Address by Ms. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentine Republic
69th session, 6th plenary meeting, General Assembly
Wednesday, 24 September 2014, 9 a.m. New York
I address the General Assembly at a very special moment, not only for the world but also for my country. I would like to begin by reflecting on the words with which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened this sixty- ninth session of the General Assembly. He went over many of the problems, tragedies and calamities that are unsettling the world today, and I think, if I remember correctly, that he literally confirmed that the turmoil, as he defined it, that is upsetting the world today is endangering multilateralism.
I sincerely believe that most of the problems that the planet has today economically and financially, with respect to terrorism and security, in terms of force and territorial integrity, of war and peace, are the result of the exact opposite: the absence of an effective, practical and democratic multilateralism. That is why, I would like to begin today in particular by thanking and congratulating the General Assembly for adopting resolution 68/304, on 9 September, by which it finally decided by a wide majority of 124 votes to dedicate itself to drafting a multilateral convention which will be a regulatory legal framework for restructuring the sovereign debts of all countries, a task that we needed to take on.
I have been coming to the General Assembly since 2003, first as a Senator, and then, starting in 2007, as President. We always came calling for reform of the Security Council and of the International Monetary Fund. Our point of departure was the experience we had in my country, the Argentine Republic. Today, I would go so far as to say in this international context that my country, the Argentine Republic, is a triple leading case in terms of economics and finance, terrorism and security, and force and territorial integrity.
The first area is the economic and financial crisis that spread throughout the world starting in 2008, which persists to this day and which is beginning to threaten emerging economies whose greater economic growth we have supported over the past decade. The 2008 crisis was experienced by my country in 2001, when the largest default on sovereign debt in living memory occurred. At the time, the Argentine Republic had accrued debt representing 160 per cent of the gross domestic product, with the consent of multilateral organizations, because when one is speaking about that level of debt, the problem is not just that of the debtor, but also of the creditors.
Starting with the dictatorship on 24 March 1976, and through the neoliberal period, Argentina was a favourite of the International Monetary Fund. In the end, Argentina accumulated an unprecedented debt that caused the country to implode, not just in economic terms but also in political terms. We had five presidents in a single week. At that point, nobody claimed responsibility for what had taken place in Argentina. Argentina had to resolve its problems as best it could, and in 2003, a few months after taking office, a President who had come to head the Government with only 22 per cent of the vote came to speak at the General Assembly (see A/58/PV.11) and maintained that it was necessary to generate a model of development and growth for the country so that the country could shoulder its debt. He maintained, in a rather interesting metaphor, that dead people do not pay their debts and that countries have to live, develop and grow in order to meet their obligations.
But he also said that the level of debt — 160 per cent of the gross domestic product — was not our country’s responsibility alone; that we as a country were accepting responsibility for having adopted policies that had been forced upon us; that while we were shouldering our responsibility, we were also requesting and calling for the multilateral organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the creditors themselves, which had lent money at usurious rates — at that time as high as 14 per cent in United States dollars — which were receiving payments in the Argentine Republic, to also assume part of the responsibility for that indebtedness.
And with that man — who took over with 22 per cent of the vote, with 25 per cent unemployment, a 54 per cent poverty rate and 27 per cent of extreme poverty, without education, without health, without social security, over time, with a model of development and growth — we were able not only to create millions of jobs, millions of people becoming integrated in the social security system, including retirees and pensioners, but also to invest 6 per cent of the gross domestic product in education, and set aside enormous amounts of money for the country’s infrastructure, building roads, schools, nuclear plants, hydroelectric plants, water, gas and electricity plants that now cover the entire country, in an unprecedented programme of social inclusion that has allowed to reduce poverty and extreme poverty to single digits.
Today, the International Monetary Fund itself recognizes that Argentina’s economic growth between 2004 and 2011 is the third-largest globally in terms of quality of growth. Only Bulgaria and China are ahead of us. In Latin America, we have the greatest quality of growth and the best purchasing power for our workers and salaried employees and the highest social security deposits.
