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Christina Kirchner of Argentina Addresses Latin American Issues

Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina, spoke before a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations on September 22, 2008. After her speech a Q&A session followed, here is that portion of the meeting:

MODERATOR: Well, thank you for that thorough, you know, and far-ranging and thoughtful address. Many of the prerogatives of my job -- and ask one or two questions, then we will quickly open it up.

You've come to the United States approximately 45 days, give or take, before an election in this country. If you could advise the next president of the United States, what is it you would want to see in the way of changes or continuity when it comes to U.S. policy towards your part of the world?

KIRCHNER: Well, in terms of -- and please allow me to say I do not intend to meddle with the internal political life of the U.S., particularly only a few days away from your election on November the 4th. But I must confess that I was never this excited to follow both the primaries of the Democrats and Republicans, as well as both conventions. And this is not just because I'm now president of Argentina, but because as a citizen of the world I recognize the importance the new president of the U.S. will have in a world as ours.

What do we actually expect at the universal level from the next U.S. administration? I will say a reconstruction of multilateralism, which is not to do only with our own convictions -- which of course, have a lot to do with it, too. You know, the fact that we believe that you can give more legitimacy to the fight against terrorism or against drug trafficking, a fight which must be waged by all democratic societies, but also we think that the decision to pursue unilateral policies, as was the case with this current administration, that has had an impact on the world and has actually had a negative impact on the interests of the U.S. as a country.

I would dare say, based on the polls one sees, the image of the U.S. around the world has been negatively affected, and this is something we talked about during our luncheon. And politics is about results. You know, there might have been (good ?) intentions, but politics is about results.

MODERATOR: Wouldn't Argentina -- wouldn't Argentina act unilaterally if it felt that its national interests required it?

KIRCHNER: In terms of aggression? You mean a war?

Well, I would dare say respect for international law, observance of international law in order to accept the rules -- (inaudible) -- would prevent us from doing that. In fact, we have made a strong contribution for no country in the region to take such (status ?). Look, if that were may view, I could have justified Ecuador's responding with an aggression to Colombia due to Colombia's invasion of its territory, but my own attitude, the attitude of Argentina, has been at all times to go all the way back to undo that and to prevent the adoption of unilateral measures by Colombia against -- by Ecuador against Colombia, because there were higher interests in the region which had to do precisely with preserving peace.

Preventive action or preventive war is not something we endorse as a measure, and even less so outside the framework of international law. I believe that unilateralism has been bad for the United States. And let me point out the difference between the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan with the consensus of all nations and with the support of all nations, as opposed to the U.S. when dealing with the situation in Iraq, when even some of the allies of the U.S. withdrew their support.

I'm not talking about intentions, only about results. Again, in politics you may have the best intentions, but if the results are not good and you are left in isolation, it means that your policies have perhaps not been the best ones. I try to remain as objective as possible.

So, what do we expect from the U.S. with regard to our own region? Well, first, I would say, a different look and a different presence in a region. In a way, the United States has distanced itself from our region, and we think that there should be a different position and look at South America.

You know, this is something we raised at a meeting of the Americas, I believe in Monterrey. Back then, it was a time when the situation of emerging countries was not yet the one we now get to see in economic or growth terms, and we even talked about the help of the United States. I actually talked to a representative, who is now a senator, a Democrat. He also -- can I mention him or can I say who he was or -- (inaudible). I remember I met with him while he was still a representative; he is now a senator. And I remember he was in favor of setting up a Latin America fund to give assistance to the region with a different, more intensive U.S. presence.

The governments of the region now reflect the nature of their own peoples. Again, as I was saying earlier, presidents have never been so close to their peoples and have never resembled their people as much. So we would like more presence from the U.S. in our region. That's what we would expect from your new president.

MODERATOR: I have a lot more questions, but I will show uncharacteristic restraint and not -- people have raised their hands. Try to keep your questions short.

We'll go to Baldas (sp).

