Address by Ms. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentine Republic
68th session, 7th plenary meeting, General Assembly
Tuesday, 24 September 2013, 6 p.m. New York
I would particularly like to congratulate the President of the General Assembly and his country Antigua and Barbuda, a member of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. It is an honour for all Latin Americans that he is presiding over the General Assembly at its sixty-eighth session. I would like to begin by expressing our solidarity with the victims of the attacks in Kenya and Pakistan, and generally to all the victims of the terrorist attacks occurring in various parts of the world. I say this not out of formal sympathy or for reasons of protocol, but because our country, Argentina, along with the United States of America, is the only one on the American continent to have suffered a terrorist attack — in our case, on two occasions: in 1992, when the Israeli Embassy in the city of Buenos Aires was blown up, and two years later, when the Jewish community centre AMIA in Argentina was bombed. Some of the relatives of the victims are here with us, as always, and I can see them from here. Clearly, we are talking about victims. These were not soldiers or fighters. They were people who were getting on a bus, perhaps entering a bar or going to work, and who were surprised by an explosion. They had not taken part in any war; they were not combatants or soldiers; they had not chosen to go and fight. So I am thinking of those victims and their families, who deserve our solidarity and the strongest possible condemnation of all forms of terrorism.
In the context of this sixty-eighth session of the Assembly, we see the Syrian question as a common thread. Almost in a premonition, only a short while ago I was here at the United Nations, presiding over a meeting of the Security Council, of which Argentina is a non-permanent member for 2013-2014. On 6 August, just about a month and a half ago, we proposed a measure to reform the Security Council. We stated that the functioning and the rationale of the Council actually reflected another era, that of the Cold War, when fear of nuclear holocaust had led to the creation of the Organization, uniting the forces that had defeated Nazi Germany, and then produced a bipolar world. That fear of nuclear war resulted in a system with veto power so that no one would be able to push a button and blow up the world. The fact is that that instrument, which worked in 1945, has now been shown to be dysfunctional and completely obsolete — and not only as regards the Syrian question, but also when it comes to dealing with issues affecting peace and security around the world.
Incidentally, I would like to express my appreciation for the fact that for the first time we have been given the opportunity to speak at such a late hour of the day, because it has somewhat interrupted the inertia of the course of the meeting. There are times when we come to these meetings with a format, almost a monologue, that makes it difficult to present arguments or counter- arguments that take into account the statements made by previous speakers. I have listened very carefully to almost all of the addresses given earlier today. Obviously, I paid particular attention to those that touch on the global decision-making system, and, of course, because I am a staunch supporter of multilateralism, I paid a lot of attention to the first address, by Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon.
In many of those statements I heard mention of 21 August. On 6 August, we spoke of the need for Security Council reform and of the fact that the right of veto is no longer necessary. There should be a system — such as those used by regional organizations of the Americas, such as the Union of South American Nations, Community of Latin American and Caribbean States or the Southern Common Market and its associated States — in which decisions are taken by consensus. Why is that? Governmental administration is different, as the power of veto is necessary in order to govern. When dealing with conflict resolution and management, if one party to the conflict, or an interested party, has the right of veto, that right necessarily becomes an obstacle to the resolution of the conflict. We did not know what would occur 15 or 16 days later. Many have noted that the crisis in Syria erupted on 21 August.
In fact, it is extremely difficult to understand that the current crisis in Syria was only recognized on 21 August, when we became aware of chemical weapons. Syria has been caught up in that conflict for over two and a half years. Over 150,000 people have lost their lives and 99 per cent of them died as a result of conventional weapons — not chemical weapons. I remember that at the last meeting of the Group of Twenty (G-20), during a discussion about Syria, I asked, “What is the difference between a death resulting from bullets, anti-personnel mines, missiles or hand grenades, and a death resulting from chemical weapons?” Each is more or less equally shocking. As it is not the first time, why is there talk of chemical weapons as if it were the first time that chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction have been used?
I recall a statement made by another leader today with reference to the terrible gas chambers of the Nazis, the gas in the trenches and the chemical weapons used in other instances. I also remember hearing about and reading about — as I had not yet been born — the nuclear holocaust in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the consequences of using those weapons on many generations of Japanese people.
I remember when I was much younger — the President of Uruguay also recalled the time of his youth, I was less than 20 years of age, and many others will probably also remember — when napalm and phosphorous were used during the Viet Nam War. That was recorded forever in the Pulitzer prize-winning photographs of naked boys and a naked girl. I remember, as if it were today, that naked young girl running down a road after having been hit by napalm in a bombing.
