Santiago Cafiero, Argentine Foreign Minister: "Argentina Is Not Willing To Make Adjustments And Go Backwards"

The September elections marked a change in the Argentine government. After the defeat of Peronism and a barrage of accusations about the motives, Santiago Cafiero, a confidant of President Alberto Fernández, from a family with a long political tradition in Argentina, left the head of the cabinet of ministers to occupy the position of chancellor .

From the 13th floor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cafiero speaks with elDiario.es in his first interview for a foreign media about the link with China, relations with the United States, the Argentine presidency before the UN Human Rights Council, the situation in Nicaragua and the attempt to agree conditions for the payment of the debt.

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“We have to work on a new program with the International Monetary Fund, that implies reaching an agreement that does not interrupt the economic growth that we are having,” he says.

Since the middle of last year, Argentina negotiates the conditions to refinance the largest loan in the history of the IMF for 57,000 million dollars, assigned to the country during the last stretch of the presidency of Mauricio Macri, of which the agency disbursed 44,000 million dollars.

A team of IMF technicians met with Argentine government officials last week in New York. Is Argentina close to reaching an agreement?

For us it is essential that whatever type of agreement is reached, bear in mind that Argentina cannot go backwards. Argentina is not willing to make regressive adjustments for the quality of life of its inhabitants. That is not possible. What we need is time to pay. This is a working people, who set ambitious goals and are growing in their exports, in industrial employment, we are recovering much of the time lost, not only from the pandemic but also from the four years of the previous government.

What would be a good deal for Argentina?

We have to work on a new program with the International Monetary Fund, that implies reaching an agreement that does not interrupt the economic growth that we are having now, that does not interrupt the economic development of our country, have an agreement that is not a stocks for development, that it is the fundamental thing.

The Argentine government has been negotiating for two years, do you think it was too long?

There are those who say it has to be faster, we say how quickly it would have been to forget about that challenge that we have. Today Argentina is growing at 10%, it is increasing its exports, it is generating industrial employment, it is returning to a path of development. Interrupting that with a bad debt negotiation would be a big problem for our country.

In recent weeks, Argentina has signed cooperation agreements in the defense and nuclear energy industry with China. How do you see the relationship with that country?

We have a strategic diplomatic relationship with China. We have established an investment plan where China has been carrying out infrastructure, transportation and energy plans. In all this package, we are close to re-signing priority projects with China. In February of next year we will be celebrating 50 years of bilateral relations with China. It is a good time to think about how we want to continue strengthening that relationship.

Do you think that the proximity with China could harm the relationship with the United States in the middle of the debt negotiations?

Argentina has ties with the United States and also with Europe, with China, with Russia, with Vietnam. From a commercial point of view, we have a totally pragmatic policy where what we seek is to continue expanding markets. The challenge we have is to open more markets to generate greater possibilities for exports and the generation of employment and investment in Argentina. We do not have any type of prejudice, we have already demonstrated it with the purchase of vaccines, when we defend the interests of the Argentines we defend them without an ideological enclave and without putting up with pressure from anyone.

The Argentine president met with a delegation of Russian businessmen. Will there be a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Alberto Fernández?

If the pandemic allows it, yes. Not in the immediate.

The United States denounces that Russia plans an imminent invasion of Ukraine. Does Argentina have a position on this issue?

No, we are not with that. We are not a member of NATO. Argentina always puts its concern for human rights on the table and we will continue to support that.

Argentina will preside over the UN human rights council for the first time in its history, why now?

The fact that Argentina chairs the council is a recognition of all the work that human rights organizations have done over the years. The challenge now is to continue working for human rights around the world. There is recognition not only towards Argentina but also in the testimony that we can give abroad with our case.

The immediate reference is the work of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, what do you think about other types of human rights violations such as those linked to gender issues and indigenous peoples? Will there be a place for these issues?

Argentina can also give testimony. We have always worked indoors with these issues, we have a journey, we have practice to be able to contribute to the resolution of conflicts that exist in the rest of the world. The important thing that Argentina was chosen has to do with the fact that this country not only bears witness to its history but also to its present.

Taking into account the political closeness between Alberto Fernández and Pedro Sánchez, how do you see the relationship with Spain?

Pedro Sánchez’s visit to Argentina earlier this year took place within the framework of a strategic agreement for Spanish investment projects and technology exchange that Argentina has within the framework of the knowledge economy. Of course, the fact that there is a closer political relationship between the two presidents facilitates the meeting.

Argentina has been debating the link between Mercosur and the European Union for years. At the bilateral level, how do you see the relations between Argentina and the rest of the European countries?

