A reader wrote in today asking about Argentina's view toward America. Of course, I wish I had better news to report, but this blog is all about the truth, so that's what's going to get published here.
Can you tell me about how the average Argentino on the street views America? Are the feelings similar to that of Europeans right now? I've been living in Germany the last few years and I've found myself constantly defending the actions of my government. The US is really unpopular here right now.
The Hard Facts
I'm going to approach this question two ways, first by laying out the hard facts about Argentine attitudes towards Americans, as supported by research, and then I'm going to tell a few personal anecdotes about the conversations that I've had. After that, I think you'll get the picture.
In 2002, The Pew Research Center did a study on global attitudes toward America. When asked whether people had a favorable or unfavorable view of the United States, just 34% of Argentines reported a favorable opinion. You can compare that with Germany where 61% have a favorable opinion of the United States.
Argentina has the least favorable opinion of the United States in all of Latin America. The only four countries surveyed that reported lower opinions of the US were Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan, and Egypt. Even the people of Lebanon had a higher opinion of the US than Argentina, and it wasn't so long ago that they were blowing up our embassies.
America vs. Americans in Argentina
In the same survey, those in Canada, Asia, and Western Europe are likly to make a distinction between America vs. Americans. While they disliked America and America's policies abroad, they still had a favorable opinion of Americans. For example, in Lebanon only 35% of people had a favorable view of America, but 47% had a favorable view of Americans.
In Latin America, however, this was not the case at all. According to the study, "nearly every Latin American country assess "Americans" in the same terms or more negatively than they assess "the United States." This is pretty shocking. It means that, as an American, you have a higher probability of being liked on the streets of Beirut than the calles of Buenos Aires.
Some Personal Anecdotes That Support This View
At dinner once I was talking with some Argentines and when the topic turned to land and politics, someone mentioned with a straight face that many people believed that Americans were out to steal Argentina's water supply. I'm not joking. He mentioned how Ted Turner was the country's biggest landholder and that many people believed there was some kind of CIA conspiracy to steal the country's water. I really thought this was a joke, but they were dead serious. Apparently this is a common view held by some people.
In 2003 I was having coffee with one of my employees and we got to talking about September 11. I mentioned something about how the US had wasted a lot of the goodwill we got from the rest of the world after September 11. He told me, "You know, a lot of people here thought you deserved it. People said, look, they're responsible for killing millions of people all over the world and they deserve what they get."
This last Columbus Day, when I mentioned to one of my employees that American Indians often protest, she told me that people protest in Argentina on Columbus Day as well, but in front of the US Embassy. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why people would protest in front of the US Embassy on Columbus day, other than the fact that maybe they're just so used to protesting against the US that they go there by habit when its time to protest something. In fact, she told me that they are protesting the "new colonialism" by the United States during Columbus Day.
America's Role In The Economic Crisis
Perhaps most importantly, many Argentines blame the US for their economic crisis in 2001. They accuse the US Treasury and the IMF of engineering their failure, lending money when they knew it'd be pilfered by corrupt politicians and wasted. They also point out that the US Treasury allowed Argentina to default, but bailed out Brazil, Argentina's northern neighbor, something they view as totally unfair.
The 19th century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston once said, "Nations have no permanent allies, only permanent interests." Yet according to the Pew study, 75% of Americans believe that the US considers other nations' views "a great deal" when formulating its foreign policy. To be quite frank, what are these people smoking? Contrast that with the belief in Argentina, where just 16% of the population believes that the US considers their interests when it conducts foreign policy. In the case of the bailout of Argentina versus Brazil, we can point to the clear reason that Brazil received a bailout and Argentina did not -- multinational US bank exposure to Brazilian loans.
Just one month after former US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill scoffed at the notion of bailing out Latin America, saying that the money would probably wind up in Swiss banks, America, through the IMF, offers $30 billion to Brazil. US banks had a much larger loan portfolio in Brazil than in Argentina. The Brazil bailout was just another case of the US protecting its own interests, as all nations do. The result of this inconsistent policy, however, is resentment in Argentina, where people feel they've been given a raw deal.
Americans can certainly make the argument that its unfair for us to be blamed for Argentina's woes. After all, a country should take responsibility for its own spending and mismanagement of its economy. Nevertheless, as a people, we should understand that selfish decisions, made in Washington by officials at the IMF and the US Treasury, can impact the lives of millions of people a continent away. When our politicians decide who gets a bailout and who doesn't, they can literally determine whether someone in Latin America will keep their job or be able to afford the basic necessities of life.
That's a lot of power for someone you didn't elect to have over your life. More and more, people around the world feel they should have a vote in US elections because they feel the outcome of those elections can effect them personally in a very big way.
Implications For Expats
Despite all the seemingly negative news I've brought up, I will say that in the time I've spent in Argentina, I've never felt unwelcome or scorned. After reading all that, you might think that I get spit on every time I walk up and down the streets. This is not the case. Just realize that being American makes you a stereotype in Argentina -- the greedy yanqui capitalist who's out to exploit the people, steal the water, and turn Argentina into the next US colony.
Once people get to know you personally, they'll judge you not based on your nationality, but on your individuality. For a lot of us, this'll be the first time we're on the receiving end of a negative stereotype -- which will probably serve to give us a good lesson in humility and a greater understanding of what many others experience in our own country.
Labels: Current Events, Living In Argentina