Mike Pompeo hails Argentina for calling Hizbollah a terrorist group
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Friday lauded Argentina for designating Hizbollah a terrorist organisation, as he visited Buenos Aires at a crucial juncture for the country’s president, Mauricio Macri.
“We appreciate Argentina’s leadership . . . We hope others will follow Argentina’s lead and example,” he said.
Mr Pompeo’s presence in Argentina is a show of support for Mr Macri who is fighting for his political survival in elections in October. The elections have taken on an international dimension given Argentina’s reliance on a record $56bn bailout from the IMF after a currency crisis broke out last year.
“Argentina is deeply dependent on US support at the IMF and [therefore] is eager to co-ordinate foreign policy with the White House,” said Benjamin Gedan, a former South America director on the National Security Council at the White House.
Aligning itself with the US against Hizbollah, Argentina this week became the first developing country outside the Middle East and North Africa to declare the Lebanese Shia movement a terrorist organisation.
Mr Macri’s government announced the decision on the 25th anniversary of Argentina’s deadliest-ever terrorist attack, a bombing that killed 85 people at a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires. Local prosecutors have accused Hizbollah of carrying out the bombing.
Support from the US at the IMF is critical to maintaining confidence in Argentina among investors, which is in turn decisive for avoiding volatility in the peso that could fuel inflation and erode real wages, undermining Mr Macri’s chances of re-election.
“Pompeo’s visit [delivers] a reassuring message for markets. That [US president Donald] Trump continues to support Macri fervently has calming consequences domestically,” says Julio Burdman, a political scientist at the University of Buenos Aires.
Mr Macri has become a key ally for the US in its firm opposition to the socialist regime in Venezuela — perhaps America’s top priority in the region. Mr Gedan said Mr Macri had been “miraculously successful at remaining close to an unpredictable and often vindictive US president . . . he has navigated the Trump White House seamlessly, which is no small feat, maintaining support from the IMF [as well as] maintaining core policies [such as Argentina’s relationship with China] even when they are in conflict with US interests — or current US positions”.
Mr Macri is also attempting to emphasise the idea that Argentina’s Peronist opposition could trigger another devaluation and even a default and push the country towards the economic chaos of Venezuela, as he did in his previous campaign in 2015.
“The idea that if Peronism wins we are Venezuela is coming back, reloaded, because of the key issue of [currency stability], and also because Venezuela is even worse now,” said Mr Burdman. “The underlying message is that Macri with his international support will prevent that from happening.
“It’s as if Macri guarantees stability thanks to his foreign policy,” he adds, pointing to a recent trade deal with the EU as another foreign policy success being trumpeted by Mr Macri.
While Mr Macri is making foreign policy a central element of his campaign, the president’s main rival, Alberto Fernández, who is representing the Peronist party, is trying to focus on the disastrous economic situation domestically.
“Alberto Fernández doesn’t want to make waves on the international scene,” said Diana Tussie, an international relations specialist at the Latin American Social Sciences Institute, or Flacso. “Argentina is a country with a very deep-seated anti-American sentiment. It would be very easy to campaign against the US, but Alberto Fernández won’t do that, because he is trying to demonstrate that there are certain things that will not change.”
Mr Fernández has also been at pains to win over international investors, all too aware that if he triumphs in the elections he will rely on them and the IMF if he is to ensure continued economic stability.