Justin Trudeau in Argentina, hoping to deepen ties with ally nation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to Argentina today is the least well-defined leg of his Latin American tour in terms of objectives.

Canada looking to drum up trade, support for UN Security Council seat

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seen here with Agentina's foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, arrived in Buenos Aires early this morning for an official visit. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to Argentina today is the least well-defined leg of his Latin American tour in terms of objectives.

There are strong Canadian mining and commercial interests here, but no major contracts or disputes needing to be won or settled.

And yet Trudeau chose to come here rather than visit Chile, with which Canada has a more developed relationship and a free-trade agreement.

Trudeau arrived in Buenos Aires this morning, greeted by Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and a line of Argentine sailors and grenadiers.

The trip seems to be driven partly by the prime minister's affinity for Macri, who came to power a month after Trudeau himself.

"This trip is about engaging with our allies to the south," Trudeau said as he prepared to depart Havana for the nine-hour flight to Buenos Aires. "I've had excellent engagements at various summits and opportunities with President Macri, and I look forward to continuing to deepen ties in ways that will benefit Canadian jobs and trade links across the hemisphere."

The man Trudeau met today in Argentina's presidential Pink House is a former businessman, soccer-club manager, mayor and kidnap victim whose election last year brought an end to 12 years of populist government by the husband-and-wife duo of Nesto Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez.

Macri, the son of an Italian immigrant, defeated Argentina's long-ruling Peronist Party by promising to bring a more grown-up governing style, and to show more respect for the country's laws and institutions.

His arrival in power was a milestone in what has been a continent-wide shift away from the left-wing populist agenda represented by the Kirchners, Brazil's Lila da Silva and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Argentina hopes for Falklands arbitration

One item on the agenda is Argentina's perennial grievance over the Falkland (or Malvinas) islands.

The islands have been British possessions since the early 19th century and are inhabited by about 2,000 English-speaking "kelpers" who have recreated a little corner of England in the distant South Atlantic.

Vehicles decorated with Union Jack and Falkland Islands flags take part in what was called a 'Victory' rally in a March 2013 file photo. Residents of the Falkland Islands voted almost unanimously to stay under British rule in a referendum that has inflamed a long-running sovereignty dispute with Argentina. (Marcos Brindicci/Reuters)

In 1982, Argentina's Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri and the military junta he led launched an invasion of the islands to divert attention from a recession caused largely by his government's dismal economic management.

The war he started ended up boosting Margaret Thatcher's popularity more than that of his own government, which fell not long after.

Argentina has enjoyed democratic civilian rule ever since, while never quite seeming to live up to its economic potential.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with Argentina's President Mauricio Macri at the government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

Most Argentines revile the memory of the dictatorship that launched that war, but continue to view the islands' recovery as a noble goal.

The populist Kirchners frequently used the issue to tweak the beard of Great Britain without ever seeming to advance the goal of recovering the islands for Argentina.

Hosts hope for reversal from Harper position

Macri has focused his efforts on persuading other countries to back Argentina's official position that the islands' sovereignty should be settled by international arbitration. And that is where Canada comes in.

Prior to 2012, Canada took no position on the rightful ownership of the islands. The U.S., true to its Monroe Doctrine, was also unwilling to back Britain's claim against a sister American nation. But in 2012 at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia, then-prime minister Stephen Harper defied all other American nations by refusing to back a motion calling for arbitration.

Harper succeeded in persuading U.S. President Barack Obama to take the same stand.

Today Canada's official position is that the islanders should decide their own destiny, and they have shown no desire to become Argentine citizens.

Demonstrators shout slogans outside the British embassy in Buenos Aires last month as they burn Union Jack flags during a protest to demand an end to U.K. military exercises in the disputed Falkland Islands. (Marcos Brindicci/Reuters)

Macri wants Canada to return to its former stance, and will attempt to persuade Trudeau to take that step during his sojourn to the pampas.

It's less clear what Canada wants from Argentina, but the Trudeau government sees Macri as the kind of mature, centrist and pro-trade leader who should be encouraged and courted on general principles, and who may yet prove to be a useful ally in dealing with thorny hemispheric problems, such as the rapid unravelling of Venezuela or the arrival of an anti-trade U.S. administration.

There is one very specific thing, though, that Canada wants from every country it deals with: its support for Canada to obtain a seat on the UN Security Council in the 2021-22 session.


Evan Dyer

Senior Reporter

Evan Dyer has been a journalist with CBC for 18 years, after an early career as a freelancer in Argentina. He works in the Parliamentary Bureau and can be reached at evan.dyer@cbc.ca.


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