“Ignorant”, “fascist”, Latin diplomacy becomes ridiculous in schoolyards

The region’s presidents really don’t like each other, judging by the vitriol circulating on social media.

Forget gala dinners or summits in picturesque locations. Instead, the irascible leaders of some of Latin America’s largest countries are taking a decidedly dismissive approach to diplomatic relations. In a region far removed from global conflicts, presidents here are involved in the kind of verbal sparring commonly found in schoolyards: a war of words played out on television and through messages on X.

“Ignorant,” Argentine President Javier Milei said last week of his Mexican counterpart Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “Fascist,” replied López Obrador.

And the Venezuelan government, which has never been afraid to show contempt, has had caustic remarks about criticism of strongman Nicolás Maduro, who last month blocked popular opposition figures from running against him in the July presidential election.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Gustavo Petro shake hands during their meeting at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, November 18, 2023. Photo: Reuters

“Mete tus opinionses donde puedas”, says the minister of External Relations of Venezuela, Yván Gil, directing his leadership of the presidents normally friends, Gustavo Petro, of Colombia, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of Brasil, después de que se opusieron coautelosamente to the measure.

Argentina’s Milei, a libertarian economist who isn’t one to speak softly and wields a big stick, tends to find himself in the middle of almost every tumult.

After all, he attacked his left-wing opponents in Argentina, calling them “useless parasites” and “human excrement.” During last year’s presidential campaign, he used a chainsaw to show how he would destroy old institutions.

“This is not the time for fine words and good manners,” he said.

He carried this conviction to the presidency and to foreign relations, as was fully demonstrated last week in an interview with anchor Andrés Oppenheimer, on CNN en Español.

Milei called the authoritarian leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela (countries without free or fair elections) “truly despicable” and the worst presidents in Latin America.

The President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, during a speech. Photo: Reuters

“After them, there are other cases on the same path, like that of Colombia, with Mr. Petro,” Milei said, entering delicate territory since Petro was elected in 2022 in a free vote . “You can’t expect much from someone who was a murderous terrorist, a communist.”

Petro, a member of a left-wing rebel group in his youth, has rarely held back, often insulting leaders whose policies, particularly conservative ones, he dislikes.

He had a dispute with the Israeli ambassador over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Gaza policy. And he accused El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, of running concentration camps by imprisoning thousands of suspected gang members.

Bukele happily took the bait, pointing to the sharp decline in homicides in El Salvador and crime problems in Colombia. And when Petro’s son was implicated in a corruption scandal last year, Bukele responded: “Is everything okay at home?”

Petro and Milei clashed last year when the Colombian leader compared Milei to Hitler and supported his opponent. It seems Milei hasn’t forgotten.

López Obrador, perhaps still bitter about Milei calling the Mexican politician’s supporters the “short penis club,” entered the latest brawl by calling the Argentine a “conservative fascist” and expressing his surprised that the Argentinians elected him.

He also wrote in X to support Petro in his fight against Milei.

“Thank you Andrés Manuel,” Petro replied. “I think Milei is seeking to destroy, or at least delay, Latin American integration.”

Argentine President Javier Milei gets out of his car. Photo: Europe Press

This is not the first time the region has engaged in an insult fest, although many past attacks have tended to be directed at the United States. Fidel Castro, the late Cuban dictator, called President Ronald Reagan “crazy, a fool and a vagabond” in the 1980s after the U.S. leader included Cuba in a group of illegal state sponsors of terrorism. Reagan described the leaders of these nations as “the strangest collection of misfits, Looney Tunes and skinny criminals since the rise of the Third Reich.”

Access to social media seems to add fuel to the fire these days, said Michael Shifter, a longtime Latin America expert at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

“There are many leaders in Latin America who really like to use Twitter and argue with other leaders,” he said. “They are naturally combative and polarizing characters. “If they control your social media accounts, the temptation is irresistible.”

Some fear that the war of words could lead to actions that could seriously damage relationships. In fact, it appears to be the case.

The Venezuelan regime cut off water and electricity to the Argentine embassy last week after six opposition activists sought refuge, prompting Milei’s government to ask Maduro officials to respect diplomatic protocols.

Argentine President Javier Milei and Colombian President Gustavo Petro. Photo: Archives

Maduro previously called the Argentine leader an “outlaw” after the Argentine government handed over to the United States a Venezuelan plane suspected of carrying crew members linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“They stole our plane…Crazy Milei!” Maduro said of Venezuela in a speech on February 15. “He’s acting like a crazy person, or he’s crazy, or both.”

After Argentina said it would take diplomatic action against Venezuela to deny it access to its airspace, Venezuela’s foreign minister accused Milei of leading a “neo-Nazi government” that was ” submissive and obedient to his imperial master”, in reference to the United States.

Argentina, which has become a leading critic of Venezuela’s opposition crackdown, ignored the insults.

“What else can you expect from a donkey, apart from a kick?” declared the spokesperson for the Argentine presidency, Manuel Adorni.

Eric Farnsworth, a former top State Department diplomat, is exasperated by what he sees.

“A lot of this just seems unnecessary,” said Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas policy group in Washington. “What’s the point?”

Héctor Fernando Córdoba, a retired accountant from Buenos Aires who supports Milei, also has questions. He likes Milei’s free market economic policies and harsh austerity measures.

Still, I would prefer the president focus on repairing Argentina’s inflation-ravaged economy. “This fight only creates more complications for people who need solutions today,” he said.

But Milei isn’t one to back down from a verbal argument. And he had some choice words for the president of Mexico.

“It’s an honor that an ignorant person like López Obrador speaks ill of me,” Milei said. “Flatters me.”

Source: Latercera

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