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ARGENTINA | 01-07-2022 14:30

US Ambassador Marc Stanley: ‘I see a once in a generation opportunity for Argentina'

Joe Biden’s envoy in Buenos Aires discusses his approach to diplomacy, bilateral relations and President Fernández's upcoming trip to Washington.

Marc Stanley only arrived in Buenos Aires five months ago, but he’s already loving life in Argentina.

The United States ambassador, speaking during an exclusive interview to mark US Independence Day on July 4, says he’s loving “the adventure and excitement” of his new post, as well as the new friends he’s making in the Southern Hemisphere. He confesses with a smile, however, that he does miss spicy food.

A committed public servant, Stanley worked for the US Congress in his youth before making his name as a respected and decorated trial lawyer in Texas. Over the years, he has served on the board of a number of charitable and political organisations in the United States, rising up the Democratic ranks to the point where local media in Dallas described him as a “longtime fundraising powerhouse.”

The envoy’s work in Argentina, however, requires a different set of skills and Stanley has thrown himself into the challenge, with his infectious enthusiasm on display in Buenos Aires from the get-go. His manic schedule and meetings with political leaders from across the spectrum have even seen him dubbed the “anti-grieta” ambassador by at least one local outlet – and that seems as good a place to start as any.

 

Ambassador Stanley, since your arrival we’ve seen you described here by some newspapers as the ‘anti-grieta’ ambassador. I’ve been very intrigued by not only the sheer quantity of the amount of people you've met but by the different types of people that you've met. Is this a conscious effort, something that you've decided to do yourself?

Yes. The term ‘anti-grieta' is just a huge compliment [Laughs]. That wasn't the goal, to receive that moniker, but I like it because it's exactly what I wanted to achieve for our mission. 

We don't choose the leaders in Argentina. We choose to work with the leaders in Argentina and it's important for us to understand leaders on every side and develop relationships. And so it's been really effective and I've been gratified by it. I've met really, really nice people.

 

And what have you learned from those experiences?

Well, I've learned a lot about the politics here and the economy here. I do say that I think I'm understanding things because I end up more confused every day [Laughs]!

I've learned that people on every side care deeply about this country, about the people in this country, about the economy in this country and about the welfare of this country. They may have different ideas how to get there but they do love this country and there's a lot to love.

 

Were there any surprises? I mean, for example, many on the social networks at least were very surprised by your meeting with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. I would like to know what your impressions were of meeting her and President Alberto Fernandez and Congress Speaker Sergio Massa – the trident of leaders of Frente de Todos.

They were all great meetings. Cristina Kirchner was extremely gracious. We talked about a wide variety of subjects, which of course I won't go into here. It wasn't a battle, it was a serious discussion about serious issues. She was very gracious with her time and with her words. And I was especially gratified that she received us a second time with [commander of United States Southern Command] General [Laura] Richardson. 

The meetings with Mr Massa and Mr Fernandez were also terrific. Different in every way, but serious discussions about serious issues.

 

During your recent speech to AmCham, you spoke fondly of Economy Minister Martín Guzmán and his work. What's your assessment of his stewardship of the economy?

I think he's rising to the challenges that he has. What I said at the IMF and what I'll say now is he was absolutely the right person, at the right time, with the right temperament to negotiate with the IMF. He's wicked smart. He's got a great demeanour. And I think he understands all of the factors that go into the challenges that he's faced every day. From what I see, he does a very great job. 

 

Do you think the United States will support Argentina's position on IMF surcharges?

That's a question I need to study more on. There is a divergence of opinion in the US government on that – the Treasury Department thinks that a deal is a deal. And if you're gonna eliminate surcharges, you have to do it for everybody. You can't make an exception for Argentina and that's probably right. So the question is whether the surcharges are functioning as intended or whether they're punitive as alleged by Argentina.

 

Given your experiences so far and the state of bilateral relations between the two countries, what do you think are the main opportunities for growth in the relationship?

It's actually changed since I got here. 

 

How so? 

Sadly, because [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin's unwarranted attack and the war crimes he's committed in Ukraine. As a result of that incursion, the world suffers and needs more fuel and food. Not just because he's taken away the ability of Ukraine to feed the world, but also [because of] our sanctions on Russia for his unwarranted acts. 

Argentina is blessed with incredible resources, the second-largest shale oil and gas deposit in the world, the third-largest lithium and deposits in the world. Great wheat, corn, soy, even fertiliser. The ability to produce energy with green hydrogen, with sun, with wind… it has all of the right components for success. And I think that Argentina is well positioned to try to help solve a problem by feeding the world and fuelling the world. And I'm hopeful that Argentina will rise to the occasion and do so.

 

President Fernández expressed his condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the G7 summit this week. Do you feel like the government has done enough in that aspect? Would you like them to be stronger?

I think that Argentina's been a great partner with the United States and the rational countries in the world to condemn what's obvious: this brutal attack. 

I mean, Putin has gone in there and the other day he took out a mall, a shopping mall. He's hit schools, hospitals, old-age homes. It’s horrible, indiscriminately killing civilians. And it was totally unjustified anyway – the Ukrainians had the right to self-determination and they wanted to remain Ukrainian. I've certainly been impressed with the resistance shown by [Ukraine President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy and the grandmothers and the soldiers of Ukraine.

But as to the efforts of Argentina, they've been absolutely terrific. They led the way as president of the UN Human Rights Commission – Argentina led the way to the condemnation of Russia in the commission, they joined the rest of the world in the resolution in front of the UN and voted that way in front of the UN, they voted against Russia in the OAS [Organisation of American States], President Fernández spoke out just yesterday, as you said, in front of the G7 – I think this is important and I know that the Ukrainians are grateful and I know that all people of good faith are grateful.

