Andres Oppenheimer

Andres Oppenheimer: Macri may shake Latin America’s politics

If the polls are right and opposition leader Mauricio Macri wins Sunday’s elections in Argentina, we may see a huge change in Latin America’s political map: Macri has vowed to take distance from Venezuela’s leftist-populist regime, and seek closer ties with the pro-market Pacific Alliance bloc made up of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile.

When I asked Macri in an interview earlier this year what would change in Argentina’s foreign policy if he becomes president, he started out by responding, “Everything!” Judging from his statements in recent days, that may turn out to be true. Here are some of Macri’s foreign policy plans:

On Venezuela, Macri has vowed to end outgoing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s close political alliance with Venezuela. During the Nov. 15 presidential debate with government-backed candidate Daniel Scioli, Macri said that he would call for Venezuela’s “suspension” from Mercosur — the southern cone’s economic bloc made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela — for not complying with the group’s democratic clause requiring all member countries to abide by democratic principles.

Macri did not elaborate, but one of his closest foreign policy advisers, Diego Guelar, told me that Macri may propose Venezuela’s suspension from Mercosur shortly after his Dec. 10 inauguration, during a Mercosur summit scheduled for Paraguay on Dec. 21.

According to Guelar, a Macri government would demand Venezuela’s suspension at that meeting if there is fraud in Venezuela’s Dec. 6 legislative elections, and if Venezuela’s political prisoners, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, are not freed by then. “If those two things are not corrected by then, in our judgment, Venezuela will not be complying with Mercosur’s democratic clause,” Guelar said.

On South America’s economic and political blocs, Macri has said that his first priority will be forging a “strategic alliance” with Brazil to jointly start unity talks with the Mexico-Colombia-Peru-Chile Pacific Alliance bloc. Until now, Argentina has been opposed to that, in line with Venezuela’s claim that the Pacific Alliance is too friendly with “U.S. imperialism.”

Sources close to Macri say that, while Brazil until recently also opposed teaming up with the Pacific Alliance, there has been a major change in Brazil over the past six months. With Brazil mired in one of its worst economic crises in recent times, Brazil desperately needs investments, and new free trade deals that would reenergize its economy, they say.

On Iran, Macri has said that he would annul Argentina’s recent agreement with Iran to jointly investigate the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Critics say that deal amounted to a cover-up of Iran’s responsibility in the attack. Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in his apartment a day before he was to testify in Congress about his charges that the Fernández government had conspired with Iran to kill the AMIA investigation.

On ties with the United States, Macri has said that he would revamp bilateral relations, which were severely damaged during the Fernández presidency. The first area in which he would forge closer ties with Washington would be in anti-drug efforts, Macri said.

A Macri government would also significantly tone down Argentina’s current anti-U.S. rhetoric. “The current government has chosen the systematic confrontation with almost the entire world, which has left us very isolated,” Macri told me during the interview in March. “We must reach out to the world, create new long-term strategic agreements, and recover markets for our products.”

My opinion: Politicians tend to say whatever is needed to differentiate themselves from their rivals, but Macri may be sincere in his foreign policy plans for the simple reason that Argentina is broke, and the country badly needs to restore its relations with the world’s biggest markets — the United States and Europe — after years of estrangement.

Argentina’s economy has not grown for the past three years, international prices for its raw materials have fallen and are not likely to come back anytime soon, and its current closest friends — Venezuela, Russia and China — are either bankrupt or suffering from economic slowdowns. Argentina’s foreign policy will change no matter who wins on Sunday, but it will change much more under a President Macri.

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” at 9 p.m. Sundays on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” at 9 p.m. Sundays on CNN en Español