I also remember, in all fairness, the suffering of the people of the United States when they saw the doors of the planes open and they saw the corpses of the soldiers who had gone to fight being removed, wrapped in black plastic bags. I can imagine the pain of each girlfriend, each sister, each wife, each daughter of the soldier who had died, trying to understand why. Many did not understand why the soldiers had had to lose their lives many thousands of kilometres away from their country. It is so irrational, so unjust. There are no just wars. Only peace is just.
On 6 August, in the discussions on the issue of peace and security, it was stated that peace and security are not military concepts; rather, they are political concepts. Today, I was pleased to hear the Secretary-General mention that very concept, which we had referred to in the Security Council — namely, that peace and security are not military but rather political concepts. Therefore, we welcome the fact that an agreement has been reached on the question of Syria. My country opposed direct intervention — bombing. It was quite simple. The argument that, in order to avoid deaths, you would cause even more deaths could not be sustained by any reasoning or even common sense. We did not speak out at that time only to speak. Furthermore, we were not discussing just any country, but one with great respect for the norms of international law.
My country, Argentina, has signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), making Argentina one of the most advanced countries — if not the most advanced country — in developing nuclear power for peaceful and scientific purposes. We sell nuclear power generators to Egypt, Algeria and Australia. We also use nuclear energy for medical purposes. We do not condemn the use of nuclear energy for warfare while at the same time deploying nuclear submarines. That has been our experience, for example, in connection with the sovereignty dispute involving our Malvinas Islands, since the United Kingdom has militarized the southern Atlantic region and sent nuclear submarines. We have no double standards. We are not hypocritical. We have not only signed the NPT but are also parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), as was also mentioned by the Secretary-General in his statement.
In other words, when we speak of condemning dictators, we are actually parties to the Rome Statute and can be brought before the Court. We are also members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. It is curious that many who speak of respect for human rights, the relevant institutions, international law and the ICC and often refer to human rights have not signed the treaties on the subject.
If one is to speak of human rights, Argentina has accomplished a great deal. We were a founding Member of the Organization and promoted the creation of a human rights secretariat within the United Nations and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. I am joined here by the head of the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo. She was also with me in Paris to sign the treaty, of which we are a founding party.
I referred to human rights because there was something said today about human rights in another speech. It has been said here that if this is the world in which people want to live, then they should say so and be prepared to face the cold logic of mass graves. Argentina too can speak of mass graves. Even today, well into the twenty-first century, we continue to come upon mass graves that hold the remains of the thousands of prisoners and those who disappeared under the genocidal dictatorship that began 24 March 1976, which was similar to the one that took power on 11 September 1973 in our sister republic of Chile, overthrowing the democratically elected Government of Salvador Allende.
How wonderful it would have been, after all the speeches condemning genocidal dictators, if someone back then had come to the aid of the Argentine and Chilean and so many other peoples of the American continent who, in the midst of the Cold War, were the sacrificial victims of murderous dictators. But it was also said here that, if those who cared about human rights were moved to act on someone’s behalf, perhaps if that concern had at least coincided with the interests of some great Power, they would have acted differently. We have spoken of those things here, including the need to put an end to that double standard, and we have said that the resolutions and decisions of a multilateral organization such as the United Nations must take place on a level playing field for the weak and the strong, the small and the large.
We have been waiting since 1965, when the plenary and many resolutions of the Assembly and the Committee on Decolonization required both Argentina and the United Kingdom to sit down to hold a dialogue — another word that I have repeatedly heard in every speech. There is a dispute over the matter of sovereignty over the Malvinas, and yet,the United Kingdom has turned a cold shoulder. And so we continue with double standards, which some people do not like to hear mention of. But hypocrisies are like witches; evidently, they exist.
I have also heard — I should add that I have heard with pleasure, so not everything has to do with double standards — that there has at last been recognition, as an essential basis for beginning to untie the Gordian knot that the matter of the Middle East represents, of the need to recognize the State of Palestine and the right of the State of Israel to live securely within its borders. Moreover, I think it has quite rightly been said that it is impossible to achieve security for the State of Israel unless there is also recognition of the existence, and support for the viability of the physical existence of, the State of Palestine. We can do no less than agree on that characterization.
