Random observations of a jet-lagged journalist arriving in Buenos Aires for the G20

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National Congress building, Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Shutterstock photo)
Updated 02 December 2018
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Random observations of a jet-lagged journalist arriving in Buenos Aires for the G20

  • Latin America was at the forefront of some of the most innovative movements in art in the 20th century
  • The Malba museum is actually a wonderful place, and if I were a taxi driver, I’d angle for a fare there as often as I could

On the map Buenos Aires looks like a T-bone steak, with the outer fatty side following the shoreline of the Rio de la Plata. Plata means “silver” in Spanish, and the river — more a small sea actually, and said to be the biggest river in the world, though I bet the Amazon would object — does look kind of silver in certain sunlight. But the name was also derived in Spanish from the vast amounts of precious metal that flowed down it when the conquistadors first exploited the Latin American interior. The English, who have lost the correlation between silver and wealth, just call it the more prosaic River Plate.

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The obligatory taxi driver story: You get into a Buenos Aires cab and ask in faltering Spanish for the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. “Ah si,” says the Portena driver, using the acronym “Malba” like he drives there every day for his own personal pleasure. This proves to me that Argentines are deeply cultured and artistic people — even down to the average cabbie.

A taxicab in downtown Buenos Aires. (Shutterstock photo)

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The Argentine economy is fragile. I went to a branch of the bank that handles my business in the UK and the UAE, wanting to take out some folding money to pay for taxis and other things. The most I could withdraw — even from my own checking account — was the equivalent of $105 (just under SR400). This tells me that the authorities are worried about another run on the very vulnerable peso.

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The Malba museum is actually a wonderful place, and if I were a taxi driver, I’d angle for a fare there as often as I could. Latin America was at the forefront of some of the most innovative movements in art in the 20th century, from Frida Kahlo to (her husband) Diego Rivera and down to Alicia Penalba, whose massive mural sculpture “Flying Forms” will form the backdrop for the G20 wives and partners photo shoot on Saturday. I think Melania Trump will want to buy it. I think Donald will not approve. Not enough gold.

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Villa Ocampo, a mansion built in 1891 in San Isidro, about 30 km north of Buenos Aires city. (AFP)

Melania might also want to buy the Villa Ocampo, a superb European-style mansion a long way up the Silver River from Malba. It was owned by one of Argentina’s leading ladies of letters, Victoria Ocampo, and is famous for its distinguished list of visitors, including writers Andre Malraux, Albert Camus and Graham Greene, and, bizarrely, Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist. Mrs. Trump is there at a reception on Friday, while her husband is off talking trade-war turkey with Xi Jinping. But I think UNESCO, the current owners, would ask for too much — even for a US first lady — if the villa was ever for sale. Which it is not.

 

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After all that fine art, sophistication and taxi-driver talk, it was down to the nitty-gritty — getting press credentials for the G20. It is here that you encounter Argentina at its finest: A glorious mid-19th-century building hiding the most hopelessly inadequate registration system known to man. Somewhere around where the bone would have been in that T-bone steak lies the Ministry of External Relations, and it is here the world’s media have to line up for the precious lanyard that gives you access to the International Media Center. After 30 minutes in the dungeons of Esmeralda, I was happy to walk blinking back down the Avenida Santa Fe to freedom, and the Wilton Hotel, to eavesdrop on the football team of BBC journalists planning their assault on the G20. But that recollection can wait for another time.


Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft takes part in a meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Trudeau's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 59 min 15 sec ago
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Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump announced Friday that he has selected Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to Canada, as his nominee to serve as the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
Trump said in a pair of tweets that Craft “has done an outstanding job representing our Nation” and he has “no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level.”
Two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters had told The Associated Press that Trump had been advised that Craft’s confirmation would be the smoothest of the three candidates he had been considering to fill the job last held by Nikki Haley.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had backed Craft for the post, and she also has the support of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, the people said. Trump’s first pick to replace Haley, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew over the weekend.
Craft, a Kentucky native, was a member of the US delegation to the UN General Assembly under President George W. Bush’s administration. She is also friends with McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and thanked Chao for her “longtime friendship and support” at her swearing-in as ambassador.
As US ambassador to Canada, she played a role in facilitating the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump had also considered US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and former US Senate candidate John James of Michigan for the post.
Nauert’s withdrawal from consideration came amid a push within the administration to fill the position, given a pressing array of foreign policy concerns in which the United Nations, particularly the UN Security Council, is likely to play a significant role. From Afghanistan to Venezuela, the administration has pressing concerns that involve the world body, and officials said there had been impatience with the delays on Nauert’s formal nomination.
Trump said Dec. 7 that he would pick the former Fox News anchor and State Department spokeswoman for the UN job, but her nomination was never formalized. Notwithstanding other concerns that may have arisen during her confirmation, Nauert’s nomination had languished in part due to the 35-day government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and interrupted key parts of the vetting process. Nauert cited family considerations in withdrawing from the post.
With Nauert out of the running, officials said Pompeo had been keen on Craft to fill the position. Although Pompeo would like to see the job filled, the vacancy has created an opportunity for him and others to take on a more active role in UN diplomacy. On Thursday, for example, Pompeo was in New York to meet with UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Trump has demoted the UN position to sub-Cabinet rank, in a move backed by both Bolton and Pompeo, according to three other officials. Grenell had suggested he wasn’t interested in a non-Cabinet role. The officials were not authorized to discuss internal personnel deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Haley had been a member of the Cabinet and had clashed repeatedly with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others during the administration’s first 14 months. Bolton was not a Cabinet member when he served as UN ambassador in President George W. Bush’s administration, and neither he nor Pompeo is eager to see a potential challenge to their foreign policy leadership in White House situation room meetings, according to the officials.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Craft was appointed ambassador to Canada because of her financial contributions to the Trump campaign, but said that’s not unusual as past ambassadors have also contributed to presidents who have appointed them.
“I think Ottawa has regarded Craft as a light weight, partly because of her background and partly because the sense is that Trump, unlike his predecessors, doesn’t listen to his ambassadors or care what they think,” Wiseman said.
Craft is married to billionaire coal-mining executive Joe Craft, and they are major Republican donors.
Craft has been ambassador during a low point in relations. Last year Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.