 

Regarding the G7, President Fernández also met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan while there, which I assume involved talks related to the president’s visit to Washington later this month. Are there any details you can share about the visit? What will be on the table during discussions with US President Joe Biden?

The visit is being scheduled. We're not 100 percent confirmed yet, because of schedules, but I believe it will be announced soon. 

I'm very excited about the visit. I think, again, this is an opportunity for Argentina and the United States to lock arms and partner to feed and fuel the world. Argentina has the resources, but needs some help with the infrastructure and the United States. I'm sure the European nations and the African nations need the fuel and the food that Argentina can produce. I see it as a once in a generation opportunity for Argentina and I'm really thrilled President Biden and President Fernández will have this time together in Washington.

 

Have you had any specific requests from the Argentine side in terms of what they'd like to discuss?

We're working feverously together right now! [Laughs] Again, my own hope is that we focus on working together to solve a world problem of fuel and food shortages. If we do so, I think that will help the Argentine economy, help the currency reserves, help the Central Bank, help the balance of payments, help exports, help job creation… y’know, right now that oil and gas is sitting in the ground and there are agricultural products that we can really ramp up, that can come out of the ground too and help people.

 

How can the United States assist with those issues specifically?

Well, I think that's to be discussed. And I don't think it's just the United States – I think there are a lot of countries that will want to help partner with Argentina to do this, but it occurs to me that Argentina could use some infrastructure help with pipelines, with redistribution of water, with conversion plants for liquid natural gas, with ports, with dredging the Paraná river to get ships up and down at the right ports… there are lots of infrastructure items we can talk about.

 

In the region we've seen a number of left-wing governments elected in Latin America of late. Is this a shift that you think is favourable to the Biden administration and how do you think it affects the perception of how the United States is viewed in this part of the world?

That's a pretty tough question, but I will say that if democracies are working and elections are honoured, I think that's always a great thing and I think it reflects favourably on those countries and on the United States. Left wing and right wing keep getting mixed up these days, I think they become a circle at some point, or they meet together. I think that Argentina and the United States both favour helping create a stronger middle class, helping to protect workers and helping redistribute wealth so that people get a fair chance.

I don't know how these chapters will be written, but right now, the way I look at it, right before our Independence Day celebrations and with Argentina's celebration on the 9th [of July], there's a lot to celebrate about independence and democracies that work and elections that are respected. 

 

China's influence in the region is well known – the amount of influence that it has in Latin America, specifically in terms of financial support and investment for Argentina and elsewhere. What are the risks for the United States with this, and how does it intend to counter this?

You know, it's interesting, there's certainly a perception of Chinese investment, but in reality, there's just not been a lot of Chinese investment in Argentina. There's a Silk and Road initiative. I understand there have been agreements going back to 2017 that haven't been funded, so you haven't seen much production there. 

Our country trades with China, there's nothing wrong with Argentina trading with China. I think we're a better partner of choice in general on trade, I like that we respect labour more, human rights more, I think that our products have better ingredients… we certainly do better customer service and relationships. I think that the history of trade with the United States has been really great with Argentina and it's something to celebrate.

 

I understand that there are certain things that you can't share, but I am interested in what President Biden said to you before you took on this position and what your ambitions were upon arriving here.

I think that he trusts me to go out and do a good job. He wants to see the bilateral relationship improve and he's given me a wide berth to do that. Quite frankly, there are other regions in the world that are more ‘on fire’ and an ambassador in Argentina gets a lot more independence to try to work on the relationship.

I'm really excited to bring President Fernández to meet with him. I think he's gonna be proud of the work that we've done here so far and proud of the relationship that we're building. When he sends someone out and they come back with good results, I think he's gonna be very happy.

 

You'll be travelling with President Fernández to Washington for the meeting?

I will be – not travelling with him, but I'll be in the Oval Office [for the meeting]. I'm hopeful that the first lady [Fabiola Yáñez] will come, I think [US First Lady] Jill Biden and she developed a good relationship in Scotland. Jill's has been following the birth of their child and would love to spend more time with her, so we're looking forward to it.

 

In the lead-up to this interview, there have been some high-profile Supreme Court rulings in the United States on gun control, abortion and obviously we have the January 6 hearings going on as well. Given that a lot of the discussion in the United States at present is about differences and given recent events, what does the Fourth of July mean to Americans and why is it so important?

It's certainly a great time to reflect on our independence and the fragility of our democracy, our young democracy, and as much as I disagree with the Supreme Court and what they just did in overturning Roe v Wade, as much as I disagree with – in my mind – not significant enough gun legislation, as much as I would wish for more, I celebrate the fact that we have an independent judiciary and independent legislature and that it works.

What the Fourth of July reminds us is that if we disagree with what the Supreme Court did on Roe versus Wade, we have other options – we can elect senators and congressmen to enact laws to fix it. We can, alternatively, in the states, elect senators and congressmen in the states to fix it state by state. We can do the same thing on gun legislation. 

I'll add one more thing. One of the nice things about being an ambassador is I get to see what works in your country. We can learn from each other. What I have learned from Argentina is more tolerance on a lot of issues: choice – you have a law allowing the woman the right to choose [on abortion]. I think that's really important, I wish we had that law enacted in the United States. We have 400 million guns for 350 million people – that's absurd! You don't have [an] insane [amount of] guns here in Argentina, you don't have mass shootings. You have better mental healthcare available. 

One of the things I'm gonna try to bring back to my country is what I have learned here in Argentina that works. And again, we can learn from each other. But I do celebrate that both of our countries, our young democracies, are both committed to remaining democracies.

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James Grainger

James Grainger

Editor-in-Chief, Buenos Aires Times.

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