I have also heard the new President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and I have heard the comments that the great Powers have made about that change of Government. If I understood correctly, there appears to be a kind of new expectation of change in the face of the new authorities in the Republic of Iran, with which, as the Assembly knows, we have a disagreement that stems from — a cause of mine — a formal case by the Argentine judiciary against five Iranian citizens in connection with their participation in the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina. It has now been 10 years since, for the first time, on 25 May 2003, then President Néstor Kirchner called in this same Hall for the Islamic Republic of Iran to cooperate in clarifying the facts of that case. Year after year until 2007, he continued to do so, and from 2007 until today I myself have also continued to do so. A little over a year ago, we received a reply from the then Foreign Minister of Iran offering to initiate talks and reach an agreement on cooperation. Why? For a very simple reason. Because the case has been stalled for 19 years. Nothing has moved. If there are five Iranian accused, the only one with whom I can and must speak so that the judge can take a deposition from those five citizens is obviously the Republic of Iran. That seems very obvious, but often in this peculiar world, even in my own country, which is also a bit peculiar, obvious things have to be explained.
I have also heard today about imperfect choices. I liked that expression, which was used by one of the Presidents. I think that when Argentina spends 10 years asking for cooperation and then suddenly someone finally says “Fine, we are going to talk; we are going to cooperate”, there was no other possible choice except to sit down together. That issue used was internally in our country to attack us politically, and here too in the United States by the vulture funds to pit us against the United States Congress and say that we were reaching an agreement, a treaty, with Iran. But on what? Nuclear weapons? No. On a strategic alliance to attack the West? No. On an agreement to convert to Islam? No. The agreement was simply to unblock the procedural impasse in order for the Argentine judiciary to take depositions from the accused, while at the same time ensuring due process through a commission of international jurists who would be neither Iranian nor Argentine and whose actions would not be binding.
The treaty was approved in my country nine months ago. I could almost say that the baby is about to be born, if I were to put it in biological terms or in terms of childbirth. It was approved by all the appropriate organisms, including the Parliament. It was published in the official bulletin. The world knows that Argentina has duly complied with that treaty. To those who found it so convenient for Iran — after nine years with no news or notification or agreement from the Iranian authorities, I wonder if we were not right ourselves when we affirmed and said that it was a way to unblock the issue.
The fact is that there is now a new Government to whose speeches I listened attentively, and a President who declared in statements I read that he in no way denied the Holocaust. That is very important. At least it is important to me and to many citizens around the world. Even today, he specifically declared that through the recent election, by displacing a leader whose positions we have all heard, so there is no point in repeating them, Iranian society had proved that it wanted more moderate positions. We have heard, from this very rostrum and these very microphones, that there is a will to agree, to talk, to be an open and peaceful democratic society, and to act in goodwill.
The President of France referred to the nuclear case as the important matter pertaining to Iran; I would like to speak about the issue of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina as the other major issue. They said they would make gestures by opening up to negotiations, and that they did not want weapons for military use. In other words, as I understood it, they were saying that they would adhere to what we support, which is non-proliferation. Now we wait to be told if the agreement has been approved, or when it will be. Moreover, we await the announcement of the date for the establishment of the commission, as well as a date for the Argentine judge to travel to Tehran — yes, to Tehran; we are not afraid and we will go there.
We believe in the goodwill of people, and there is no reason for us not to believe that they actually want peace. Everyone who has spoken here has said they wanted peace and that they loved one another, so we believe everyone. But we also hope to see everyone acting consistent with their words and actions. I therefore wanted to put this specific question on the table. I have no doubt that, if the words we have heard here are true, we will see a positive response. I say that to avoid any misunderstanding as to our deep conviction and belief in the rules of international law, and also to make it clear that our patience does not mean that we are naive or even foolish. We think that more than enough time has gone by, and we think answers are now needed. The victims deserve this. The Islamic Republic of Iran deserves that too, if it really wants to show to the world that this is a different Government and that its actions are also different. I trust that this will be the case. I have no reason to think otherwise.
As for other matters that I wish to discuss, let me say that we are “serial abiders” when it comes to the norms of international law. We are also “serial victims” of other unwritten rules that are nevertheless very important in today’s world of finance and economics. They are norms not written by the major international financial centres or the risk-rating agencies or those that speculate, like the vulture funds, when it comes to dealing with countries that, like Argentina, defaulted on their debt, in the case of Argentina in 2001.
