When its new president takes office in December, what kind of foreign policy can the world expect from Argentina?
Argentina sparred with the United States and other Western countries when Cristina Fernandez was president. Now she is returning to power, this time as vice president after the Oct. 27 presidential election. Despite concerns, some analysts believe Alberto Fernandez, Argentina’s president-elect, will pursue a more pragmatic path, less reliant on the traditional ideology of the left as the country struggles to revive its economy with international support.
What was Argentina’s foreign policy under Cristina Fernández?
Tensions were high between Argentina and the United States under Cristina Fernandez. Her tirades against the U.S. were a source of frequent eye-rolling in the White House. Fernandez also was close to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s anti-American late president, and admired Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.
“Cristina was in office at a time when many leaders across the region leaned left,” said Monica de Bolle, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
She “did what many others did: took a hard line with the U.S., praised regional integration, but never got very far,” De Bolle said.
Fernandez infuriated Spain by depriving the Spanish company Repsol of its majority stake in the YPF energy company and was accused of helping Iran hide its purported role in the deadly bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994, a claim she denied.
“Cristina’s foreign policy, especially during her second presidency, was characterized by a profound isolation, especially with Western countries,” said Sergio Berensztein, a political analyst based in Buenos Aires.
Relations with the U.S. improved under her successor, conservative President Mauricio Macri. President Obama visited Argentina, where he danced the tango at a state dinner. President Trump welcomed Macri to the White House. The two leaders had a personal relationship that dated to their days as businessmen.
Will it be a return to the Cristina years?
Some Argentines fear Fernandez will try to manipulate Alberto Fernandez (the two are not related), but he dismisses this. Analysts say he needs to take a pragmatic approach because he inherits high poverty and unemployment, soaring inflation and diminishing foreign reserves.
“The piggy bank is empty and global demand for commodities, including Argentina’s agricultural exports, has dropped, so the latitude for a profligate populist program of redistribution is severely limited,” said Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York and a senior research fellow at Chatham House.
“Much as the new domestic and international economic context will call for an economic balancing act, so will it in the international realm,” Sabatini said.
What will happen with the IMF?
Alberto Fernandez will also need to negotiate the terms of Argentina’s $56-billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund. That might force him to take a “middle-of-the road approach in the early months,” said Jenny Pribble, associate professor of political science at the University of Richmond in the United States.
Alberto Fernandez is also seen as the figure that unified Peronism, the broad but splintered political movement that many adhere to in Argentina.
To continue doing this, he “may need to take special care in his interactions with Venezuela or Cuba,” Pribble said. “At the same time, Fernandez might use foreign policy interactions to symbolically remind voters of his left-leaning ideological orientation.”
Will Alberto seek alliances on the left?
Yes and no. Alberto Fernandez’s first planned trip after Sunday’s election win is a visit to Mexico to meet President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. He also remains close to former leaders such as Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Uruguay’s Jose Mujica. But early signals suggest that he will be pragmatic, even if his thinking leans to the left.
“He’s evidently seeking a third way,” Berensztein said. “It’s not in line with the United States, nor is it with Venezuela or Cuba. That’s why he has a caveat — he recognizes and thanks the greetings [by world leaders], and quickly says ‘but,’ and that places him in the center.”
The new Argentine government also cannot afford to break up the Mercosur trade bloc of South American nations and its recent deal with the European Union, as well as its economic integration with Brazil, Sabatini said.
What about Brazil?
Argentina and Brazil are South America’s largest economies and the biggest members of Mercosur. The neighbors and soccer rivals are heavily dependent on each other for trade. But Alberto Fernandez said Sunday that Lula — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s archrival — is unjustly imprisoned. Bolsonaro said that Argentina had “chosen poorly” in the elections and that he would not travel there for Alberto Fernandez’s inauguration.
Oliver Stuenkel, a professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university in Sao Paulo, Brazil, said the animosity shows they are playing to hard-line wings of their support base. That will make it difficult for pragmatists on either side to reduce the tension, though the leaders could eventually develop a working relationship.
“Alberto is a pragmatic. He’s very different from Cristina. He’s always looking for balance. He’s a tightrope walker,” Berensztein said. “There are strong ties to Lula and that distances him from Bolsonaro, but he knows that for Argentina’s strategic benefit, he can’t fight with Brazil.”
Henao writes for the Associated Press. Associated Press writers David Biller in Rio de Janeiro and Mauricio Savarese in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.