Address by Ms. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentine Republic
67th session, 7th plenary meeting, General Assembly
Tuesday, 25 September 2012, 3 p.m. New York
I would like to begin my statement by confirming my personal position and that of the Argentine Republic and the Argentine people with regard to our emphatic rejection and repudiation of the savage assassination of United States Ambassador Christopher Stevens in the city of Benghazi, Libya. That ugly act of terrorism warrants that we reflect upon certain interpretations of events that took place in various Arab countries and were for many Western leaders interpreted as or called the Arab Spring. But, in reality, from our point of view — and I say this humbly and with all respect — it reflected other situations that were not correctly perceived or understood by the main leaders in the West.
It is no accident that the death of Chris Stevens occurred in Benghazi, where the principal focus of resistance against Muammar Al-Qadhafi’s regime originated, and where those of us with an understanding of international politics clearly know that the main Islamic fundamentalists were located — not just opponents of Muammar Al-Qadhafi’s regime, but those opposed to the very idea of peaceful coexistence between men and women of different races, religions, beliefs or faiths.
I say that because it is necessary to have a clear understanding of our problems and of the situations in the world, particularly in the Middle East. It is important to understand the need for different policies geared to building true and lasting peace — a peace that must always imply choosing the language of diplomacy before choosing the language of weapons. If one reviews recent history, one can see that important figures or political factions that appear to be allied with the West frequently end up becoming sworn enemies of Western values, perhaps as a result of poor interpretations or policies ill suited to what was happening in the Middle East and around the world.
The need to recognize the Palestinian State and the need to recognize that Israel must live within legally recognized borders in accordance with the 1967 borders is the crux of the problem in the Middle East. The Argentine Republic — and I believe we reflect the interests of our region — maintains that it is necessary to have a response to an issue that has been calling for a solution for decades. Yet, owing to different circumstances, to Governments and to interests in the West, which has an enormous responsibility of leadership in the issue, nothing constructive has been achieved.
For Chris Stevens, and for his family, there will be no Arab Spring, but rather a terrible and eternal winter. That is why it is absolutely necessary that we in the West rethink our strategies and policies with respect to the Middle East. Otherwise, we run the risk of ending up embarking upon erroneous strategies that undermine our values and deepen the crisis. What will happen is what happened in Benghazi, and we shall have to mourn the death of a diplomat, regardless of his nationality. In this case, it was an American, something that had not happened for a very long time.
A similar situation could be described with respect to the other great crisis, which was apparently economic in nature and which is shaking the world. In 2008, when we came to the General Assembly, Lehman Brothers collapsed, causing a crisis that seemed triggered by poor people who could not pay off the mortgages on their homes — the famous sub-prime loans crisis — but it has ended up today as something greater than a crisis of the poor who cannot pay off their mortgages.
It has spread well beyond that issue. It has been discovered that it was precisely those financial administrators of capital who were behind all this. Actually, it was the wealthiest sectors of society who created this global crisis.
In Europe the eurozone crisis is basically a crisis of sovereign debt for countries that owe more than their gross domestic product (GDP). Also, families have taken on more debt than they can pay off in the next 20 or 30 years. At this very moment in Spain there is repression against indignant citizens who are demonstrating against the belt-tightening programme being imposed on their country. They are protesting the same austerity programme that has been applied for decades now and that has not borne any fruit.
When we in Argentina discuss the problem we talk about it with deep-seated knowledge of the type of neoliberal policies that were the result of the Washington consensus, which was launched following the problems in the 1990s and ended up exploding as a default on the most significant sovereign debt known in history. Argentina owed 160 per cent of its GDP, the result of debt policies that in turn had resulted from the industrialization and ongoing imposed adjustment and consumption policies. Those policies were ferociously and methodically imposed on countries, just as we are seeing now with Spain, Greece and Portugal, with the resulting danger to the eurozone.
Endangering the eurozone involves more than just the undermining of an economic region. It is actually endangering the very stability of the world financial system. We should recall that some 65 per cent of international reserves deposited in central banks around the world are in United States dollars, and some 24 per cent are in euros.
It is necessary to rethink all of this. We need to rethink the trade war that has exploded between various countries. Some countries have denounced it as protectionism. Basically, participants in such trade wars assert that such policies are needed to defend their societies, their workers, their labour markets and their businesses against developed countries’ economies, which actually were the root cause of the crisis we are all experiencing today. The developed countries are trying to push their problems off on to others. I keep asking, if one of our countries had had a deficit in its current account, such as the United States is running right now, that country would no doubt have been
censored, punished and criticized. Of course, because dollars are the reserve currency — some 85 per cent of world transactions are in dollars — and the United States has been considered the country that issues the money used as reserve currency par excellence, it ends up being outside of the whole system. It is not criticized and is not targeted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yet the IMF continues to impose adjustment policies. Even yesterday, there were threats issued to countries like the Argentine Republic.
