If you thought we’d hit peak-anti US rhetoric from Cristina and her government, think again. In the latest bout of hostility, she penned an extensive letter direct to President Barack Obama over his re-appointment of one Nancy Soderberg to the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), a group of trusted academics and ex-politicos responsible for making some of the less shady secret files in US National Archives available to the public.
Why did this get Cristina’s goat? Soderberg also sits as co-Chair of American Task Force Argentina (ATFA), a vulture funds lobby group and winner of the dubious award for most pompous, self-important name in the history of vulture funds lobby groups. This is the same ATFA that plumbed the depths of satire beyond Cristina’s own anti-Griesa poster campaign last week when they revealed their latest assault on Kirchnerism: imitation top trumps. America, Fuck Yeah!
Soderberg meanwhile, a veteran US democrat with a penchant for diplomacy, was appointed by the Obama administration to the PIDB back in 2012, so Cristina’s letter is, for one thing, pretty late. In the lengthy tirade, she voiced her concerns about the conflict of interests that might be at play considering Soderbergs straddling of both an independent government body and a group that lobbies for aggressive private capital against a foreign government.
In the letter, Cristina called the AFTA:
“An entity specifically created to attack and slander the Argentine government and its President.”
She also remarked that, in being on the lobby group’s board, Soderberg herself had “…conducted a defamatory and slanderous campaign of unprecedented proportions against the people and authorities of my country and specifically against myself, with a view to damaging the Argentine Republic for the benefit of a handful of vulture funds that seek to make exorbitant profits while curtailing the sovereign right of my country to restructure its external debt.”
In other words, Nancy Soderberg was guilty by association. That said, being a co-chair means it’s likely she had at least a hand in organizing such wacky ATFA antics as the illegal seizing of an Argentine Navy Flagship, along with the more routine spending of millions of USD in anti-Argentina lobbying stateside. As a group the ATFA’s purpose is to bang the drum in favor of the Holdout Creditors and against Argentina as loudly as possible. The boat seizure and top trumps are just two of the wackier ploys used by the group to rouse public opinion in the States against the Fernández de Kirchner administration. Mostly, though, they just throw a lot of money into setting up meetings and so on between their most persuasive hired hands and influential US politicians in the hope of turning some heads to the cause.
If her overt point in writing the letter was just to tell Obama how angry she was with what the ATFA and Soderberg are up to, Cristina managed both within the first few lines. Maybe another endearing attempt at tweeting her way to victory would have sufficed. But this being Cristina, she used the opportunity to rattle off other issues that grind her gears; pointing the finger at the Yankee-made guns so widely used in Mexican drug cartel violence for one thing. After all, it’s so rare that she writes a very deliberately open letter to his Obama-ness; why not make the most of it?
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the US response has been muted and indifferent; just about expressing enough interest in the letter to release an official reply courtesy of the State Department:
“Ms. Soderberg is a private citizen who works part time in an advisory committee…Her responsibilities in the PIDB are not linked to any activity she might have as a private citizen in Argentina’s dispute with bondholders.”
So cased closed as far (or as little) as the US government are concerned at least. This episode with the letter is just another brick in the wall of US-Argentina mud-slinging; a storm in a teacup. Nevertheless, that teacup is debris from the much bigger storm of the vulture funds dispute that’s still dominating Argentine politics. And it’s given us some insight into which way the wind is blowing on that issue and all the associated driftwood.
Firstly, Cristina continues to pursue the latest policy of scolding the US government over the Vultures in the most public ways possible, be they unsubtle jibes at US unilateralism or barnstorming appeals to the UN General Assembly. This was very deliberately an open letter; no doubt distributed to major news stations and newspapers by the government. The latest bid to show the public how willing she is to challenge Washington over its sheltering of vulture capitalists like Elliot Management Corp and NML Capital.
The days of Cristina fawning over Obama after his first election are long gone, as is the widespread popularity that both of them enjoyed once upon a time. The Argentine David Versus US Goliath story plays well for Cristina in the face of the snowballing vulture funds dispute, while also having the handy advantages of A) being pretty accurate, at least in terms of scale and B) voicing legitimate concerns held by many in the region about US unilateralism in Latin America.
Cristina’s letter also went after the liaisons between private capital and public organizations, too, by claiming there’s a conflict of interests between the two very different positions of authority Soderberg holds. The ex-Clinton advisor was re-appointed to the PIDB board in 2012, whose job it is to judge which bits of material- among what are surely vast mountains of secret and potentially explosive information- are fit and ‘appropriate’ for the general public to see. Being on the board means you should be as objective and informed as possible, and that’s what Soderberg’s ATFA co-chairing undermines according to Cristina.
She has a point. Never mind that the State Department has pointed out PIDB is only a part-time job and so often features people with other irons in the fire. ATFA lobbies for a definitive example of a vested interest: a tiny collection of vulture funds that demand 100% of their ‘investment’ back from one of the many cash-strapped economies of the global South, more or less callous to the socio-economic ramifications brought on for that country.
However, attacking Soderberg’s appointment from two years ago to PIDB, a group working on a task that doesn’t necessarily involve Argentina directly, isn’t likely to have much impact. By pointing out the potential for corruption in US politics (shock!), she also exposes her own government for just that accusation, as ATFA have of course been banging on about with some cogency for years now, inflatable rats and all. She can maybe take some solace from the fact that Ed Snowden, Julian Assange and co. might yet render groups like PIDB redundant. Time will tell.
To try and influence Obama over the issue may not have even crossed Cristina’s radar at all. What surely did, though, was constructing an opportunity to make some quick political capital. The letter spelled out what is becoming clearer with every well-timed Cadena Nacional appearance or offhand comment on global status quo: Cristina’s attacks against the Obama government and US foreign policy are bread and butter for the ruling Front For Victory (FPV) these days.
Reinforcing this approach was in all likelihood the main point of the letter. It had the air of a public relations exercise, first and foremost, like most open letters. Something that probably had very little to do with actually changing Washington’s mind over Nancy Soderberg and much more to do with uniting public opinion against the Vulture Funds and, by implication, the US government. As far as the buitres are concerned, at least, it’s something a lot of us can get behind.