Interview
"Massa is the most reliable Peronist for the Biden government because he understands what Washington wants to hear"
The director of the Wilson Center, Benjamin Gedan, talks about the process in Argentina towards the general elections. Milei, Bullrich and Washington's relationship with the second largest economy in Latin America.

Benjamin Gedan studies in detail the politics of Latin America and the relationship between the United States and what is sometimes disparagingly called its backyard. Gedan is the director of the Wilson Center's Latin America Program, a very influential think tank in Washington DC. There he conducted a series of talks titled "Argentina elige (elects)." The analyst talked and learned about the proposals of the presidential candidates' main economic advisers. Gedan listened to the advisers of the winner Javier Milei, Patricia Bullrich and Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, who is now out of the race due to the Argentine primaries results. In dialogue with LPO, the director of the Wilson Center also reflected on the limited presence of Latin America on the United States presidential campaign agenda.

Before the PASO (Primaries) results, Argentina showed a particularity: stability of the political system in contexts of economic crisis. Do you think that is starting to change?

In recent years, the Argentine case was interesting because of this. A chaotic economy with recurring crises, but a more orderly and predictable policy, with competition between two forces that got almost all the votes. Abroad, everybody anticipated a competition between Peronism and the traditional center-right. There was some knowledge of the Javier Milei phenomenon, but no one had the idea that he could become president of the second largest economy in South America. Especially because of those two great and powerful forces. Now the context is very different. There is uncertainty abroad, many think that Argentina is heading towards an uncertain future.

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Javier Milei does not have fluent contacts with the Us establishment. How is it perceived from the US power?

What is uncomfortable for the United States government is the lack of knowledge and relationship with Milei's political force. For any government, it is a priority to have relations with all democratic forces in the country. Just in case. Now there is a new force that we do not know nothing about. We have no experience or contacts. It creates a sense of mystery and we don't understand his team's platform.

What do you think the International Monetary Fund thinks about Milei's victory in the primaries?

It is clear that many of Milei's policies are aligned with the United States and the IMF. Argentina has to minimize its debt, its deficit, minimize public spending, and accept the structural reforms that most foreign economists and the IMF think are necessary.

Peronism came third in the PASO elections. Could that alter the agreement in principle reached by Massa and the IMF?

I don't think the results of the PASO elections will affect the recent approval process. It is always uncomfortable for the IMF to negotiate during the election period. The IMF does not talk about the future. But at the same time, Argentina lives in a permanent emergency and this time it must anticipate things. But I don't think the agreement will be altered.

What is uncomfortable for the United States government is the lack of knowledge and relationship with Milei's political force. We have no experience or contacts. It creates a sense of mystery and we don't understand his team's platform.

Milei has a very pro-American speech. Why does he generate suspicion and discomfort?

On his foreign affairs policy, Milei is much more pro-America than China. Diana Mondino, Milei's economic adviser, told us very clearly. That is friendly to the interests of the US, but the most important thing for the United States is the quality of democracy and the possibility of guaranteeing governance, social peace and the stability of democratic institutions. That is why no one is enthusiastic with Milei on Wall Street or in the government. There is fear of a guy who could not guarantee social peace, that would generate disruptive protests and could not apply sustainable reforms in Congress. A guy who could challenge democratic institutions. But that generates a mixed feeling.

"Massa is the most reliable Peronist for the Biden government because he understands what Washington wants to hear"

Milei is an outsider. What comparisons worldwide does he provoke?

There are plenty of examples of people coming from outside the traditional political system. They do it with a basic but forceful criticism: there are no reliable parties, politicians are all corrupt, incapable of facing the challenges people ask for. And only an outsider can provide answers to those challenges. It is a rhetoric common to Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, although it is heard everywhere, as there are frustrated and disappointed people. That generates very fertile ground for a phenomenon that is not so original, that of the discourse against the elites.

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Is Sergio Massa the favorite presidential candidate of the Biden administration?

I don't think so. There is a close and professional relationship between the Biden administration and Sergio Massa. He is the most important counterpart in the IMF's relationship with the Argentine government. But the Biden administration could maintain a very friendly and correct relationship with Patricia Bullrich, based on a normal bond and a shared agenda of structural reforms. There are people here who think that only a Peronist could move forward with these structural reforms, because any other could not manage the necessary dialogues to achieve those reforms. But the White House can be in contact not only with Massa but with other people.

Massa built a relationship of trust with Juan Gonz√°lez, Biden's senior advisor for Latin America. Doesn't it create a preference?

Juan Gonz√°lez wants to maintain a good relationship with Argentina. And Massa is the most reliable Peronist for the United States due to his ability to understand what Washington wants to hear. With Milei it may be different, because he is a person with little experience in international politics. But with Bullrich's traditional opposition, he could have a magnificent relationship, like the one the US government had with Mauricio Macri.

Massa is the most reliable Peronist for the US government due his ability to understand what Washington wants to hear.

During the Macri government, Bullrich appeared close to the US security agencies. Can it help her?

In her time as Macri's Security Minister, Bullrich had a very pragmatic relationship with the United States. She understands the importance of the relationship, she is a pro-market person. There are positive expectations regarding a potential Bullrich administration, and no fear. She is a well-known and experienced person who played a role with Macri, maintaining a proactive agenda. Both she and Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, who has lost now, are well-known politicians in Washington.

"Massa is the most reliable Peronist for the Biden government because he understands what Washington wants to hear"

Is Latin America on the US campaign agenda?

The United States foreign affairs policy is not a campaign issue. The same thing happens in almost all countries. Candidates will not focus on foreign affairs policy, except for China and Russia, due to trade rivalry and Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Those are issues that are politically important. Latin America does not have it, except for some areas like Florida, due to its proximity to Cuba, and immigration from Venezuela, Colombia and other countries.

Will immigration be a campaign issue?

Immigration will be a campaign issue, but more focused on policy towards Central America. South America does not play a central role. There is a greater interest than before, because the United States is seeking to ensure that its imported manufacturing is not concentrated in Asia. Then it looks for friendly countries to strengthen supply chains. Strategic resources such as lithium batteries and hydroelectric resources are also generating a bit more interest.

The US is not used to having a left-wing government in Colombia, an environmentalist president with little interest in the oil industry and criticism of the US anti-drug policy.

How do you analyze the recent tussle between the Biden government and that of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico as a result of fentanyil production?

The relationship with Mexico is the most strategic relation the US has. When I talk about the lack of attention towards Latin America, I do not include Mexico, because the link is commercial, a link of immigration and fighting against drug trafficking. There are many complementary and merged industries, such as the automotive and pharmaceutical industries. The relationship is not easy now, because AMLO has a different perspective on energy production, fentanyl, and because he questioned compliance with free trade agreements with the US and Canada. That drives them away, but the relationship is so important that it cannot be ignored. We will always have to balance interests.

How has the relationship with Colombia changed since a left-wing president like Gustavo Petro took office?

Colombia is an example of a country with which the United States has had a strategic relationship. The achievements of Plan Colombia are examples of a successful foreign affairs policy, despite the challenges that Colombia still faces in terms of security. But he managed to rescue a broken country. Now we live in a different time: The United States is not used to having a left-wing government in Colombia, an environmentalist president, with little interest in the oil industry and criticism of the US anti-drug policy. We are in a transition, but both countries are looking for ways to relate, for example, based on green energy, the Amazon, mediate to achieve a democratic dialogue in Venezuela. It is an interesting and challenging moment, but Colombia and the United States show their desire.

Translator: Bibiana Ruiz. 

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