The IMF has tried to allude to sovereign debts as though the whole thing were just a soccer game. If Argentina were unable to accomplish certain things, the country was going to be given a red card, just as in soccer. I just want to say to the head of that organization that this is not a soccer game. First, this is the most serious political and economic crisis in memory since the 1930s. Secondly, my country is not a player in a soccer game; it is a sovereign nation, which makes its decisions on a sovereign basis. It will not be subject to pressures brought to bear from the outside nor any threats of red cards. Finally, continuing with this analogy between soccer and the economy, the President of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) does a much more satisfactory job than the head of the IMF.
With regard to organization and responsibility, FIFA organizes world matches every four years. Next time, they will be in Brazil, and no doubt they will be a success. The International Monetary Fund is in charge of organizing economies and has been doing so since the 1980s, and yet it has been unable to carry out its task effectively. However, it seems that it is countries that should be criticizing themselves, whereas I do not hear any self-criticism from the IMF.
With regard to the statistics for Spain, what were the statistics for Greece or Portugal, Ireland or Italy? What were the figures that allowed them to go more into debt without any kind of control or oversight? Why are some countries being controlled and not others? That is a question that we have to ask, and that we are asking from this rostrum. Since 2003, we have been saying this.
When President Néstor Kirchner came here for the first time he was representing an Argentina that had been devastated by the crisis, with poverty at levels that we had never seen before: 25 per cent of Argentine people had no work. People were losing their savings in dollars, roubles, pesos, pounds, whatever; they simply had nothing left. They came to the United Nations and said that we needed an opportunity to grow. For a country to pay off its debt, it needs to be able to grow. The dead do not pay off their debts. That is what the Argentine President said, and he was not mistaken. In 2003, based on the policies he was able to put into place, and without access to capital markets, Argentina was able to restructure a significant part of its foreign debt. We have been rigorously making every single payment since 2005. We will continue making those payments because we believe in policies that promote national production.
We are working with the most vulnerable sectors of society and promoting social programmes. We have dedicated more than 1 per cent of our GDP to those programmes. We have put social policies and programmes in place, and they are the most notable in Latin America. They have allowed us to promote growth, which undoubtedly is the most significant seen in the last 200 years of the history of the Argentine Republic.
We are not coming here to preach to anyone or to teach lessons. We do not think that we are teachers. We just want to tell the Assembly about the experience of one country that went through a situation quite similar to that now being experienced by other countries in the developed world. What we want to contribute is our empirical experience, not theoretical experiences. There are still decisions that need to be taken, but that have not been taken because many continue to follow the practices of those who control the capital markets.
They hit one country and then another. One day, the stock market goes up 20 per cent, skyrockets, and then it plummets the following day. We may not be economists, but we are not stupid either. We are talking about incredible transfers of money, and those who end up being harmed are the same millions of people who lose their jobs and lose their hope. What I hope to see is that they do not lose patience. Usually, when people lose patience, that is when they hit the wall. When people cannot find a job and do not have a State that is protecting them, it becomes a political and institutional crisis. That is what happened to us in 2001 in Argentina.
I also believe that it is important to understand that we have a new world before us now. This new world requires more creative leadership.
It requires taking the risk of applying new ideas and new concepts. Trying to solve the current problems of the world with the same medicines that caused them is absolutely absurd. That has to be stated clearly.
Then there is the matter of the current accounts deficit, which is transferred from the United States to emerging countries, so that our currencies are devalued and we have to make immense efforts to build up our reserves. We also have to take measures to prevent the central countries from transferring cheap merchandise to us that undermines our economies — the economies of the emerging countries that, it bears saying, propped up the growth of the global economy during the past decade.
Today, as emerging countries, we are being condemned as protectionist by the very countries that survived by protecting themselves through agricultural subsidies and all sorts of special breaks at the expense of our economies and, above all, of millions of our people who only now are being incorporated into the labour force.
It is crucial for developed countries to understand the contribution that emerging countries can make to the international economic recovery with the millions of dollars we still owe, on top of our costs for social benefits and production. Besides, we have paid down our debt to levels never seen before. Argentina, whose foreign debt represented 160 per cent of its gross national product, today owes only 14 per cent of its gross national product abroad; the remainder of its borrowing is intrasectoral public debt. We are at the lowest level ever of foreign debt and debt held by foreign sources.
