The relations between Argentina and the United States along history have been marked more significantly by the differences between the two countries rather than their similarities.
While these nations share their origins as European colonies, both of their economic schemes during the 19th century were based on developing their agriculture and livestock industries in order to sell their products to Europe. One country’s win was the other’s loss.
Since the Argentine independence on the early 19th century and until halfway through the 20th century, the ruling class held close ties with the UK. British interests in the country were related to almost all strategic areas of the local economy at the time such as railways, cattle industry, and cold storage plants, while the local businessmen were focused on agriculture and livestock, so their complementary interests made it easy for both parties. On the other hand, American investments arrived to Argentina by the early 20th century and were focused on cold storage plants and cattle exports to Europe.
“There were American businessmen that wanted to build a closer relation with Argentina, but Argentine livestock producers rejected their initiatives as their exports to Europe were competing with American exports” says Leandro Morgenfeld, a historian focused on Argentina-US relations and author of two books in the subject, Dangerous Relations and Neighbors in Conflict.
The attempts by American businessmen to compete with British capitals in Argentina slowly started to reach success along the 1920s, and once the US emerged as the main capitalist world power after the WWII, it replaced the UK as the main foreign ally for the Argentine ruling class.
The second half of the 20th century was the time of the consolidation of the U.S. hegemony in Latin America, and Argentina was no stranger to that. Even by the end of the presidency of Juan Domingo Peron, whom hardly anyone would tag as a pro-imperialist leader, American companies like Standard Oil started to find their way to Argentine soil. But the emerging independence Argentina had started to build with the Peronist government was aborted when a military coup overthrew Peron in 1995.
But the U.S. also managed to build close ties with fragile democracies. February 1960 President Dwight Eisenhower flew over to Buenos Aires to meet his local peer Arturo Frondizi, a visit that according to Morgenfeld, was destined to reinforce the ties with Argentina and also “to counterbalance the repercussions of the Cuban Revolution in the region, which were also strong in Argentina due to the importance of Che Guevara.”
From that moment on, the pro-U.S. orientation of Argentina’s foreign policy was no longer questioned, and the following governments, whether dictatorships or democracies, were always aligned with the interests of the State Department.
Such alignment was also a part of the role that Washington had established for Latin America as its “backyard “in the context of the Cold War.
In Argentina, many leaders of the military dictatorships of the second half of the 20th century had been trained at the School of The Americas, located in Fort Benning, Georgia.
The dictatorships -especially the one that began in 1976 and forcefully disappeared 30,000 people- adopted the National Security Doctrine, a foreign policy concept spread by the U.S. which established that communism (or any sort of social or political movement that sought to overcome capitalism) was the main threat to the security in the western hemisphere. The loyalty that Washington found in Argentine dictatorships in the struggle to preserve its hegemony was rewarded with the silence about the crimes against humanity that were committed in Argentina.
However, reciprocity has a limit too, and in the war between Argentina and the UK over the Malvinas Islands in 1982, Washington took sides with Great Britain. Since that, whether held by the Democrats or the Republicans, the White House has always avoided throwing their support behind Argentina regarding the sovereignty of the Islands.
Since 1983, when the dictatorship left power and a new government was elected by popular vote, Washington had always managed to subordinate Buenos Aires. This reached its climax during the 1990s under Carlos Menem, when the Foreign Affairs Minister Guido Di Tella was asked about the ties between the two countries and he said they were “carnal relations.” Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton visited Argentina in 1990 and 1997 respectively, in a display of bipartisanship that very few subjects beyond foreign policy seem able provoke.
But the situation changed after Nestor Kirchner took power in 2003. The failure of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, that took place in 2005 in Mar del Plata and had Kirchner, Hugo Chavez and Lula da Silva playing the leading roles in rejecting the project in the face of George W. Bush was the last time than a U.S. President visited Argentina. “Obama made some tours in the region. The last one in South America was in 2011, when he visited Brazil, he flew over Argentina, and visited Chile. The fact that he stepped over Argentina was very meaningful, and no American President came over these years” says Morgenfeld.
So why does a President of the United States decide Washington should become friends again with the President of the southernmost country in the world?
According to international affairs analyst Jorge Kreyness “Obama is coming to celebrate a victory for the American establishment. Massive dismissals are taking place at the same time that the government is favoring the vulture funds and several U.S.-based companies like Microsoft are holding meetings with the new government“.
The date of Obama’s visit has been harshly criticized by social movements, human rights organizations and the Argentine left.
“This is pretty much propaganda for Obama. In the first place, he should not come at a date like the anniversary of the 1976 coup, but if he is coming, he should apologize in the name of the U.S. government for having backed the dictatorship. But of course I do not think he will” says Kreyness.