When Argentina appears in British public discourse, it is normally in relation to one of the two ‘f’s – football or the Falklands. The behaviour of President Cristina Kirchner’s regime towards the islanders is nothing short of disgraceful, and it is very encouraging to see the British government supporting the islanders in the strongest terms. The Falklands, for obvious reasons, are top of our agenda when it comes to discussion of Argentina, but this issue should not blind us from other major problems affecting this country as a result of Cristina Kirchner’s belligerence.
Kirchner makes no secret of her refusal to play by the same rules as everyone else. Argentina has expropriated the property of European companies; provides a safe haven for drug dealers bringing methamphetamine (crystal meth) to Europe; is developing a strategic relationship with Iran; deliberately falsifies its economic statistics; refuses to abide by international court judgments; and refuses to honour even the most basic laws of contracts and pay its debts to other nations and institutions.
Drug trafficking is an increasing concern. A recent research paper from the International Assessment and Strategy Centre found that Argentina currently imports 30 times more ephedrine than that needed for its legitimate pharmaceutical industry. Ephedrine is a key ingredient for the production of crystal meth – a brutal and destructively addictive drug that ruins many lives on the streets of Europe and the USA. This is not all – Argentina is now estimated to supply 70 tons of cocaine into Europe, which represents a third of the entire usage volume.
Equally worrying is Argentina’s growing friendship with Iran – a country that is a major strategic threat to the interests of Britain, and the West more widely. The Argentine Government’s blossoming relationship with Iran has been highlighted in the US Congress, and was evidenced recently when President Kirchner refused to allow a senior Argentine investigator to travel to Washington to testify before Congress on Iran’s role in the 1994 Buenos Aires bombing of AIMA, (the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association), presumably for fear of what the expert might reveal.
Argentina’s refusal to repay its debt obligations, even though it has billions of dollars in reserves, sets a terrible precedent for other nations, such as Greece, which may be tempted to follow this path of irresponsibility. Courts have previously ruled that the Argentine Government needs to pay all its creditors, which is exactly the kind of sound legal principle that we in the developed world should uphold and support – even if the Kirchner administration has chosen not to.
On every conceivable level, Cristina Kirchner’s actions are endangering the interests of Britain. So what can we do?
Following a public campaign in which I was involved, International Development Secretary Justine Greening took the important step of stating that Britain will vote against future loans to Argentina from international institutions such as the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The Obama Administration is also voting against new loans. No more should Cristina Kirchner’s government be allowed to threaten and denounce the international community on one day and then cash our cheques on the next.
There is more we need to do: other European nations must be encouraged to join the UK and the US. It is simply unacceptable that a country that is a member of the G-20 - one of the most important and prestigious international bodies - should behave in this manner. I believe that Argentina’s membership of the G-20 should be revoked. The country has been named and shamed by Transparency International as one of the worst in Latin America for corruption (even outstripping Venezuela), and the IMF has baldly stated that Argentina’s government is lying about its economy and cannot be trusted. In her own country, President Kirchner has been rocked by a series of corruption allegations made by one of the country’s most famous investigative journalists. One of his hard-hitting TV shows even gained more viewers than Argentina’s biggest football match, which was conveniently rescheduled in order to clash with the airing of the show in a move which backfired completely. We cannot, and should not, allow Cristina Kirchner to be rewarded with a welcome to the world’s top table.
Argentina is an international outlier. No other country – including in Europe – is behaving so irresponsibly in relation to its debt. No other country is in receipt of an IMF censure for falsifying inflation figures. In Europe, we should stand up for the rule of law, sanctity of contract, and respect for international legal and financial obligations. We should not stand with those who refuse to abide by court judgments or who steal private property. We certainly should not stand with those who ally themselves with drug traffickers and Iranian extremist groups. We stood firm on the Falkland Islands, and we now have a strong stance on international loans. It is time, too, to take a tough position on Argentina’s membership of the G-20.
Henry Smith is Conservative MP for Crawley. He is the Vice-Chair of the Trans Atlantic & International Security All Party Parliamentary Group.