The inauguration of Argentine President Mauricio Macri on 10 December 2015 started a dramatic transformation for the country and its relationship with the region. The incoming president began his work under the most difficult of circumstances, symbolized by the refusal of his predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to keep with decorum and publicly hand over the presidential sash. More problematically, her outgoing team reportedly provided almost zero transition support, and in some cases, took computer hard drives and otherwise removed or destroyed data needed by the incoming government.1
Macri’s legislative achievements in his first year in office were remarkable. Although his Cambiemos(Change) coalition was a minority in both houses of the Congreso de la Nación Argentina (Argentine National Congress), his government passed approximately ninety laws during the period, working with dissident members of the previously in power Peronist Party and using the national government’s significant financial contribution to provincial budgets as leverage in influencing their senators.
During his first year, Macri moved quickly to resolve outstanding debt claims against the country and reestablish its access to international financial markets, to reduce costly subsidies to public utilities, to lower export taxes undermining agricultural and mining output, and to correct other economic distortions. Within that time, he also declared a national emergency and frontally attacked narcotrafficking and rising criminality in the country, redeploying elements of the elite police gendarmerie, giving new life to Argentina’s Financial Intelligence Unit, and authorizing the military to protect the nation’s airspace against drug flights.
In foreign policy, Macri took significant steps to broaden and reorient the country’s international engagement, rebuilding Argentina’s relationship with the United States while continuing to do business with extraregional actors such as China and Russia, albeit through a more conservative filter of Argentine laws and institutions. He also sought to diversify those relationships to include expanded engagement with a broader range of actors such as Japan, Korea, and others while taking a critical stance toward Venezuela and other populist-socialist regimes within the hemisphere.
While not by design, Macri’s reorientation of Argentina advances the interests of the United States and the region. While his administration’s policies and legislative initiatives have been controversial within Argentina and are not beyond reproach, they have launched Argentina on a constructive new path that, if successful, will not only contribute to the development and prosperity of Argentina, but will also strengthen the institutional framework of the region.2 The outcome of Macri’s efforts will almost certainly influence debates in the region regarding development policies and foreign engagement. If successful, Argentina could serve as an example for others regarding how a competent bureaucracy—applying technically sensible, market-oriented policies while working to strengthen institutions, transparency, and rule of law—can advance security, prosperity, and development. With respect to foreign policy, Argentina will showcase how the United States treats its friends, even while highlighting a path for how a nation can participate as a dignified, sovereign actor in the international system, benefiting from interactions with a broad range of international players and constructively participating in international institutions.
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