OPINION
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Argentina out of G20?

A bill is in the US Congress demanding the suspension of Argentina from the G20, but its future is uncertain

A bill is in the US Congress demanding the suspension of Argentina from the G20, but its future is uncertain due, among other reasons, to a lack of support from an unexpected quarter: conservative Cuban-American legislators.

On May 10 Dick Lugar, senior Republican in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, presented a "sense of the Congress" resolution to call on President Obama to act jointly with the EU countries in suspending Argentina from the G20, owing to its "outlaw behavior."

It refers to the expropriation of the oil firm YPF, which was the property of the Spanish company Repsol, as well as to Argentina's refusal to obey more than 100 US court rulings to fulfill its obligations to creditors, or to respect rulings by the World Bank's international disputes court. Of the cases presently before that tribunal, 78 percent involve Argentina, says Lugar. "As a nation that mocks the law, and does not respect property and the interests of foreign investors, Argentina should not have a role in the G20," he says.

Carl Meacham, an assistant of Lugar, told me that the process of seeking co-sponsors for the bill has just begun, and that it will likely come to a vote in June. While "sense of the Congress" resolutions are not binding, this one would add pressure on Obama because in an electoral year the president will not wish to be termed "soft" on foreign policy.

"The resolution has lots of support," says Meacham. For the integrity of the international economic system, we cannot allow countries to do just as they wish in disregard of the law. Their transgressions must have consequences."

Other sources are not so sure that the bill will succeed. Lugar's recent defeat in the face of a candidate backed by the Tea Party in the Republican primaries makes him a lame-duck senator, diminishing his power. But Lugar is a respected senator, and some legislators may support him in tribute to his 35 years in Congress. Another factor against the resolution is that important Cuban-American legislators do not wish to side with Repsol against Argentina, due to the Spanish company's active presence in Cuba.

Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, also on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a front-rank candidate for the Republican vice-presidential nomination, told me in an email: "I am in agreement with the objectives of the resolution," but he did not clarify whether he would co-sponsor it or even if he would vote in favor.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House of Representatives' Foreign Relations Committee, says: "Though I do not condone the Argentinean government's action against Repsol, this Spanish company has a record of putting its profits ahead of human rights and liberty. Repsol has courted uncertainties by doing business with despots such as the Castro brothers." Asked about the G20 proposal, the Argentinean ambassador in Washington, Jorge Argüello, said: "It doesn't worry us, because this proposal clearly distorts the facts and contains groundless accusations." Argüello alleged that Argentina "is acting in line with the law" in the YPF expropriation, according to the terms of the bilateral investments agreement between Argentina and Spain, which mentions the right of expropriation.

My own opinion: in the US and the EU, the Argentinean cult of transgression is frowned on, but I doubt if the G20 leaders will do any more than issue a statement tacitly condemning Argentina. Unless other factors intervene, such as a default in Greece, which would produce a shock and generate more urgency for compliance with international law, this will be treated as a bilateral affair between Spain and Argentina. If Greece follows in the footsteps of Argentina, it may be a different story.

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