We are very good. We have obtained the investment of German capital in the Chihuido dam, unlocking that is an investment of 2,200 million dollars to build the hydroelectric plant. We also achieved an investment of French and Chinese capital for lithium and at COP 26 the investment for green hydrogen from an Australian company. In that sense, there is a great attraction on the part of Argentina to foreign capital and that is very positive.

Turning to Latin America, how is the relationship between Argentina and Nicaragua?

We have recovered the diplomatic relationship. Our ambassador is already there. The Nicaraguan ambassador is here. That is a good step so that the dialogue is not lost, especially because Nicaragua has proposed that it withdraws from the OAS, Argentina is interested in continuing the relationship because we have Argentines living in Nicaragua, because there are Argentine companies with investments in Nicaragua and because we have to continue with a diplomatic dialogue.

Argentina abstained from voting on a resolution of the Organization of American States (OAS) where it argued that Nicaragua does not comply with the Democratic Charter of the organization. Why?

What we are asking for is more time, more analysis, the decision was rushed, so Argentina decided to abstain.

Why do you choose to abstain rather than vote?

We have two historical pillars in foreign policy. On the one hand, that of non-interference, which is reflected in the letter of Organizations of American States, this is that the States solve their problems with the best systems that their people demand. On the other hand, respect for human rights, when there is a violation of human rights, this is above the other because it is a higher good for us.

Is there a coordination with Mexico for abstention?

Mexico has a similar position. It even has it in its Constitution. It is evident that Mexico was going to abstain but there was no coordination. Argentina’s position is always autonomous.

How did you see the regional elections in Venezuela?

There was an international observation work, Argentina did not have a specific participation but we must recognize that the opposition was able to participate, so we see that process of the elections in Venezuela as an important advance.

Was there any kind of dialogue with the observers from the European Union?

From us, no.

You posted an article with the Chilean Foreign Minister, Andrés Allamand, after the statements about the candidate for president in Chile, José Antonio Kast, made by the Argentine ambassador in That country. Was it an attempt to fix things?

Not at all. It was precisely to lower the tension that existed in the most journalistic orbit. The relationship between the two peoples is very good and has been growing more and more, we began to send gas to Chile again as part of an integration of energy infrastructure. We have challenges to solve but we also have an open dialogue and institutional channels that are working properly.

Did the Argentine ambassador to Chile and former foreign minister, Rafael Bielsa, speak without measuring the cost that this had for Argentina?

They asked him a question on an Argentine radio about the electoral result, about the candidates, and he gave his description but, as he himself said, it was in a personal capacity.

And what do you read about the elections in Chile?

We are going to work with the next president chosen by the Chileans.

Lula was in Buenos Aires. A week later, Argentina will participate in the Mercosur meeting with Jair Bolsonaro. Can you bring any problem to Argentina in the relationship with the current Government of Brazil?

Not at all. We see that the commercial relationship with Brazil continues to grow, we have had understandings with Itamaraty [Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Brasil] with respect to Mercosur, to the bilateral relationship. Regardless of whose turn it is to govern, the brotherhood between Argentina and Brazil is much more important. In this sense, at the Mercosur summit, which unfortunately we will make it a virtual product of the new variants of COVID-19, we will advance the entire work agenda with Brazil.

In any case, the atmosphere in Mercosur is quite on fire …

I wouldn’t call it that. Nobody hides that there are different views on our countries and on the economic course, but integration is the tool to resolve those differences. These differences are resolved with more integration, with more Mercosur, not less.

In terms of integration, we are increasingly divided in Latin America. Do you think it is difficult to cooperate at a time when there are no clear regional political trends either to the left or to the right?

I think that Mexico did a very good job in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac). Mexico repositioned that area, a diverse area that does not exclude anyone.

But Brazil, the largest country in Latin America, does not participate …

Because they don’t want them, but nobody is excluded. The work that Mexico did has been very important. Argentina offered to continue this work for a year. We are expecting to continue with the task that Mexico began, to create a Latin American forum for debate without exclusions.

How do you analyze visit of former Brazilian President Lula to Buenos Aires?

I think it is very positive that the former president visits us in the framework of the day of democracy and human rights, with his personal testimony. Lula is a democrat by law and someone who also went through unjust imprisonment, an issue that was demonstrated by the review made by the Brazilian justice system. For us it is an important testimony, we Argentines love Lula very much, we have great respect for him and he has a very valuable testimony for us in a year in which Argentina celebrates 38 years since the democratic recovery.

Can you imagine a return of Lula in Brazil with Alberto Fernández as president of Argentina?

That is what the Brazilians have to define, not us. We want Brazil to do well. If Brazil does well, Argentina will do well in economic and integration terms, that is essential.

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