There has also been talk here of poverty and the need for children to have access to education. I wish to read out two paragraphs of the address by the Secretary- General. The first has to do with weapons, wherein he speaks about poverty and points out that “at a time of pressing human need, spending on weapons remains absurdly high. Let us get our priorities right and invest in people instead of wasting billions of dollars on deadly weapons.”
For the record, Argentina does not produce any chemical weapons, or even sell conventional weapons. It would be interesting to find out — as I mentioned at the G-20 — who supplies weapons to the rebel groups that are fighting the Syrian Government. It goes without saying that the Government of Syria possesses the weapons of a State. We would like to know who supplies the weapons to those who fight the Syrian Government. This is not about taking any sides; rather it is just about putting forward something that is quite logical, for the weapons trade is today a real business.
Did we really have to wait for 1,000 people to die as a result of chemical weapons to realize that 150,000 others had died before them? Why was an arms embargo not declared two years ago to prevent so many deaths? Well, that should be answered by those who sell weapons. We do not sell them and therefore cannot give an answer to that question — although we suspect what it would be.
I would also like to read out another very significant passage in which the Secretary-General talked about the economic situation. Although the question of Syria has been the common thread running through the whole Assembly, it is clear that the economic crisis that started here in the United States with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008 still, despite all speeches and things we have seen and heard, continues to generate volatility and fragility. The latter is a term that was often invoked, and not just in the G-20.
We see millions of people unemployed around the world, a situation that very much reminds us of that in Argentina in 2001 when we defaulted on our own debt. This is linked to the fact that we are also serial victims of the unwritten rules of the lobbyists, of risk-rating agencies and of those who trade in financial derivatives and speculate like vultures hovering over countries in default, buying securities at very low prices and then attempting to make millions. That is the Argentine case, but it could be the story of any other country, very soon in fact.
Since the Government of former President Néstor Kirchner first took office, on 25 May 2003, Argentina began to explore how to emerge from its debt, which accounted for 160 per cent of our country’s gross national product. We had 25 per cent unemployment, a poverty rate of 54 per cent and more than 30 per cent in extreme poverty. Many countries could perhaps see themselves mirrored in that state of affairs.
In 2005 we organized the first restructuring process, which was accepted by 76 per cent of our creditors. During my own Government in 2010 we reopened the debt-restructuring process and managed to secure the approval of 93 per cent of our creditors. Consider that, in any country that has insolvency laws, when companies go bankrupt the law requires the agreement of at least 66 per cent of the creditors in order for the bankruptcy judge to make the remaining creditors accept the terms — at least, that is the case in Argentina. I think the number is the same in the United States, that is, 66 per cent. In addition, here in the United States even municipalities can declare bankruptcy, and a judge may decide that, if the sustainability of the municipality is at stake, an even lower figure is acceptable.
The fact remains that in 2010 Argentina reached agreement with 93 per cent of its creditors. Since 2005, Argentina has consistently and in a timely manner paid each and every one of its debt maturities, so much so that the last payment was made only a few days ago. That involved a bond subject to Argentine domestic law, payable in Buenos Aires. We paid $2.07 billion, and today our debt to gross domestic product ratio is a little under 45 per cent, down from 160 per cent, as I mentioned before. Much of the debt is actually public- sector debt. The foreign-currency-denominated debt of Argentina is only 8 per cent of gross domestic product, due both to national and foreign private holders. I would reiterate, however, that we have been in strict compliance.
In 2008, seven years after Argentina defaulted on its debt, the vulture funds, as we call them, swooped in. The United Nations is caught between the vultures of debt and the hawks of war. It is worse than Hitchcock’s The Birds, since Hitchcock, at least, was a good director. But what is certain is that bonds were purchased for $40 million, and they now wish to collect on that while disregarding the creditors’ agreement to certain arrangements and extensions. The creditors, like any group of creditors, wanted to be repaid and so approved certain arrangements and extensions. But the vulture funds want to recover the whole nominal value of the bonds, without arrangements, extensions or delay. From the $40 million that they initially bought in the so-called self-regulated markets, they will recover $1.7 billion. So from 2008, we are talking about a yield of over 1,300 per cent.
I would like to ask the Secretary-General where we can find businesspeople devoted to creating jobs, innovating and investing in production if, in this kind of casino economy, somebody can buy $40 million in defaulted bonds and then secure a court decision that enables them to collect $1.3 or $1.7 billion.
