Moving Away from the Black Market with the Tango of Transparency

President Obama’s recent trip to Argentina brought back memories of the vacation my wife and I took a year ago to South America. We visited Machu Picchu in Peru, toured the canal that cuts across Panama, and spent about a week in the fascinating country of Argentina.

I can confirm that the wine in Argentina is terrific, and there is nothing like tango dancing in Buenos Aires (although based on the video I saw, President Obama could use a few lessons).

One of my lasting thoughts into the culture of the country came the day I decided to exchange a few dollars for some pesos. I was given directions to the back part of a retail outlet, where I was told I would find a non-descript door. When I got there, I should ring the bell and tell them how much money I needed to exchange. In other words, a black market currency mirrors the country’s politics.

In fact, it was painfully obvious that virtually no one we spoke to in Argentina trusted their government. For years, Argentinian leaders have been known for corruption and a lack of transparency. Decades of lies, cover-ups, and other deceptive practices have left the country in real turmoil, some of which includes the secret involvement of the US government.

The Wall Street Journal called President Obama’s visit a “turning point in bilateral relations.” Among other things, the president promised to declassify military and intelligence documents that could shed light on things like the 1976 coup in Argentina. He also promised to partner with Argentina on economic development and to strengthen the country’s position in diplomatic circles.

The warming relationship between the countries resulted from the election of Mauricio Macri, who took office in December as Argentina’s first “democratically elected non-radical or Peronist president since 1916.” Macri, the former mayor of Buenos Aires, is a businessman whose education includes work at Columbia Business School and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

From what we saw on our trip, Macri has a huge task in front of him. Old habits die hard, and the opposition is real and organized. As any leader will tell you, it’s not easy to change a bad culture, and it’s especially hard to change one that involves an entire country. But if Macri leads with honesty, humility, and heart, he’ll set an example of transparency for others to follow. Slowly, he can regain the trust of the people in their leaders and in each other. And eventually, the currency exchanges and the politics can move off the black market.

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