Buenos Aires Times

Argentina’s diplomatic waste and bad wear

Wider knowledge of the over-used practice of political appointments, much resorted to by the Kirchner governments, got championship exposure by Córdoba politician Luis Juez, who was until recently ambassador in Ecuador, until he referred to the country’s population as “unwashed.”.

Saturday 25 November, 2017
Former ambassador Luis Juez.
Former ambassador Luis Juez. Foto:Pablo Temes - CEDOC.

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Argentina will become president of the G20 next Friday, in what seems a very elegant step up in international affairs, as well as a political and diplomatic challenge. In the day-today on the world stage it also could mean that we have a chance to look a little less shabby and more like a society that has studied some of the rudiments of international business. We’ll have to see… The G20 concentrates 85 percent of gross global product and two-thirds of the world population. Most of the latter are never invited to taste much of that gross product, but are usually promised more than they ever hope to get. They don’t get it.

These observations are personal, of course, but the figures are guaranteed for real, as reproduced in a report signed by ambassador Eduardo Mallea, the president of the Association of Foreign Service Professionals, and issued by him to members on September 29, which is Day of the Diplomat. In essence, according to retired ambassador and writer Albino Gómez, the publication of the description of the state of Argentine diplomacy was a warning shot aimed at President Mauricio Macri telling him to avoid padding the Foreign Service with his political chums and failed associates.

“Our governments, not just the public at large, probably fail to acknowledge that the Foreign Service has been used often enough as a kind of ‘war booty.’ An election victory allows the winner to appoint up to 25 political appointees who have little or no acquaintance with the technical minutiae of the service,” it reads. The two dozen permitted by legislation are the kind of loyal campaign allies who could not be found cushy numbers in the National Congress or in government offices.

Wider knowledge of the over-used practice of political appointments, much resorted to by the Kirchner governments, got championship exposure by Córdoba politician Luis Juez, who was until recently ambassador in Ecuador, until he referred to the country’s population as “unwashed.” His hosts in Quito did not see the remark as one of Juez’s ‘acceptable’ jokes. Of course, he said he had been quoted out of context. “It might be worth reminding people that the often praised Brazilian Foreign Service (Itamaraty) has never, not even under military dictatorship, appointed others than career diplomats,” according to Gómez. Take that, Mauricio.

The report was trimmed partly by former ambassador Gómez who sent an extended draft to Perfil’s online venue. The length of the report may have put off many a reader and it is not known to have been translated into English as yet, except for personal or corporate use.

In the substance of the report, the professional association reminded readers that there are a little over 1,000 men and women with diplomatic training, 447 of them serving within Argentina and 565 who are posted abroad. This staff represents 0.14 percent of the 736,164 people employed within the central government’s administration.

Given its detail, the report is a useful resource on the state of diplomacy, but its content at times verges on official boredom-speak. However, let’s insist that the information is useful. One of the points in favour claimed by the Foreign Ministry’s professionals emphasises the diplomatic recovery of the European market for bio-diesel (lost in the United States recently) which means a flow of US$1.5 billion a year in export revenue. That income must be a useful counter to Macri’s disturbingly constant drain on resources by increasing foreign debt, the persistence of which might eventually be a serious threat to the president’s prospects in 2019.

All these worrying aspects will probably be temporarily shrouded by claims of success in international relations, as soon as we can get a firm grip on the seating at the G20. The Foreign Ministry is reportedly busy working with other government offices to prepare a list of priorities for the year as top chair in the G20. This morsel of information should fill us with enormous relief that her ladyship leader of the last government is no longer in office. Just imagine a year of parades of new booties, furry hats and Gucci handbags, in a long line of tatty fashion throughout 2018. In that theatrical and hypothetical nightmare, the Foreign Ministry would have to concentrate much of its staff on handling emigration papers for distraught Argentines.

To keep our noses clean Argentina has diplomats in 91 countries and 142 cities, with a total of 160 representations by way of consulates, promotion programmes and the like. These men and women worldwide were responsible for helping 3,105 business leaders, many of them taking part in 56 trade missions or involved in some of the 125 international fairs in 28 countries. There is, of course, much to read about life and action in Antarctica, as well as thoughts about the law of the sea and there we are in Malvinas again. According to the September anniversary of the professional diplomats out of the 13 Argentine bases in Antarctica the Foreign Ministry is responsible for the administration of two of them – the Carlini Base which is a scientific branch of the Antarctic Institute, and the subsidiary Brown Base. There are close to 200 scientists who are employed by the ministry.

So there you are. It was essential that you were informed about some of the business carried out by the Foreign Ministry and its professional staff, so you may understand the problems caused by nonprofessionals whose main concern is, perhaps, where to send the kids to school, whether or not a shipment of favourite domestic ornaments will arrive in time for a party or whether there might be a job for the daughters and their cousins so as to start them out in the world. Thank you for reading this far.

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