This is not only an Argentinian problem; this is a problem that involves the whole world. This is why we wish to thank the Republic of France for having gone to the United States Supreme Court and presented itself as amicus curiae. We also thank the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Anne Krueger. She is not and has never been a very good friend of Argentina’s, but she also did that.
We also remember the former United States Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill, who, when it was decided to leave Argentina to its own devices in 2001, amidst a social and institutional crisis that left 30 people dead as a result of violence in the streets, said that American plumbers should not have to pay for an Argentine fiesta. Today, I say that the millions of Argentines who went back to work, the millions of Argentines who can once again entertain hopes and dreams, the scientists who returned to the country and the children who once again have access to education do not have to pay for the lobbyists’ fiesta. These lobbyists, by participating in political campaigns and contributing money to the politicians’ campaigns here, have the lobbying power they need to destabilize the international financial system. Is that not remarkable? And such a short time has elapsed between Paul O’Neill’s assertion and what we are saying today.
We are not asking for anything. We just want to be allowed to pay. It is remarkable. We started by defaulting on our debt and now they will not let us pay it back. It seems almost absurd, in a world that is grappling with debt restructuring involving millions of men and women. Even here in the United States, there are men and women who are unemployed and have lost their homes, not to speak of the devastation we see in Europe.
Obviously, Argentina and many of the countries represented here today do not have the good fortune of being countries that issue reserve currencies, but we have expressed our willingness to honour our commitments. I think this should be recognized, unless the idea is to use a country like Argentina as an example, because it was able to climb out of the hole, to create jobs and generate growth, and to pay its creditors without applying the prescriptions that the International Monetary Fund tried to impose upon it.
Incidentally, there is also a need for global market regulation and market interventions. Wonderful statements have been made in the Group of 20 regarding tax havens, ratings agencies and capital flows, but what is certain is that the world needs global laws for global governance. Just as we ask for Security Council and General Assembly resolutions to be respected, we also ask for rules and for respect for the sovereignty of countries, especially those countries like ours that wish to honour their commitments.
Finally, I would like to address the Assembly on this very special day. Today we see war, human rights violations and other violations intertwined. Perhaps some are of a more subtle nature, such as losing one’s job, one’s rights, one’s livelihood or one’s hope. I think, at the core, our duty as world leaders is to build a truly different history.
Many of those who have already spoken have made somewhat ambivalent statements. Some have been encouraging, while others have been disillusioned as a result of not having been able to do what they wanted, almost as if their desire to do something had just been a whim, and when they were not allowed to, they grew frustrated. I believe that the one thing we cannot do when we have the responsibility of governing and when we might be able to govern a country with a lot of power is to lose our temper or, even worse, make mistakes. Making mistakes is the one thing we should not do, because mistakes are not paid for by the leaders who make decisions or imperfect choices. Mistakes are paid for in human lives, not only if we are talking about war, but also if we are talking about the economy. In that case, they are paid for in terms of unemployment, lack of access to health care, education, housing and security.
There is cheap labour available for drug trafficking, which we talk so much about fighting. One of the keys to fighting drug trafficking is to put an end to cheap labour in emerging and underdeveloped countries. We must also put an end to money-laundering for drug trafficking in central countries, because the money is not laundered in the countries that produce the raw materials. Money-laundering takes place in the central countries. It is right to say this, because we hear so much talk about drug trafficking and other things.
I would conclude with a phrase by the Secretary- General that I really liked. I thought his invitation was most appropriate. It was specifically an invitation to turn hope into action through hard work, commitment, dignity and integrity. He ended with the words “with passion”. I am a person with a lot of passion. Some say that I am sometimes a bit too passionate and a bit too forceful in my statements. “With passion”, he said, but above all with compassion. He said that we can build a future that the people want and the world needs with passion and compassion.
It is not the first time I have heard this word. I must confess that I heard it many years ago, and very often, in my own country. Perhaps I did not understand it at the time, this passion. It was used then, and is still used today, by a cardinal from Argentina who is today Pope and whom I would also like, as a Christian, to thank for the key role he played in dealing with the question of Syria. Compassion and passion — that means the passionate embrace of hope, of the future, of the things that are yet to come, and compassion for those who are less privileged, for the most vulnerable, for those who are waiting for so many things, who have done nothing to deserve extreme poverty and be Godforsaken, and compassion for all those who are victims — of war, of unemployment, of extreme poverty and misery — in other words, of our own failures as world leaders.