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Pence praises Argentina’s economic reforms

By on August 15, 2017

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie, right, arrive at Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, Argentina, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.  (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Vice President Mike Pence is praising Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s “bold reform agenda” during a visit to that country, calling Macri’s efforts to transform Argentina’s economy an “inspiration.”

Days after local primary elections that were seen as a boost for Macri’s pro-business agenda, Pence said Argentina should serve as a model for the region.

“Argentina in many ways is an inspiration, across this hemisphere and across the wider world, and I’m here to tell you on behalf of President (Donald) Trump, the United States is with you,” Pence said during a joint press conference with Macri at the presidential residence in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.

Pence’s comments came during a packed day that has included meetings with local officials and a visit to the city’s grand cathedral. Pence is also set to deliver a speech at the Buenos Aires stock exchange focused on economic ties between the two countries as part of a six-day visit to Latin America.

Investors have praised Macri’s decision to cut government spending, reduce taxes on exports and end economic distortions that led to years of high consumer prices under his left-leaning predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. But job cuts and diminished utility subsidies have also stoked unrest in a nation with a long tradition of providing generous state jobs and benefits.

Macri and Trump enjoy a personal relationship dating back years from their days as businessmen and both had hoped to leverage those ties to bolster U.S.-Argentina relationship after years of anti-American posturing by Fernandez.

During a visit to the White House in April, Trump heaped praise on Macri and declared that the two countries would be “great friends, better than ever before” — despite the fact that Macri had supported Trump rival Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election.

“There’s a personal relationship there and I imagine the vice president will want to build on that,” said Harold Trinkunas, an expert in Latin American politics who currently works at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Pence’s visit comes two days after the surprising success of Macri’s political coalition in key Argentine provinces in a primary election. The results strengthened the collation’s position heading into October’s midterm legislative vote and gave a boost to its pro-business economic reforms.

The vote was closely watched to gauge Macri’s popularity and the strength of former President Fernandez, who is expected to run for a Senate seat in October. Investors fear a return of the populist Fernandez who has vowed to fight Macri’s reforms.

Fernandez had been widely expected to beat Macri’s candidate in Buenos Aires province, but the contest ended in a virtual tie that was seen as a major win for the president.

Pence’s speech is expected to stress a message he has delivered repeatedly now: That Trump’s “America first” policy does not mean “America alone.” Pence is also expected to argue that a secure Latin America is crucial to the security of the United States, praise Macri’s economic reforms and argue that a more prosperous Latin America is good for the U.S.

During her presidency, Fernandez kept prices for things like bread, bus rides and energy low. But her free-spending policies led to soaring consumer prices, limits on exports and currency controls that created a black market for dollars.

Macri was elected by promising to clean up corruption and jumpstart the economy with a pro-business government that would roll back some of Fernandez’s policies and cut back government spending. But he has struggled to rein in double-digit inflation and has been criticized for firing tens of thousands of state workers.

Pence is likely to stress the benefits of the changes, said Michael Matera, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who previously served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires.

“Certainly the reason you’re going to Argentina is to show support for a process that’s still somewhat tenuous, somewhat precarious,” he said.

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