentina vilified its “enemies” as represented by an array of foes, from the “vulture” hedge funds of international bond holders to the United Kingdom over Argentina’s claims to the Falkland Islands, called the Malvinas in Argentina. 

The Kirchners also led Argentina into the warm embrace of the Bolivarian Alliance, which specialized in sowing its own divisive ideology and its hopes for a revolutionary “class struggle” across the hemisphere.  

Both Kirchners were eager supporters of the policies of the erratic and autocratic former leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, and his “socialism of the 21st century.” Chavez forged a hemispheric alliance based on confrontation, both internally and internationally, with the forces of the “far right.” In addition to Argentina, members of his self-styled Bolivarian Alliance included Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and more recently some states in the Caribbean.

Argentina was also a key member of the Bolivarian Alliance in its relentless and systematic campaign to weaken the multilateral system within the Americas as represented by the Organization of American States (OAS). In particular, Argentina was a strong supporter of Ecuador and its efforts to undermine the role of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. In addition, Argentina led the charge to stymie important efforts to modernize civilian-defense relations in the Americas through the Inter-American Defense Board. 

The Kirchner rule in Argentina not only resulted in a polarized society at home but also contributed to an increasingly polarized Western Hemisphere divided into political and economic groupings. These divisions created sometimes bitter arguments on such important issues as support for democracy, trade and investment and human rights.  

Canada and the United States were often the odd-players out at the OAS as the political discourse in the Americas became evermore polarized and extreme. As a historical champion of “peace, order and good government” in the Americas, Canada regularly found itself on the other side of the table from the Bolivarian Alliance group on many issues. 

Last Sunday’s election of Mauricio Macri could mark a return to the historically close and warm relations between Canada and Argentina. These relations had become “frayed” over the years – the Argentine Government actually threatened to nationalize Canadian investments in Argentina if Canada did not withdraw its support for the UK in the long-enduring dispute over who owns the Falkland Islands. Argentina’s unqualified support for Venezuela’s autocratic Hugo Chavez, and his self-styled Bolivarian Revolution (and later for Chavez’s hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro) were also points of contention.

The arrival of a new Macri government could be a “game changer.” It could herald a new relationship between Argentina and Canada based on open trading economies and a shared respect for democracy across the Americas. A renewed and hopefully warmer Canadian relationship with Argentina will be important, not only for our economic and political interests in Argentina itself but also for our role and status as an important member of the larger Western Hemispheric community.

The next Summit of the Americas is scheduled for 2018 in Lima, Peru. Canada’s own new government, as represented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, now has a historic opportunity to use this time and space to firmly place Canada as a trusted and valued economic and political partner, not only with Argentina but with the Americas as a whole.