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Americas

Angela Merkel seeks to manage expectations in Argentina, Mexico

German Chancellor Angela Merkel began her visit to Argentina with a speech at a synagogue in Buenos Aires. DW's Michaela Küfner described the background to the Latin American trip.

Before meeting Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Merkel visited Buenos Aires' Templo Libertad synagogue (pictured above) in recognition of Argentina's role in offering refuge to Jews fleeing from the Nazis.

The Chancellor acknowledged Latin America's largest Jewish community, which today comprises roughly 250,000 people. She recalled the "terrible attacks" on the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Argentina in the 1990s, noting that a newly restored synagogue organ symbolized a bridge with Germany.

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Merkel's itinerary is also set to include a stop at which she will pay tribute to the victims of the country's 1976-1983 dictatorship, during which between 7,000 and 30,000 people were killed.

No anti-Trump alliance

Berlin insists that this trip is not about forming any kind of alliance against US President Donald Trump's protectionist economic rhetoric. Officially, Merkel's stops in Argentina and then Mexico were simply the last countries left on the list to visit prior to the G20 summit in Hamburg.

The former chief of government of Argentina's capital, Macri has earned some respect with the German chancellor for beginning to pull his country out of the all-out economic mess that had its origins in Argentina's 2001 state bankruptcy. He secured a settlement with hedge funds where both the previous presidencies failed, regaining Argentina's access to financial markets. Yet this "success story" came at a high price for ordinary Argentinians.

Merkel noted Thursday her first visit to Argentina came after Macri helped open Argentina to international credit markets following a long absence. "My first visit as Chancellor is taking place as President Macri has managed the re-opening of the country to the financial markets," Merkel said. "We believe that beyond political discussions we can support economic development. Argentina needs infrastructure, Argentina has to modernize and for that Germany can be a good partner." 

Argentinien Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel & Präsident Mauricio Macri (Reuters/M. Brindicci)

Chancellor Merkel met with President Macri at the Casa Rosada presidential palace

A tough job but somebody has to do it

The upcoming G20 meeting will not have to try quite so hard to stress the "shared values" that were absent at the recent G7 gathering in Sicily on more levels than merely Washington's climate opt-out. Still, every economy around the table - from China to Japan to the EU and certainly Latin America - will be watching every move Trump makes. And they'll be watching how Angela Merkel - as G20 host - responds.

Merkel: G7 climate talks with Trump 'very unsatisfying'

So the German chancellor has some expectation management to do in Latin America's second and third largest economies on how much power she wields as leader of Europe's strongest economy. News website Politico and others might have dubbed Merkel "leader of the free world," but she'll be keen to dial that down a notch. From where many here are sitting, Merkel carries the burden whether she likes it or not.

Kuefner Michaela Kommentarbild App

DW political correspondent Michaela Küfner is accompanying the chancellor

Merkel is carefully avoiding contact with the country that - at any other time - would have been the natural partner to visit. Brazil is the only Latin American country with a direct trade agreement with Germany. Yet the chancellor is treating it as a flyover country on this rare Latin American trip. Evidently she doesn't want to get sucked into the corruption scandal surrounding President Temer. An official visit by the German Chancellor in such a toxic political climate might be seen as taking sides. The aim now is to schedule a meeting in Germany ahead of the G20.

Sitting on the fence

There, Germany's chancellor will have to prove whether she can get the world's largest economies to sign on the dotted line and recommit to free trade. Just as important for Angela Merkel are a host of initiatives her G20 presidency wants to establish as future "must haves" on the agenda: women, digitalization and global health care along with a commitment to a development agenda for Africa. The latter idea just failed to get a foothold at the G7 - a setback for Merkel who is committed to tackling migration by improving conditions for would-be migrants at home.

In Hamburg the six-against-one dynamics the world saw at the G7 meeting turning into a 19-to-one scenario is not an option. If necessary, core issues like climate change are liable to be dropped from any closing statement altogether. Another goal for Merkel will be to reassure a US administration elected in part on Trump's claims that the rest of the world had conned America into bad deals. She will want to convey that her three-day visit to the southern side of a potential border wall does not put her on the other side of that boundary.

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