Obama In Argentina: Burning American Flags And Acknowledgment Of Past Sins

Just as Barack Obama’s Argentina trip was coming to an end, marchers moving toward Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo yelled out his name.

“Obama, fascista! Vos sos un terrorista!” they yelled, which translated to “Obama, fascist! You are a terrorist!”

The night before, a similar march took place in the center of hip barrio Palermo, in which rows of American flags were lit aflame on live television. Its message was simple: “Fuera, Obama!” or “Get out, Obama!”

This reaction, while extreme, is not unrepresentative of how many Argentinians felt about the president’s visit — the first by the U.S. head of state since George W. Bush in 2005. Since then, the already rocky relationship between Argentina and the United States has only gotten worse. The government of Nestor and Cristina Kirchner, known locally as “kirchnerismo,” were vocal about their disdain for the imperialistic actions of the United States.

Furthermore, a large portion of Argentina’s sovereign debt is being worked out in U.S. courts. Judges there have repeatedly ruled that the nation’s remaining lenders — known as “vulture funds” — do not need to accept their restructuring deals. Many blame this situation for the country’s dismal financial situation. Further exacerbating the issue, Congress is currently voting on the possibility of taking out a $15 billion loan in order to pay off all of the country’s debts — the largest of any country since 1996, according to Financial Times.

Obama in Argentina

These two elements combined make Argentina one of the countries in the world least likely to roll out the presidential carpet for President Obama. In a 2015 Pew Research Center poll, 43 percent of Argentines responded that they had an unfavorable view of the U.S. — the ninth highest of any country surveyed. China, Russia, and Turkey were among the only nations that were more distrustful of the American government.

Both in the streets and across social media, the anger over Obama’s visit was felt. While many Argentines praised the diplomatic act as a move toward maturity for their country, others were outraged that the American president would be setting foot in their city. Before he even arrived, the posting of American flags in Plaza de Mayo outraged critics.

Obama in Argentina

These feelings were particularly flared by the fact that Obama would be arriving just before the 40th anniversary of Argentina’s 1976 coup d’état. It’s an event which declassified CIA documents have illustrated American complicity in, if not outright conspiracy. Because of that, his visit is seen by many as disrespectful.

On the latter count, Obama took responsibility during his visit. Before heading to the Patagonian mountain town of Bariloche for the day, his final speech included a promise to look more critically at the past, and he announced that the U.S. government would be declassifying more coup-related documents.

“There has been controversy about the policies of the United States early in those dark days. The US, when it reflects on what happened here, has to examine on its own policies and its own past. Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for, when we’ve been slow to speak out for human rights. And that was the case here.”

Like present-day politics in Argentina, reaction to Obama’s visit was sharply divided. While some manifested to protest his presence, others watched it play out peacefully, enjoying moments like the Obamas dancing tango at a state dinner on Wednesday evening.

[Photo by Natacha Pisarenko/AP]