We have been able to achieve all of that while also dealing with debt that others had generated. It is worth repeating that our Governments were not the ones that declared a default, nor were they the ones that had assumed the debt; we were simply the ones who shouldered the debt, as appropriate, and paid, from 2003 to today, more than $190 billion — I repeat, more than $190 billion — by restructuring the defaulted debt with 92.4 per cent of creditors through two debt swaps, one carried out by President Kirchner in 2005 and the other carried out by me in 2010.
What is certain is that we were successful. We succeeded because 92.4 per cent of Argentina’s creditors regularized their situation. We began to make regular payments, and not only to them. We also fully paid our debt to the International Monetary Fund through so-called stand-by arrangements. We were able to completely cancel our debt with the International Monetary Fund. A few months ago, we also concluded negotiations with the Paris Club on a debt dating back to 1956. It was so long ago that I was three years old when that debt was created and the Minister of the Economy of my country, who discussed the restructuring and renegotiation of the debt with the Paris Club, was not even born. Yet we reached an agreement with 19 European Union finance ministers to finally restructure the debt. We are now paying the first phase of $642 million.
This does not end there. We also regularized the situation with the rulings of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes at the World Bank, which has begun hearings not for acts or actions committed by our Government, but for the actions of previous Governments that ended up in the World Bank tribunal. We have also resolved that issue, just as we arrived at an arrangement with Repsol when we decided to regain control of our energy resources and expropriated 51 per cent of the oil company’s shares. We also restructured that debt and reached an agreement.
We have done all this with our own resources, without access to capital markets because Argentina, due to the default of 2001, was denied access to capital markets. This represents a process of unprecedented social inclusion. Why do I say “unprecedented”? During the 1950s there were similar inclusion processes in my country, but the difference is that we initiated this process of inclusion after complete and utter bankruptcy. At the peak of default, we were able to overcome default, to include the people of Argentina and to enjoy social growth with inclusion. And today Argentina is extricating itself, and in addition we have one of the lowest debt ratios in the world.
The other leading case to which I referred and now wish to discuss is the emergence of the so-called vulture funds. That is not a term used by any popular South American leader or by any African ruler, although African countries have also been major victims of these vulture funds. One of the first global leaders to mention them was the former English Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the General Assembly in 2002. This expression became the copyrighted shorthand for something unworthy and immoral that kept countries
from addressing the genuine problems of education, health and poverty. Today, with the support of the judicial system of this country, Argentina is now being assaulted by these vulture funds.
What are these vulture funds? They represent the 1 per cent of debt-holders that did not take part in the 2005 restructuring. They could not participate because they had purchased bonds in 2008. As everyone knows, these are specialized funds, as indicated by their names, that purchased funds or shares of countries that had defaulted on their debt or were about to do so. Subsequently, they did not revert to the country in question for the payment of that debt, but brought suits in various jurisdictions in order to make exorbitant profits. “Profits” is hardly the right word, because what has been recognized in a judgment passed down here in the jurisdiction of New York is that this 1 per cent grew at a rate of 1,608 per cent in a five-year period. Is there any business, undertaking or investor earning 1,600 per cent in just five years? That is why they are called vulture funds. Today, they are obstructing the recovery of that 92.4 per cent who trusted in Argentina.
I am therefore pleased that the Assembly has taken the bull by the horns, and I hope that between this year and next — before the General Assembly holds its new session in 2015 — we will have arrived at a regulatory framework to restructure sovereign debts. The point is to engage in an exercise in active and constructive multilateralism so that no other country will have to experience what Argentina — a country that has the ability and willingness to pay its debts despite the harassment of these vulture funds — has been through.
These vulture funds also threaten and hold the economy of our country hostage by provoking rumours, slander and libel from the personal to the economic and financial, so that they sometimes act as a destabilizing factor in the economy. Those who set bombs are not the only terrorists; those who destabilize the economy of a country and create poverty, misery and hunger through the sin of speculation are economic terrorists. That is what we want to spell out. That is why we strongly advocate the establishment of a multilateral convention soon and expeditiously, not just for Argentina, but for the rest of the world. We believe that a financial and economic balance that addresses the social and economic disparities among countries and within societies will also be a great antidote to those who recruit young people who have no hope in the future and enrol them in crazy crusades. We must all lament that. We can see only the surface of the phenomenon; we also have to delve deeply into the causes that mobilize people.
