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Marci’s Contradictions: What Obama Missed in Argentina

Just three years ago, in 2013, I was invited to present one of my books at the International Fair in Buenos Aires. I attended the inaugural session of a Poetry Festival taking place as part of the event, along with other Cuban authors. Opening remarks were to be made by a representative from the city’s government, which was at that time led by Mau­ricio Macri. The individual had barely begun his self-serving comments when a group of young actors wearing “bloody” white coats interrupted and insulted him. Just a few weeks earlier, Buenos Aires police had fired on protesting doctors and medical students at Borda Hospital, leaving 32 wounded. “This is poetry?” they asked. The functionary was not able to finish his speech.

This was the first impression I had of the current Argentine President. Although his electoral victory was won by a slim margin, he began his administration with 29 Presidential decrees overturning policies implemented by his predecessor, to meet social needs, promote democratization, and protect the country’s sovereignty, without even waiting for Parliament, where he does not enjoy majority support.

His new policies have had an immediate effect: 100,000 state workers laid off, and a 13.1% increase in inflation.

One of his first foreign policy actions was to request the exclusion of Venezuela from the regional common market Mercosur, a position he was obliged to abandon, given the lack of support among other members of the bloc. He had no qualms about demanding the release from prison of Leopoldo López, instigator of violent acts in Venezuela, which left 43 people dead. On the other hand, he sought the opening of a criminal investigation against Hebe de Bonafini, for “inciting” violence and “disrupting the public order,” since the president of Argentina’s Plaza de Mayo Mothers had called for marches in front of the Casa Rosada Presidential headquarters. Milagros Sala, the indigenous trade union leader in Jujuy, who is a genuinely popular leader in the country’s poorest region, was imprisoned after organizing a “camp-out” to protest provincial policies, although other charges were fabricated. Macri has authorized the use of firearms to repress peaceful demonstrations, just as he did as mayor of the city’s capital city.

Regardless of his record, in an interview with La Nación just days before the arrival of President Obama to Argentina, Macri said without blinking an eye that he would soon travel to Cuba and report human rights violations on the island to authorities. I doubt that he was referring to those detained and tortured at the Guantánamo Naval Base.

Macri’s enthusiasm was however cooled in the company of Obama, who spoke about U.S. support to the dictatorship in Argentina which left hundreds dead and disappeared, and referred to his country’s aggressive policies against the Cuban Revolution as ineffective, as he has previously. Obama cited his trip to the island as an example of a new policy. Macri wanted to support the trip in “American terms,” saying it reflected great progress, opened doors, and supported those who want to return to power, adding that Obama had travelled as President of the United States without renouncing a single principle in which “we” in the United States and in Argentina believe, most importantly the principle of liberty, which would allow all Cubans to choose their own future. He said the visit would accelerate debate, “This is what we need, that the debate be accelerated, and that this Cuban youth demanding greater freedom have supporters around the entire world.”

Macri’s interventionism is ridiculous. The first expression of liberty is access to knowledge, and Cuban youth can decide what they will do or not with their lives, because their education and health is assured, because they can, and are called upon by the government, to play a leading role in the country’s destiny. But Macri doesn’t know a thing about Cuba. His enthusiasm blinds him from the fact that Cuba is changing to make socialism more effective – the right word on this occasion – than the strategy chosen by his people.

Cuban photographer Kaloian Santos was in Argentina awaiting Obama’s arrival to capture the visit there, and following his colleagues’ work in Cuba, when he wrote on his Facebook page, “The President from the North was looking good in Havana. Even in the romantic, rainy conditions, they had opportunities for pictures. Seeing these scenes, I rubbed my hands and said to myself: I’m patiently waiting for him in Buenos Aires.”

But Obama saw Buenos Aires through the Beast’s windows. And Argentines were overwhelmed by all the security measures. Even cell phone coverage in areas he visited was blocked.

To see his face, you had to watch television. The live coverage only showed the official government entourage. The entire area surrounding the Casa Rosada was closed in the dawn hours, and the distinguished guest practically entered the building in his motorcade. He entered the Cathedral through a side door, getting out of the Beast inside a tent, and from there into the church.

So… Cuba and the Cuban people did great! Not even a mosquito bit him. But the performance ended there. Obama arrived in Argentina to an armored city. The media were occupied with frivolous details like the gifts Macri’s daughter Antonia will give Michelle and Obama’s daughters.

Obama said Macri is an example for the rest of Latin America. It appears he is an example of what we shouldn’t be or do.

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Enrique Ubieta Gómez writes for Granma, where this originally appeared.

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