Obviously, for some we are a bad example. Why? Because when we restructured our debt — and I am not proposing restructurization as a solution — we held that under capitalism anyone who risked investing dollars in a country like Argentina, with interest rates in the 1990’s between 15 and 16 per cent to ensure convertibility, when the rate in rest of the world was a mere two per cent, had to know that there was a substantial risk that that person, that bank or that institution would not repay the debt.
Our thesis was that if they had taken the risk, they should share it. We therefore proposed a restructuring whereby both parties would share. The fact is that Argentina paid its stockholders more than Enron did. Enron paid, I believe, $1 per $100 share; Argentina paid $25 to $30 on $100. In reality, we were more generous and responsible than Enron was, not just towards the rest of the world but to the citizens of the United States.
That may of course annoy certain multilateral credit institutions, especially because, during the 1990’s, Argentina was held up as an example of the way things should be done, while in 2001 we were left to our own devices and told to resolve things by ourselves. I believe that is why some would censure us or fine us, so that our bad example does not spread, but if we think of the world as a totality, we will understand that that is not an economic problem, but a political one. Without leaders who can point to a clear, specific path for overcoming a world economic crisis of this magnitude, we are no longer facing a problem of economics or economists; we are facing a problem of politics for which there are neither solutions nor responses nor new models.
We know that some multilateral agencies are angry with Argentina, but we tell them there is no point being angry with us. The important thing is to analyse the mistakes that were made in both economics and politics and what was done wrong so that we can correct them, move forward and overcome this crisis, because if allowed to continue it will trigger not just severe economic problems but severe political and institutional ones. Having been a political activist at a young age and having experienced periods in my country when Western values were not respected, when people were raped, tortured and disappeared — because democracy had disappeared — what I am most afraid of is that if there continues to be no solution to the present crisis, many millions of people in the West will cease to believe that a democratic system can provide solutions.
If we examine human history, we can clearly see that the most terrible totalitarian periods were preceded by severe economic crises that gave people no way out, deprived them of hope and filled their ears with siren songs that promised things we all know could never be delivered.
I wanted to speak emphatically about how to tackle the problem, about how to conceive of it, so that the situation can be brought back into line instead of languishing as it has since 2008. Unfortunately, we have begun to see that the crisis in the developed world is starting to spread into emerging countries, which have been the engine of global growth.
I believe those things are connected. The lack of a correct interpretation, of an adequate classification, so that political and economic events get jumbled together, gives rise to fallacies — for example, that the people in certain political movements want to live like Westerners or that certain orthodox economic adjustments might lead to some way out or some solution — all false, of course.
I would now like to address two topics that might be called bilateral in nature. One, in the form of this little booklet in English and Spanish, was delivered to each of the Missions represented here and deals with the question of the colonial status of the Malvinas. Last June, I appeared before the Committee on Decolonization here in New York to present our request for compliance with resolution 2065 (XX), which urged both countries — the United Kingdom and Argentina — to undertake a dialogue on the issue of the Malvinas. Next January, it will have been 180 years since the United Kingdom illegally usurped our Malvinas islands. Not only has that country not ceased, it has not listened to or heeded any of the many allegations and resolutions of the United Nations, the resolutions of the Committee on Decolonization, and the many resolutions of various organizations such as the Organization of American States and other multilateral organizations such as the Rio Group, which have asked Great Britain to sit down to a dialogue with Argentina. We are not asking them to say that we are right. That would not be dialogue; it would be to impose a point of view. We are simply asking them to sit down with us to comply with the United Nations resolution and to undertake a dialogue on the sovereignty of the Malvinas, as well as to demilitarize the South Atlantic so that it becomes a region of peace in South America, without regard to ethnic, religious or any other differences that could lead to clashes between us.
That is why we once again reiterate our appeal. There is a clear double standard here: the permanent members of the Security Council have the right to violate any and every requirement of the United Nations, while everyone else has to accept without demur any and every Council resolution. That is not building multilateralism. It contributes nothing whatever to the peacebuilding that we all demand and need, and it leads to a growing feeling of injustice and inequality between nations, which significantly affects the possibility of a more just world, of living in a world without violence.
That is why we say once again: this is not a bilateral issue between us and the United Kingdom. It has become a global issue — doing away with the last vestiges of colonialism, which became one of the great contributions of the United Nations when it created the Decolonization Committee, in 1961. Entering the twenty-first century without colonies is a matter of human rights, rights that in my country we certainly defend very strongly; our support for them is an example to the world.