We also talked about my country as a triple leading case on terrorism and security. My country is the only country of the Americas other than the United States of America that was the target of terrorist attacks: one in 1992 when the embassy of Israel was blown up, and the second in 1994 when the headquarters of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) was bombed. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the bombing of AMIA. I dare say before this Assembly — in the presence of some of the family members of the victims who have always been with us — that the Government headed by President Kirchner did the utmost and went the greatest lengths to uncover the real culprits, not only because it opened all my country’s intelligence files and created a special prosecutor investigation unit, but also because, when in 2006 the justice system of my country accused Iranian citizens of involvement in the bombing of AMIA, I myself was the only President who dared to propose asking the Islamic Republic of Iran to cooperate with and assist in the investigation. That request was made intermittently from 2007 to 2011, until the Islamic Republic of Iran finally agreed to a bilateral meeting, allowing it to be included in the agenda. That meeting led to the signing by both countries of a memorandum of understanding on legal cooperation that allowed for the Iranian citizens who had been accused, and who live in Tehran, to be deposed before the judge.
But what happened when we signed that memorandum? It seemed as if all hell had broken out, both nationally and internationally. The Jewish associations that had sought our support for so many years and that had come here with us to ask for help turned against us, and when an agreement was finally reached on legal cooperation they accused us of complicity with the State of Iran.
The same thing happened here in the United States. When the vulture funds lobbied before the United States Congress, they accused us of collaborating with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which at the time was known as the Terrorist State of Iran. They even lobbied on their websites, posting pictures of me on the Internet with former President Ahmadinejad as if we were business partners. Just this week, we learned that the iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel, in this city, was thesetting for a meeting between the Secretary of State of this country and his Iranian counterpart.
We are not criticizing them. Quite the contrary, anything that represents dialogue and understanding seems very good to us. But we wish to ask those who have been accusing Iran of being a terrorist State — and I am not speaking here of the last century, but of last year — what they would say today about the members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), many of whom not so long ago were called freedom fighters when they were fighting in Syria against the Government of Bashar Al-Assad. And this is where I believe we have another problem with respect to security and terrorism. The major Powers too often and too easily seesaw from the concept of friend to enemy, and terrorist to non-terrorist. We need to agree once and for all not to use international politics or geopolitical positions to determine positions of power. I say that as a militant opponent of international terrorism.
By the way, just to add a touch of color, ISIS has apparently issued a threat against me that is under legal investigation in my country. The threat apparently has two justifications: first, because of my close relationship with His Holiness Pope Francis, and secondly, because I recognize the need for two States, Israel and Palestine. While I am at it, let me reiterate my call on the Assembly to recognize Palestine once and for all as a State with full membership in this body. We have to begin to undo some of the Gordian knots — because there is not just one Gordian knot but several — regarding the situation in the Middle East, which involves recognizing the State of Palestine, Israel’s right to live securely within its borders, and Palestine’s right not to be subjected to the kind of disproportionate use of force that led to the deaths of hundreds of women and children, which we condemn just as we also condemn those who attack Israel with missiles.
In a time of economic vultures and hawks of war, we need more doves of peace to build a safer world. We need more respect for international law and more equal treatment of those seated in this Hall. Just this morning, I overheard one leader refer to the use of force to attack the territorial integrity of a country.
Here too, the Republic of Argentina is a leading case. For more than 100 years, we have had a claim against the United Kingdom on a matter of sovereignty. We once again ask the Assembly to call on the United Kingdom to sit down with Argentina to discuss the matter of the sovereignty of the Malvinas. No one cares and there is not a single veto from the Security Council, because Argentina is not a member of the Security Council and is not even among the countries that decide what happens in the world. So long as that continues, and so long as the votes of the five permanent members of the Security Council are worth more than the votes of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Egypt, Uganda, Argentina, Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates, nothing will be resolved. We will just have the same speeches we hear every year without arriving at a resolution.
