By Hugh Bronstein and Jeff Mason
President Barack Obama on Wednesday praised Argentina’s new centre-right leader, Mauricio Macri, for the swift pace of reforms to create a stronger economy and said Washington was ready to work more closely with Argentina after years of tension.
Obama, on a two-day visit to Argentina that marks a rapprochement in relations, said the president was setting an example to neighbors in the region.
“I’m impressed because he has moved rapidly on so many of the reforms that he promised, to create more sustainable and inclusive economic growth, to reconnect Argentina with the global economy and the world community,” Obama told a joint news conference after the two leaders held talks.
In his first 100 days in office, Macri has distanced himself from South America’s leftist bloc, old allies of former President Cristina Fernandez, and sought a thaw in relations with Western capitals as he seeks new investment in Latin America’s No. 3 economy.
Macri offers Obama a new ally in South America, a region where a strong leftist bloc turned its back on Washington over the past decade but is now shifting toward the political centre ground as governments grapple with graft scandals and an economic slowdown.
Obama‘s trip to Argentina to forge a new friendship follows a historic visit to Cold War foe Cuba that aimed to boost Obama‘s credibility across Latin America. For years, much of the region took a dim view of Washington’s longstanding policy of trying to force change in Communist-ruled Cuba by isolating it, a strategy that Obama has cast aside.
Describing Argentina as one of the most powerful countries in the Western hemisphere,Obama said it was a critical partner as the United States seeks to “promote prosperity and peace and opportunity in the region as a whole.”
Macri said Obama‘s visit marked the start of new “mature” relations in which the countries would cooperate on issues ranging from trade to fighting international drug trafficking.
Earlier thousands of people cheered Obama‘s motorcade as it made its way along Buenos Aires’ tree-lined boulevards, handing the U.S. leader a friendlier reception than his predecessor George W. Bush, whose presence at a Summit of the Americas in 2005 was met with protests and snubbed by then President Nestor Kirchner.
Obama said Argentina could be an effective partner in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime and said both countries would work together in response to the Zika virus that has spread across parts of South America at lightning speed.