Argentina's President Mauricio Macri And Donald Trump's Decades-Long Friendship

On Thursday, Argentine president Mauricio Macri will become the second Latin American president to be received at the White House during Donald Trump's presidency. Unlike his Peruvian counterpart, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Mauricio will be given the full Washington visit schedule with lunch, a visit to Congress, and a private Oval Office meeting, reported Argentine newspaper La Nación.

Macri and Trump will, after all, have a lot to catch up on. Both of the political figures' most prominent biographies, The Art of the Deal and El Pibe, recount how their relationship began in the early 1980s when the wealthy Argentine family had plans to enter the New York City real estate market.

The relationship between Donald and Mauricio remained strong for years to come. In 1984, when Trump visited Argentina, Macri acted as his personal tour guide, even holding a family asado (barbecue) in his honor. It was a tradition that held strong in the following decades. Mauricio once commented on an Argentine TV program that he often got together with his "close friend" when he traveled to New York.

The terms of that relationship changed significantly once Donald became a contender in the 2016 presidential elections. Facing massive unpopularity around the world, politicians from many countries sought to distance themselves from the Republican candidate. In Argentina, a poll found that only five percent of people supported Trump.

Mauricio Macri Argentina president visit
Mauricio Macri was elected president of Argentina in November 2015. [Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

Taking a cue from this trend, Macri grew more critical of the GOP candidate in the press. At one point he called him a show-off and "completely crazy." After tenuously extending his support to Hillary Clinton, the final weeks before the U.S. presidential elections saw some members of Mauricio's government outright condemning Trump's candidacy. Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra called his rise "worrying." Both later backtracked on their negative comments, reported local English paper the Argentina Independent.

As politicians, it seemed for a while that Trump's anti-establishment message took on a much different rhetorical flavor. While Mauricio Macri promised -- and has largely delivered on -- a return to the traditional neoliberal model, Trump's purported economic policy often echoed that of ex-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. So much so, in fact, that the Peronista who ruled Argentina for eight years came forward after his surprise win to characterize the American president's triumph as "not a racist vote," but rather a move toward protectionist economic policies and away from the globalization that has characterized the recent era of world history.

Mauricio Macri Argentina president visit
During his first few months in office, Mauricio Macri took great pains to heal his country's relationship with the United States through diplomacy with Barack Obama. [Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images]

Some have also compared Trump to Cristina for their populist approaches to governing. Both choose social media as their primary communication platform, often using the space to openly attack their opponents from the political opposition, the media, or other countries. The Economist released articles linking President Trump to Juan Domingo Perón, one of the primary inspirations for Kirchner's government. Cristina, currently in court for multiple graft scandals, was, however, more likely to be greeted by chants of "Lock her up!" than her political rival. Still, she contended that the accusations were false, simply a way for corrupt judges to keep her out of power.

Yet, as the Trump and Mauricio presidencies have worn on, several other similarities have emerged. Potential conflicts of interest between Trump's sprawling business empire and the American presidency have dogged his first 100 days in office. That potential for ethical violations also manifested in Argentina, when several media outlets reported that the then president-elect asked that a permit to construct a Trump Tower in Buenos Aires be pushed forward, which was a theory based on conjecture from a local TV journalist with a reputation for hyperbole. This charge was denied by both Macri and Trump, but Ivanka's involvement in the call still irked some. Macri, apparently not seeing a problem with her presence, proudly spoke about it in an interview at the time, reported The Hill.

"In the call, I also talked with his daughter. I have known her since her infant days."
Since then, Mauricio has repeatedly found himself in his own battles of conflicts of interest. Members of the opposition accused him of forgiving 97 percent of a debt that the Macri family owed to the state following the bankruptcy of national post service, Correo Argentina. Others were outraged when his family's airline, MacAir, sold shares to a larger carrier, Avianca, just before the government proposed new routes that would compete with national airline, Aerolíneas Argentinas.

This particular similarity highlights what is perhaps the biggest link between the two men. Both come from prominent, lavishly wealthy families within their respective countries. They are businessmen-turned-politicians who promised a change pitted against political establishment families. Both also face accusations from the opposition of clearing a space for their friends instead of "draining the swamp" as promised.

Comparisons have also been drawn between the two presidents on immigration. Although the idea was shut down by Mauricio's government, one right-wing politician in Argentina even called for a wall on the border with Bolivia to keep out immigrants from the poor neighboring country. Similarly, Macri has also spoken about how Argentina should not have to take in criminals and the poverty-stricken from abroad. As Argentina is also a country founded by immigrants, the reception to this line was, as in the U.S., mixed but heavily polarizing, reported New York Times.

"We cannot continue to allow criminals to keep choosing Argentina as a place to commit offenses."
Both men have also been called out for their treatment of women. While Mauricio has never confessed a desire to grab anyone "by the p***y," he has been dogged by one embarrassing interview from a few years ago where he said that he did not believe women who say they do not like to be catcalled: "If a woman has a nice a**, you should tell her." He later apologized for these comments after a scolding from his daughter. Macri has also not fared well with the gay community; referring to homosexuality as a "disease" in a 2007 interview.
Still, it's worth noting that Mauricio's approach to politics has been, up until now, much less aggressive than that of his North American counterpart. That may, however, be about to change. Emboldened by a pro-government march earlier this month, Mauricio promised to break up the "mafia-like" unions that he believes are holding the country hostage. Barring a shift in rhetoric, a Trump speech is, perhaps, still more comparable to one given by Kirchner than Macri. Their social media activity? Definitely more comparable to CFK.

Either way, Mauricio isn't really in a position where he can just ignore Trump's demands. A renewed relationship with the United States and Europe has been central to his government's plan. Argentina has issued billions in dollar-denominated bonds since his rise to the presidency -- meant to prop up dwindling Central Bank reserves, cover a massive budget deficit, and prompt industrial development. As Trump promises regulation cuts and a more business-friendly environment than his predecessor, interest in emerging market bonds, like those of Argentina, has dwindled, reported The New York Times. This part of the relationship perhaps best highlights why it's difficult to say that either man is a leader just like the other: Argentina's GDP is just two percent of that of the U.S., and and the Latin American nation is far from being a global superpower. Even if they governed identically, the results would likely be quite different.

After they meet in Washington this week, Americans and Argentines alike may have a better idea of whether their presidents, Mauricio Macri and Donald Trump, will deliver on what they promised for their constituents shortly after the U.S. president's election with "the best bilateral relationship ever."

[Featured Image by Drew Angerer and Rolex Dena Pena/ Pool/Getty Images]