Kirchner, Bush, and the IMF

Kirchner and Bush pose for the cameras in the White House
Presidents George Bush and Néstor Kirchner pose for the cameras at the White House, July 23, 2003 (Photo: Ruben Gamarra/AFP-Getty Images).

President George Bush and [Argentine President] Néstor Kirchner’s [July 23] meeting in Washington has presented Argentina with an opportunity it cannot miss.

Let us first recall some highly significant aspects of the meeting at the White House. First, there was the “firm and decided backing” Bush promised Kirchner, whom he congratulated enthusiastically for the recovery already underway in the Argentine economy. Bush also anticipated that Kirchner’s future efforts to revive the struggling country would be effective.

Secondly, it is important to emphasize the excellent atmosphere in which the conversation between both presidents took place. “Good chemistry” was established between them, to use the expression popularized by the media. In particular, they reached agreements on some strategic issues: the permanent and uncompromising struggle against international terrorism, for example, and ridding Argentina of the corruption and money laundering that festers in public life. Both also presidents expressed a common concern about the increased independence of the judiciary.

It would be erroneous, however, not to consider the following warning issued by Bush to Kirchner: “We are going to help advance the negotiations that Argentina and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are capable of establishing in every way that we can.” The U.S. president was very clear in emphasizing that, “at the end of the day, it is Argentina that has to negotiate with the IMF and no one else.” This precision about the roles that different institutions should play in the international scene is highly illuminating and helps to avoid a simplified interpretation of the demands that will emerge when it comes to negotiating the terms of Argentina’s foreign debt.

The U.S. government’s backing—extended in friendly terms and with diplomatic cordiality—should not lead us to mistakenly suppose that technical agreements with the IMF will automatically follow. Argentines should be prepared to negotiate with the IMF with all the firmness and mastery that these operations demand. In no way should we nurture the erroneous belief that the good tone or fluency of political-diplomatic dialogue will relieve us of a commitment to observe austere economic policies or strict of serious fiscal and administrative behavior.

For many years, ideological speculation attributed our weaknesses and problems to the alleged dependency we had on the most developed countries. These interpretations stemmed from a conspiratorial vision of reality and, as such, were naive. But if it was a mistake to attribute our misfortune to external culprits, it would be equally arbitrary to suppose that our recuperation and progress will be the result of a foreign effort.

As the North American president implied in his conversation with Kirchner, the economic and political rebirth of Argentina will be the result of what we in the country are capable of doing and the seriousness with which we negotiate our future before the international organizations. Bush put it well to his Argentine colleague: “Negotiate with the IMF. Fight for every last penny.”

Other substantial themes remain in the bilateral Argentine-North American agenda that we should continue to develop in the near future. For example, there are commercial matters: among them, the gradual elevation of Argentina to most favored nation trading status. The United States has yet to deal with the delicate issues of the Colombian conflict and drug trafficking. A solution to security issues at Ciudad del Este, on the border between Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, is pending. And there is, of course, the decisive and strategic matter of our closer relationship with the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in the context of the necessary harmonization of the different processes of continental integration.

Kirchner’s meeting with Bush has helped to identify multiple points of agreement between the two countries. Today, the United States and Argentina are capable of working such points into their political and economic agendas as priorities for a common, programmatic development.