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Baldas (sp) from -- (affiliation inaudible). Madame President, you made a very strong cause for multilateralism. I think many of us here -- (inaudible). I'd be interested in your views about the working U.S.-United Nations -- (inaudible) -- multilateral framework. It seems to be quite broken, oftentimes. (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: When you get around to Security Council reform, does Argentina believe it deserves a seat on the Security Council?

KIRCHNER: Well, you know, the reform of multilateral organizations, whether multilateral lending agencies or the U.N. itself has been a recurrent topic for Argentina and is something we mention at all U.N. addresses ever since 2003.

I think we need to recreate the core, the heart of the Security Council, primarily because the U.N. -- the Security Council was created in light of the charter of San Francisco in a post-war world in which there was bipolarity. This tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which was the hallmark of the whole second half of the 20th century, right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, made the Security Council necessary, due to the constant tension in face of the nuclear threats in the world. If someone did something outside this framework, there might be some kind of universal nuclear holocaust.

And that tension, which was always played out within the Security Council with the veto right, enabled more or less acceptable functioning of the body during the second half of the 20th century.

Now, what is the problem? When the Berlin Wall fell and the bipolarity ended, with the U.S. clearly rising above the rest of the world as the leading economic, scientific power, also in terms of its weapons and technology, becoming the absolute number-one world power, that created an imbalance which can no longer be processed within the Security Council, and this is why unilateral policies arise.

You can exercise force unilaterally when there's no other force to counteract and resist you now. This is a principle of physics, but which must also apply to politics. In other words, American unilateralism is a result of its own repositioning as the one and only world power.

But therein lies as well the problem of a possible weakening of someone who is too strong, although this may sound like a contradiction. This is why, in my own view, it is necessary to reengineer the U.N. and essentially the Security Council.

If I were to have a formula as to what the right Security Council would be to guarantee the ballot box, I might be the president of the U.S. and not the other candidates, because that would be finding the way to achieve balance in the 21st century, as was the case with the Security Council to create balance in a highly conflicted world after the Second World War.

But the fact that we need to tackle Security Council reform, that we need to give participation opportunities to the new regional players, is out of the question. We must do that. But we should also bear in mind that this breakage of bipolarity and the emergence of this undisputed power that made the current Security Council no longer as adequate.

Now, knowing that that is a problem doesn't mean that we have a solution. But it is certainly a big step towards finding a solution as part of an open debate and discussion among all countries.

MODERATOR: Yes, ma'am. All the way in the back.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, President Kirchner. Kathy Hicks (sp) with Citizen Rights Watch.

Argentina was recently elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council, a body that's been extremely ineffective at holding human rights abusers to account, in part because of the ability of abusers to say that initiatives are directed from the north. Will Argentina be a voice (of ?) leadership within the council on ongoing crises like those in Georgia, Somalia and Zimbabwe currently?

KIRCHNER: Well, you know that the policy on absolute respect for human rights is one of the basic pillars of our policy and is actually a state policy. Argentina, as you will all know, had one of the most terrible dictatorships in memory, which ended up with 30,000 people disappeared and 500 children who have not yet been found. We have already found 94 children of disappeared persons thanks to the wonderful work of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, and tomorrow there will be a ceremony headed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Argentina and another 73 countries have signed the Treaty Against Enforced Disappearances, which, by the way, we have given a strong boost to. We are actually, as you pointed out, on the U.N. Human Rights Council. But only four countries have so far ratified the treaty -- Albania, Argentina, Honduras and Mexico. I think over the next few days, the Republic of France will be ratifying it as well.

But the fact is that Argentina's commitment to respect for human rights is -- it's unlimited and unfaltering. And I think we have made quite a lot of progress.

Last year I had a meeting with Ann Arbour in Geneva -- with Louise Arbour in Geneva. And, you know, when talking about the Initiative of the Right to the Truth, which was adopted in the U.N., something that had been encouraged by our country, other countries that hadn't been able to advance, you know, we actually had laws that -- (new ?) obedience and -- (inaudible) -- laws, which prevented prosecution of those responsible for the genocide.