Finally — and this relates to the early part of my speech, when I repudiated and condemned the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya — I would like to mention something that for us, the Argentine people, continues to be an open wound, since in its case justice has still not been served. That is the bombings of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in 1994 and of the Israeli Embassy in 1992, acts that should be utterly deplored and condemned. Former President Kirchner and I both asked the Islamic Republic of Iran, which stands accused by Argentina’s judiciary of participation in that crime, for its collaboration and cooperation. In 2010 and 2011, given the lack of response to that request, I suggested, as an alternative, that if the Islamic Republic of Iran did not trust the fairness and independence of the Argentine judiciary, the solution could be based on a case that the Assembly will recall, the Libyan terrorist attack on a British airplane, in which a trial was eventually held in a third-party country to arrive at reparations — if one can talk of reparations in the case of death — for some of the damages. Thus both countries would agree on a third country where a trial would guarantee justice for both sides. In the aftermath of that terrible event, what was most important was the quest for truth.
I began my statement by talking about international terrorism, and I am ending it on the same subject. I am not talking about an act committed in a single African country against a single member of the diplomat corps; I am talking about what was done in my country, on my territory, to my brother Argentines, in clear violation of territorial sovereignty. Last Wednesday, 19 September, we received a request from the Islamic Republic of Iran for a bilateral meeting at which, as we understood it, there would be a dialogue on this matter. My country, which has continued to ask for a dialogue and which promotes dialogue as a universal — and, in the case of the Malvinas, a specific — instrument, decided to instruct our Minister for Foreign Affairs to hold a bilateral meeting between the two ministries, here at the United Nations, as requested by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
I should say here that I am expecting results from that meeting, based on the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran showed that it wanted to cooperate and collaborate on the matter of the attack. If they do not want to conduct the case in Argentina or in a third country, we hope that they will come forward with other proposals as to how we can address this deep- seated conflict, dating back to 1994. I would like to remind the Assembly that when President Kirchner had just become President, in 2003, nine years had elapsed since the attack, without results. But I would also like to say that we hope this meeting will yield specific, concrete results if the Islamic Republic of Iran has a proposal for making headway. It might not necessarily be in the direction proposed by Argentina, but I would in any case, as a member of a representative and federal republican country, submit it for consideration by the representative parliamentary bodies of my country. A proposal made by the Islamic Republic of Iran is too important to be resolved through executive power alone, quite apart from the fact that our Constitution requires that the legislature and judiciary be involved in such an issue.
This is not a matter of casual or standard foreign relations with another country. It concerns an event that has marked the Argentine people and is enshrined in the history of international terrorism. The essential fact is that the families of the victims, to whom I feel very committed, need answers. For six years I sat on the bicameral commission of inquiry into both the Embassy and the AMIA attacks, and I was always critical of how the investigation was conducted. That is why I believe I have the authority to address the families of the victims — because they are the ones who truly need answers; they need to understand what happened and who is responsible — and to assure them that this President will not take any decisions on any proposals put forward without first and foremost consulting them and the parliamentary representatives of my country. They all have an obligation to voice an opinion publicly on a matter of this importance.
Lastly, I would like to say to every member of the Assembly that in 2013 and 2014 Argentina will have the great honour and responsibility of occupying a seat — a non-permanent seat, obviously — on the Security Council. I would like to make it clear that beyond the fact of our taking a seat at that table, each and every country with serious aspirations to peace as a universal value will be represented by us in that seat. That is not a disingenuous or informal wish. It is a firm declaration that peace must go hand in hand with truth, justice and equality. Peace is impossible in a world where countries are not all treated equally. Peace is impossible in a world where people are growing poorer and becoming increasingly excluded. Peace is impossible in a world where people do not tell the truth or state how things really are.
We believe that in peacebuilding the largest and leading nations of the world bear the greater responsibility. Just as in a country’s political system the President bears the greatest responsibility and the chain continues down from there, the same is true in the wider world.
We cannot, beyond the call for equality, turn a blind eye to hegemonies or to the importance of certain countries in not only resolving conflicts but sometimes also in triggering them.
The Argentine Republic will, from its seat, do everything in its power to promote the values that it has always defended: peace and the unconditional promotion of human rights in all countries, whether we are on good terms with them or not. Human rights are universal values that should be respected by all types of Governments throughout the world. It is the obligation of the Assembly and the Security Council to act on the basis of a single standard so as to build the values of peace, human rights, equality and truth. That is the only way to bring about a world that is more fair and equitable than the one of today.