Argentina and the U.S. Grow Apart Over a Crisis
By LARRY ROHTER
BUENOS AIRES, Jan. 18 — When Eduardo Duhalde became Argentina's president
at the start of the
month and ended a decade-long policy of linking the peso to the dollar, it was not just the economic
model here that changed. Foreign policy is also being refashioned, with a discernible distancing from the
This reorientation "goes far beyond the cosmetic and rhetorical changes"
that are to be expected any time a
new government takes power, said Carlos Escudé, the author of several books about Argentine foreign policy
and a former government adviser. "The tone of the exchanges has been relatively diplomatic so far, but the
Duhalde government could be heading toward a major confrontation with the Bush administration."
Even before President Carlos Saúl Menem, a Peronist, yoked the peso
to the dollar in April 1991, Argentina
had become Washington's staunchest Latin American ally. In a phrase that became famous but horrified many
within the traditionally anti- American Peronist movement, Mr. Menem's foreign minister, Guido di Tella,
initially described those ties as "carnal relations" — though the term "automatic alignment" later came to be
Whatever its name, that policy made Argentina the only Latin American country
to take part in the Persian
Gulf war and to vote consistently with the United States on issues like human rights violations in Cuba.
But the new government has been stung by the Bush administration's
apparent indifference and lack of assistance during the current crisis, as the
country has grappled with recession, bankruptcy, default on its debt and a 40
percent devaluation of the peso. Recent declarations here have made it clear
that the era of "carnal relations" is over.
"I don't see why we can't be polygamous" on questions of foreign policy
trade, was how the foreign minister, Carlos Ruckauf, described the new
approach to reporters. Argentina now places an especially high priority, he
said, on improving relations with Brazil and the European Union.
Already, the new government has begun firing broadsides at the International
Monetary Fund, which has long been seen here as an extension of the United States Treasury Department.
After the fund's officials said that they did not think a new dual exchange
rate here was viable and that they
were waiting for the Duhalde team to present a "coherent" economic plan, the deputy economy minister, Jorge
Todesca, said, "They should talk less if they don't have anything interesting to say."
Most analysts here contend that even if relations between Argentina and
the United States cool, it is unlikely
that there will be a return to the outright hostility that prevailed both during Gen. Juan Perón's rule and the
reign of the military dictatorship that took power after his death.
"The United States and Argentina had a conflictive relationship for 50
years before Menem," said Jorge
Campbell, a former deputy foreign minister, "but the Menem-di Tella policy was intended to increase
Argentina's links with the rest of the world, and that opening up to the outside continues."
But others contend that a deeper conflict is being masked for the moment
and will soon have to emerge.
Argentina's default on its $141 billion public debt and its "violation of contracts across the board is a major
challenge to the governability of global capitalism," Dr. Escudé said, "and whether the U.S. likes it or not, it
has the main responsibility to maintain the rules of the game."
The principal beneficiary of any reorientation of foreign policy promises
to be neighboring Brazil. Once a rival,
Brazil has become Argentina's main ally and its senior partner in Mercosur, the 11-year-old South American
"The Brazilians have every reason to be delighted," said Dr. Escudé.
"Argentina is now evolving toward a
relationship in which it will become a sort of a new Rio Grande do Sul," Brazil's southernmost state.
In an interview here, a senior government official confirmed that approach.
"We intend to move toward a
common market and a common currency" with Brazil, he said, adding that Argentina needed "a more
balanced situation" in its foreign relations.
Brazil has responded to those overtures with warmth, pledges of support and symbolic shows of friendship.
More concretely, the shift means that Brazil now has another ally in its
struggle against what it regards as
American protectionism in foreign trade.
American officials have long complained of what they call Brazilian "obstructionism"
in negotiations to create a
Free Trade Area of the Americas.