Actually Mrs. Arbour, the human rights commissioner of the U.N., has acknowledged the key role played by Argentina is the field of human rights by leading to the adoption and creation of instruments such as the Right to the Truth or the Treaty on the Enforced Disappearance of Persons, which at least are instruments to fight for human rights in a world in which human rights are violated on a daily basis.

Our commitment -- and I think here again, we may be an example -- we should always be accountable for our actions, and it is true that until the administration of President Nestor Kirchner, impunity had prevailed in Argentina.

We had some pre-democratic issues, as I like to say, because people who commit crimes may evade justice and punishment, but in Argentina, those who had committed genocide evaded punishment and the law, not because they escaped, but because one of the powers -- the legislative -- had enacted laws that afforded impunity, which, as I always say, took us back to a pre-democratic stage in our society. When the state itself institutes, punishes and legislates for impunity, it's a pre-democratic state, you know. So I think that the progress in the field of human rights made in Argentina, which has been recognized around the world, and these instruments I have referred to and any other actions we may undertake will help us along.

Let me give you some more interesting news. We're working on a worldwide genetic database to work on issues of enforced disappearances, something that we are also going to support at the international level. This is something we think all countries should adopt. And we should take concrete steps every day in this unfaltering fight for the observance of human rights.

Thank you for that question, because it gives a chance to tackle an issue which, to my country and due to its own historical experience and to myself personally and due to my political beliefs, represents a policy of state.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible) -- for one more question. Is there a question on Latin America? I specifically want to make sure that we focus on this part of the world. John? Brief question and hopefully a brief answer, and I apologize for taking a few minutes late, but we started a few minutes late.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm John Brademas, a member of the U.S. Congress -- (inaudible). In 1961, I made a trip to Buenos Aires as a member of Congress to look at the state of universities in Argentina, and I've left with your assistant a copy of the report. Can you comment on the -- I was not a senator, I was a congressman). Can you comment on the state of universities in Argentina today and say anything about the possibility of developing relationships with universities in the United States?

KIRCHNER: In 1961 when you visited, I was still very little, so I can't remember your visit. But Argentine universities have substantially improved, just as all of the educational system has improved through greater financing. That was also one of the achievements of the administration of President Nestor Kirchner.

And actually I had to vote as a senator on the bill on education financing, and for the first time we're going to allocate 6 percent of GDP to education. Of course, our GDP's substantially higher than it was at the time the law was first adopted, and now we can approach the issue of education in Argentina in quite a different way.

Universities now have larger projects. The universities and faculty get more money and better pay. We are developing a scholarship system which is aimed at favoring study choices that we consider essential for Argentina's current production model.

Argentina used to be a country with a very strong bias towards social sciences, while leaving aside hard science, which is essential for technological development. This is why we are developing a very intensive scholarship program for our high school students to be able to pursue studies in fields that Argentina needs for its production model, and this also targets low-income families with support from the government. And we are making a very strong point of this policy.

Besides, one of the economic policies that has most grown in Argentina over the last five years has been in the field of technological software and IT and telecommunications companies. Those are the companies with the largest number of birth rates, and they have grown exponentially.

Why is this so? Because our country stands out in Latin America due to its highly qualified human resources. We are the only Latin American country to have three Nobel Prize winners in scientific fields. You can check other Latin American countries and you may find Nobel Prizes for literature, but not for medicine or biology or what we call the strictly scientific world.

You know, the public, free universal education system since the end of the 19th century and the upward social mobility typical of this very substantial middle class places us in a very interesting position in Latin America in terms of the education of our human resources.

MODERATOR: Well, I want to thank President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for getting us off to such an interesting start this week, one of the first women presidents we've ever been able to welcome a the Council on Foreign Relations. So thank you very much. (Applause.)

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