Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Another Obama supporter

Argentine President Cristina Fernández took the unusual step at a press conference earlier this month of all but endorsing Barack Obama for President of the United States, as reported by the A********* P**** in Cristina: candidatura de Obama es "admirable" El País (Uruguay) 04.08.2008.

She said "que hoy sea candidato a la presidencia de los Estados Unidos un hombre de color... revela por parte de la sociedad y el pueblo norteamericano una vitalidad realmente sorprendente y admirable" (that today a man of color is a candidate for the President of the United States shows on the part of the society and the people of America a vitality that is genuinely surprising and admirable). And she added, "Mas allá de los resultados (en las elecciones de EE.UU.), es admirable que esté compitiendo por uno de lo dos partidos del país un hombre de color" (Whatever the results, it is admirable that the person campaigning for one of the two parties of the country is a man of color).

She observed, "No debería pronunciarme acerca de estas cosas" (I shouldn't be taking a position on these things) and commented "por suerte no está el canciller" (luckily, the Chancellor is not here), who presumably would have wanted her to adhere more conservatively to diplomatic protocol.

Fernández said she had never followed an American Presidential election this closely. She was very much an admirer of Hillary Clinton, and was herself sometimes referred to as "the Argentine Hillary Clinton". But she said that Obama is "alguien que me ha sorprendido por su personalidad, por su discurso, por su forma de enfocar las cosas absolutamente diferente." (someone who has surprised me by his personality, by his speaking and by his way of putting things into an absolutely different perspective).

The article notes that Fernández offered her observations on Obama without prompting from reporters.

I'm like pretty much all Americans, in that we like to think that foreigners either love us for our general wonderfulness, or hate us out of spite and envy. Or hate us because "they hate our values".

But knowing something of Fernández' background as a human rights lawyer who worked on behalf of the victims of the Argentine junta, who declares it one of her priorities to bring to justice those who perpetrated crimes on the Argentine people on behalf of the junta, and who is working to improve unity among countries of South America and to resolve conflicts like the endless civil war in Colombia, it's striking to me that she would take such an unusual step of expressing such an open preference for an American candidate. She's a very experienced politician, so I doubt it was a spontaneous statement.

I can't speculate in a very informed way about what her intentions may have been. It could be something as simple as calculating that Obama will win in November and wanting to score some points with him.

But, doggone it, with all the grievances that Latin America has against the United States, this looks me like an indication that at least some of our neighbors to the South admire the United States not just for our military power (which has too often been used against them) or our cars and gadgets, but also for our democratic traditions. And maybe also for our (still incomplete) success in building a functioning multicultural society; or, a bit more modestly, for the robust democratic spirit that has been shown in movements like the one for civil rights.

There's a somewhat less flattering interpretation, too. I can't help but notice that she says the democratic vitality for which she expresses admiration is "genuinely surprising" to see in the United States.

Fernández' career has spanned the time from military dictatorship to the restoration of democracy and the ongoing struggle in Argentina to anchor democratic institutions more solidly. Whether Obama and the Democrats realize it or not, restoring Constitutional government and bringing about some kind of reckoning with the very serious official crimes and massive corruption of government over the last few years is very much their responsibility. Whether they are up to the task remains to be seen.

But it's not hard to imagine that Fernández identifies with the responsibility a President Obama and his Party will hopefully soon have of restoring democracy and the rule of law to a country in which they've been badly violated.

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