He has been here for little over two months, but already Argentina’s new ambassador to Barbados Gustavo Martinez Pandiani is confidently proclaiming the island as his home away from home.
“I really feel at home here. I have been here for a little less than two months, but I truly feel as if I’m in a place I have grown up,” he said in an interview with Barbados TODAY earlier this week.
“I have my friends here, I have my football. I play in the Master’s league. So I’m having a great time,” he said.
As a born and bred Argentinian, football naturally runs through his veins and though he is no Lionel Messi, he is equally as passionate about the sport, which he sees as an important tool in strengthening his country’s overall relationship with Barbados.
When he is not attending official engagements, the very affable Ambassador Martinez can be found playing with the over-50s at Wanderers club and boasts of having the best strike rate in the Master’s division even though he is currently sidelined with injury that has admittedly left him feeling somewhat like “an old car”.
“In three games, I have four goals. I am the top scorer of my team, but I got injured,” he said, explaining that he had been unable to play for the last two games and that “once I get a problem in my ankle it goes to my knee and then it goes to the other ankle”.
However, injury or no injury there is no denying his love for the game as he eagerly looks forward to getting back in action within the next two weeks.
In the meantime, the ambassador has been looking at ways of sharing the Argentine expertise in football with Barbados, and at the same time to get Barbados to share its expertise in cricket with Argentina.
His football injury has also not stopped him from taking in all there is culturally that Barbados has to offer since he detests the idea of “living in the diplomatic ghetto”.
“I like the idea of sharing your experiences, your way of life, your culture, your sports, your arts,” he told Barbados TODAY while stressing that these will be areas of focus during his tenure at the helm of the Argentine embassy here.
“I think it is important for us to share our own expressions and to know about your expressions,” he said, adding that “this is why we are trying to get some [Argentine] music groups to Crop Over for the first time – an Argentine music band and some Tango dancers . . . . We are also having a theatre play emphasis called La Negra Fea which is the story about the life and work of Josephine Baker with an Argentine director and we are going to have a week of Barbadian movies in Argentina and a week of Argentine films here as well,” he said, adding that his embassy was currently working with the university to put on a film show in June.
Argentina, which currently produces enough food to feed about 200 million people even though its population is only 40 million, is also looking to have more of its products on Barbadian shelves.
However, the ambassador said: “I don’t believe that I’m here only to sell our products. Of course, I want to have more Argentine wine in your supermarkets, in your restaurants and in your hotels, the same as with the meat and all our food. You know, we are a very important food producing country. But, together with that, together with the trade, I want to have more tourists coming to Barbados. That is why we’re working with your Government to have more connections with the airlines coming from South America,” he said, while welcoming the recent decision by Copa Airlines to resume direct flights between Panama City and Bridgetown.
“So trade is important, culture is important, sport is important and cooperation in general is important,” he stressed, while acknowledging that the current disconnect between Barbados and Argentina was not only in terms air links.
“It is a problem of knowing each other. So I’m trying to get as much of Barbados as possible to Argentina. I’m taking your filming there, your music. I want to get some of your very good cricket coaches because we have our national team and we have a female team but we are not that strong, so I want to have the Barbadian expertise,” he said, adding that preliminary discussions were already in train with the relevant Barbadian and Argentinian sporting officials to have these plans effected by next year.
Asked about the possibility of having the country’s best known professional football player, Messi, visit Barbados, the Argentine diplomat could not give any such commitment. However, he promised that if Argentina made it to the World Cup final in June, he would host “a huge party in the Argentine residence to see the final with all of my Barbadian friends”.
In the meantime, the ambassador is looking forward to hosting a major cooperation seminar in May at which he said one of the focuses will be agriculture.
“My idea is to work with your business people to have Argentine foods in your supermarkets . . . . We are going to have a trade mission to Argentina for one of your big businessmen . . . and we are ready to be in your market,” he said, while expressing particular interest in supplying food and beverage to Barbados, which relies heavily on such imports.
Martinez is eager to have more Argentine wine in Barbados and more Bajan rum in his country.
His vision is also to “have more soca dancing in Argentina and more tango dancing in Barbados”.
“So every time I am trying to think about a project, I’m thinking about a two-way project – sports, products, tourism – I want to have exchange,” he said, while emphasizing that “international affairs is a two-way road.
“We have to see it that way. I don’t like the idea of sometimes the most powerful countries they come to our countries, the smaller countries, and they say, ‘Well you know I’m the expert here. I know everything, you know nothing. I’m going to give you this’ . . . [but] we are not giving away anything. We are cooperating. Cooperation means you do your best and show me what is your best and I do my best and show you what is my best. Your expertise and my expertise are equally valued, so that is my approach for everything we are going to do with Barbados. We can learn from you many, many things. For example about tourism management, about hospitality management, so it is not a question of a country helping out another country, it is two countries helping out themselves,” he explained.
After nearly 50 years of diplomatic relations with Bridgetown, Argentina only moved earlier this year to establish a permanent embassy here.
Asked to explain why, the Spanish-speaking diplomat said: “It is right time. The world is changing fast.
“The United States is in the process of re-engineering their politics and especially re-engineering their foreign policy. I don’t know if the present government of the United States is prioritizing the Caribbean . . . but I know that South America is prioritizing the Caribbean,” he said.
“We are too close not to be friends. We share the same geographical area . . . . We don’t share the same languages, but we can work on that,” he added, while disclosing that by April he was hoping to launch a Spanish teaching programme here.