BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA —
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday praised Argentine President Mauricio Macri's "bold reform agenda" during a visit to that country, calling Macri's efforts to transform Argentina's economy an "inspiration."
Days after local primary elections that were seen as a boost for Macri's pro-business agenda, Pence said Argentina should serve as a model for the region.
"Argentina in many ways is an inspiration, across this hemisphere and across the wider world," Pence said during a joint news conference with Macri at the presidential residence in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.
Pence's comments came during a packed day that included meetings with local officials and a visit to the city's grand cathedral. Pence was also set to speak at the Buenos Aires stock exchange about economic ties between the two countries as part of a six-day visit to Latin America.
Investors have praised Macri's decision to cut government spending, reduce taxes on exports and end economic distortions that led to years of high consumer prices under his left-leaning predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. But job cuts and diminished utility subsidies have also stoked unrest in a nation with a long tradition of providing generous state jobs and benefits.
Macri and Trump enjoy a personal relationship dating back years from their days as businessmen, and both had hoped to leverage those ties to bolster the U.S.-Argentina relationship after years of Fernandez's anti-American stance.
"There's a personal relationship there and I imagine the vice president will want to build on that," said Harold Trinkunas, an expert in Latin American politics who works at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation.
Pence's visit came two days after the surprising success of Macri's political coalition in key Argentine provinces in a primary election. The results strengthened the coalition's position heading into October's midterm legislative vote and gave a boost to its pro-business economic reforms.
Pence's speech was expected to stress a message he has delivered repeatedly: that Trump's "America first" policy does not mean "America alone." Pence was also expected to argue that a secure Latin America is crucial to the security of the United States, praise Macri's economic reforms and argue that a more prosperous Latin America is good for the U.S.
During her presidency, Fernandez kept prices for things like bread, bus rides and energy low. But her free-spending policies led to soaring consumer prices, limits on exports, and currency controls that created a black market for dollars.
Macri was elected by promising to clean up corruption and jump-start the economy with a pro-business government that would roll back some of Fernandez's policies and cut back government spending. But he has struggled to rein in double-digit inflation and has been criticized for firing tens of thousands of state workers.
Macri has also struggled to lure in foreign investments, as promised while campaigning.
"We need to create a lot of jobs, and your companies that are determined to invest in our country are most welcome," Macri told Pence in Spanish. He also vowed to continue fighting against drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption.
The United States is Argentina's third-largest trade partner after Brazil and China. Argentina's chamber of commerce says exports to the U.S. totaled $2.5 billion in the first half of 2017 — an 11 percent increase over the same period last year. The U.S. is also Argentina's top source of foreign direct investment, according to the Argentine central bank.
The two also discussed the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, with Pence warning the country was spiraling toward dictatorship at the hands of President Nicolás Maduro. Macri echoed the alarm but also made clear that he rejected Trump's surprise suggestion last week that a "military option" might be on the table.
"The way to go," said Macri, "is not the use of force."