Brian A. Nichols, a senior official within the U.S. state department, said Tuesday that Argentina needs a “change of era” to fix its economic problems and that he believes the general population still supports the electoral platform that President Javier Milei campaigned on.
“I think change is necessary because the country couldn’t continue as it was,” he stated in a meeting with journalists at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador in Buenos Aires.
Nichols, who is the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, also welcomed the Milei administration’s attempts to bring inflation under control and balance the nation’s books.
“We have always tried to collaborate on difficult negotiation issues between Argentina and the International Monetary Fund, but we also have to evaluate those processes and their merits, and I think the reform process by the Javier Milei government is key for the future,” Nichols said, when the Herald asked whether the US would support any potential future deals between the Milei administration and the IMF.
“Argentina can’t continue with this crisis — a decade with no economic growth, hyperinflation, and I think that reaching an agreement with the IMF is something beneficial to Argentines.” He added that he understood hyperinflation as inflation that runs to three figures.
Nichols underscored the value that his country places on its relationship with Argentina, but noted that the upcoming elections in the United States made it “a little complicated” to coordinate meetings between US President Joe Biden and Argentine government officials.
He could not confirm whether Secretary of State Antony Blinken would visit Argentina.
Relations with Israel
Asked about President Milei’s recent statements in Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport that he would move the country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Nichols said that the matter was Argentina’s sovereign decision but welcomed the decision.
“We have close and favorable relations with Israel, we’re very content to have our embassy in Jerusalem and it’s always good to have a friendly country as a neighbor [in Jerusalem].”
In his statements on Tuesday, Milei also called Hamas a “terrorist group.” The U.S., the European Union, and other countries have also designated the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip as such, but not the United Nations.
“We share information and work together to combat any attack by terrorist groups. Obviously, Argentines have that horrible experience of having experienced a terrorist attack, like the North Americans, and we work with you to ensure that that never happens again.”
Nichols described his meeting with Defense Minister Luis Petri as “very cordial.” He emphasized that the US has long considered Argentina a major non-NATO ally, meaning the countries have a close relationship on security, including sharing intelligence. He said the Milei and Biden administrations have a shared vision of a close relationship in terms of defense, exchange of expertise, joint exercises, and official visits.
Also on Nichols’ agenda were meetings with Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, Justice and Human Rights Minister Mariano Cúneo Libarona, and Argentine human rights organizations. Bullrich has repeatedly promised a zero-tolerance approach to crime, praising El Salvador’s strongman President Nayib Bukele for his mass incarceration.
Right to protest
In December, she implemented a draconian protest protocol, which bans protests from blocking roads, sanctions parents who take their children to protests, and allows protest organizers to be billed for any damage that happens during the protest.
Her supporters believe this puts an end to the disruption caused by marches — but critics say it criminalizes protest, and three UN special rapporteurs recently warned that it violates international human rights standards.
The meetings came in a tense week that saw police crack down violently on demonstrators outside Congress, injuring over 100 people, including 30 journalists.
“[Bullrich] spoke of the priority of collaboration in security, but she and [Cúneo Libarona] also spoke of the importance of respecting human rights and fundamental rights,” Nichols said. “I think there’s complete agreement on the need to protect the most vulnerable and respect the fundamental rights of all people.”
It is possible, he added, to successfully fight transnational crime and drug trafficking while respecting human rights — but it requires “resources, training, and a commitment to the constitution.”
“I think my counterparts here are committed to law and human rights,” he said.