Thursday, April 21, 2016

Obama in Argentina: The relaunch of bilateral relations

Maria Agostina Cacault, James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy (blog)

uncaptioned image from article
A week before President Barack Obama’s arrival to Argentina, the visit had already appeared in the major newspapers. Everyone pondered the agenda and the meaning of the trip. It was during this time that I received an email from the U.S. Embassy notifying me that I had been selected to participate in one of the major events that Obama would attend in Argentina: a town hall meeting. The meeting, which was for entrepreneurial leaders, was a central part of his itinerary since there he would engage with civilians. ...
Obama’s visit launched new bilateral relations in which traditional diplomacy was widely displayed with the signing of agreements in economics, energy, climate change, multilateral cooperation, global health, democracy, human rights, security and defense. Furthermore, we witnessed a new way of addressing civil society through foreign policy, which the U.S. State Department calls “public democracy.” This was displayed in two events: the town hall meeting and a tribute to victims of state terrorism.
While the Obama administration had been exhibiting a different approach in addressing Latin America, such as recognizing mistakes the U.S. had made in the region, it was unthinkable to hear an American president admit a mea culpa on the United States’ role in Latin American dictatorships. In the case of Argentina, during a ceremony at Parque de la Memoria commemorating the 1976 coup, Obama said, “You are the ones who will ensure that the past is remembered, and the promise of ‘Nunca Más’ is finally fulfilled.” This repudiation of the dictatorship was accompanied by a commitment to declassify military documents and intelligence relating to that dark period. It also included recognition of President Jimmy Carter’s role as a diligent human rights activist. “(Carter) understood that human rights is a fundamental element of foreign policy. That understanding is something that has influenced the way we strive to conduct ourselves in the world ever since,” Obama said.
But the most significant event was the town hall meeting, which I attended along with young entrepreneurial leaders under 40 years old. Obama mastered the audience with his informal manner and flawless interaction with the public. In his brief speech, he quoted renowned Argentinean writers — Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar — told of his experience drinking traditional Argentinian mate and explained the purpose of his trip to our country. He also praised the Pope (who was key in the U.S. changing its relationship with Cuba) and stressed the importance of young people and new technologies. Obama also opened the floor to questions, but not a single hand was raised. Seeing a president with his disposition is not an experience one can easily forget. This new approach of public diplomacy — although common practice for Americans — is innovative to Latin Americans. ...

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