The Assembly must fight to take back the powers it delegated to the Council, since —almost paradoxically — the Assembly has to ask the Council for permission on its decisions or on whether to admit a member. We need to reassert that the Assembly is a sovereign body of the United Nations, and that each of us is worth one vote in a true global democracy. Not everything will be resolved when that global democracy is respected to the letter, but I do believe it will mark the beginning of a solution. I am neither a pessimist nor an optimist; I consider myself to be a realist. In any event, the child of pessimism and optimism is always optimism, but with realism. Optimism without realism is either ingenuity or cynicism. I do not wish to appear ingenuous or cynical before this audience.
I want to convey what we really think in my country. We have long demanded reform of the Security Council and of the International Monetary Fund. In 2003, reform the International Monetary Fund seemed almost inevitable; today, hardly anyone remembers the idea of reforming the International Monetary Fund, because it no longer plays a central role in decisions. Even the International Monetary Fund itself and both its current head and former leaders, including Anne Krueger, are also calling for reforms with respect to the restructuring of sovereign debts. So long as there is no international treaty approved by this Assembly, no matter how many clauses are imposed by the restructuring, there will always be a Judge Griesa somewhere in the world who says that they are meaningless, and who will end up applying usurious taxes to bleed some poor country to death. That is what is happening, because it seems to me that they are trying to overturn the restructuring of sovereign debt for which the Argentine people worked so hard.
Before coming here I was in Rome, meeting with a fellow countryman who today occupies a strong, exemplary religious and moral leadership. I would like to offer a message of peace and of peacebuilding. If we truly wish to fight terrorism, then let us work for peace. We cannot fight the terrorists by beating the drums of war. Quite the contrary, that is exactly what they want — a symmetrical reaction so that the wheel again begins to turn and a price is paid in blood.
That is why I think it is important for us to think deeply about those issues. Above all, I want to bring to the table the certainty that if the United Nations recovers its leadership, if the Assembly resumes its mandate, when too many countries fail to comply with international law, even though they require others to do so, then I am certain that we will have made a major contribution to peacebuilding and the fight against terrorism from which no one would have been left out. But we have to leave to our children a much better world than the one we have today.
Finally, I wish to recall that a year ago the problems were different. A year ago, we were discussing other problems, other threats to security. Times have changed. The wrongdoers of yesterday do not seem so bad today. Those who should have been invaded and crushed a year ago, today seem to be cooperating to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham (ISIS). First, it was Al-Qaida, and, I wonder, where did Al-Qaida and the Taliban spring from? Where do they get their weapons and resources? My country does not produce weapons. Who sells arms to those groups? Then there was the Arab Spring, which ended up by being not so much a spring as a fall and even a winter. Those involved went from being freedom-fighters to being persecuted or imprisoned. Now there is ISIS, a new terrorist organization that carries out beheadings on television on a carefully set stage. What is causing all this, I wonder? Where is this coming from? I have become really distrustful of everything after seeing what is happening in the world today — real-life scenes that make fictional series look trivial.
It is therefore worth asking ourselves why it is that we are facing ever-greater problems — problems that caused the Pope to comment that there is practically a third world war. That is true. It is a world war but not along the lines of the more conventional wars of the twentieth century. There are hotspots where the only victims are civilian populations. That is why, a few minutes from now in the Security Council, of which Argentina is a non-permanent member, we wish to raise some of those issues. We have no certainties, no absolute truths, but we have many questions. We want to put them to those who possess a lot more information than we do, far more data and far more extensive networks of information than my country has. Heaven forbid that, with all those data, they have a wealth of information but can understand little of what is happening. For they have to be able to comprehend what is happening if they are to come up with a definitive solution.
I deeply appreciate once again the political will of the 124 countries that supported resolution 68/304. As everyone knows, there was pressure to keep us from getting that number of supporters or having a vote, but I think that the exercise of practical, effective and democratic multilateralism that the adoption of the resolution represents demonstrates that all is not lost. On the contrary, it is in the hands of each and every one of us, each of our countries, to find real and effective solutions to the problems the world has today.