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President Obama will receive a warm welcome from Argentina’s new free-market president but face mass anti-American protests from regular Argentine’s when he stops here following his historic trip to Cuba this week.
“We, Argentine’s, love to hate the U.S.,” said Gustavo Sierra, a journalist at the local newspaper Clarin.
Obama, the first U.S. president to visit Argentina in more than two decades, hopes to strengthen economic and political ties with Latin America and conservative President Mauricio Macri during his two-day visit starting Wednesday.
Macri took office in December with a vow to reverse many policies of his leftist predecessors, who imposed tight controls over the economy. One quick change: He lifted currency controls to allow a free exchange of the Argentine peso for U.S. dollars.
Obama plans to tour and lay a wreath at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, where Pope Francis had served as archbishop. Obama also will hold a town hall with the Young Latin American Leaders Initiative before traveling Thursday to Bariloche and Patagonia.
The visit is controversial here because it comes on the 40th anniversary of the March 24, 1976, military coup that the U.S. initially supported, and resentment still lingers over the tens of thousands of people who disappeared or were killed under military dictatorship.
Obama, who plans to declassify U.S. documents that shed light on the U.S. role during the Argentine military’s infamous “dirty war,” is likely to address that chapter of history during his trip.
Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel wrote in an open letter that Obama would not be welcome on Thursday’s anniversary because the U.S. “has been and is behind all the destabilization attempts on popular governments of our continent.”
Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel talks
Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel talks during a news conference in Buenos Aires on March 16, 2016, before the visit of President Obama to Argentina. (Photo: Juan Mabromata, AFP/Getty Images)
About 10,000 people are expected to protest on the anniversary in the iconic Plaza de Mayo with banners that say “Memory Day, Obama Get Out!”
“I will attend the event to protest against corporations,” said Gustavo Obligado, 25, a musician in Buenos Aires.
“I feel upset because … Obama’s visit is meant to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Macri wants to join. It is led by large corporations and filled with secret clauses, … which threaten countries’ sovereignty,” he said.
The 12-nation TTP is one of the largest economic treaties to lower trade barriers. Concluded in 2015, it has drawn political opposition in the United States as well.
Macri, 57, told the Associated Press last week that Obama’s visit is a chance to show that Argentina is cleaning up its act and wants to open the country to billions in investment.
“A year from now, we hope to be growing, and we hope to be receiving investments from all over the world,” Macri said in the AP interview.
Macri, the son of one of Argentina’s wealthiest businessmen, promised to renew relations with Western nations, especially the U.S., after a previous rapprochement with China and Russia under his left-wing predecessor, Cristina Kirchner.
“What I want most is to restore ties with the U.S., reinsert ourselves in the global community and copy Americans’ desire to progress and turn work into a cult. I hope this is the beginning of a great era for our country,” said Gabi Pusterla, an Argentine.
Buenos Aires lawyer Yamil Santoro called Obama’s visit “a step in the right direction. I think that it gives us the possibility to have a healthy relationship (with the U.S.), improve our international standing and generate agreements to foster development.”