President Jose Mujica acid comments on Argentina’s presidential couple Cristina Fernandez-Nestor Kirchner were further developed in a monthly magazine which on Saturday published a long article with the Uruguayan leader, although it must be pointed out that the interview was dated March 18th.
On Thursday, an open microphone caught Mujica criticizing President Cristina Fernández and her late husband and former president Néstor Kirchner, which he described as the ‘old lady’ and the ‘one eyed man”, but emphasizing that the current president is ‘very stubborn’ and Kirchner ‘more political”.
However in the monthly magazine Lento from the five-day a week daily La Diaria, partly financed by soft loans from the government, Mujica refers to Kirchner, who died in 2010, as a “difficult” and “slimy” guy.
Mujica further said that former Uruguayan president Tabaré Vázquez (who is expected to run for re-election next year) “didn’t have problems with Argentina when he was in power, but with the ‘one-eyed Kirchner’” who Mujica claimed was very “slimy” and ended the statement remarking “may God have mercy on him”.
Mujica spoke extensively about Peronism and the political ties with Uruguay’s neighbour across the River Plate. But in contrast to the highly critical comments made last Thursday, he also highlighted a few positive things.
The Uruguayan President stated, using colloquial slang (shared between the two countries), that one of the late Néstor Kirchner’s successes was giving young people “the ball” (a chance to participate) which had given them the means to “build”, referring to the progressive social policy and low unemployment rate that Argentina has achieved since its economic and social debacle of 2001.
Mujica added that Uruguay must have good relations with its neighbours, “we can’t call the Argentines ‘fascists’ or even the government anything of the sort. I think people exaggerate criticisms of Argentina, and that goes for us also”.
“There are things of style and performance you can always argue over. However the fact is that for seven years I have been told Argentina is about to explode and blow up into pieces (because of its economic policies) but the truth is nothing of the sort has happened and there has been no explosion. Argentines do not exploit their (very rich) country, they’re just obstinate”.
Mujica insisted it was in Uruguay’s interests to have friendly relations with all their neighbours, stating that the country should emphasize trying to improve relations with Brazil and fine-tuning them because the by-product would improve Uruguay’s relationship with Argentina. “I try to travel the longer road because Argentina is more sensitive to that.”
In last Thursday’s comments Mujica had been much harsher calling President Cristina Fernández an “old lady” (but really old shrew is closer) who is “worse than her one-eyed” late husband Néstor Kirchner.
The following day, though Mujica did not apologize over the statements made but rather highlighted the longstanding unity between the two countries in order to move on.
Mujica underlined that “nothing or nobody can separate Argentina from Uruguay” and added that “we belong to the same stock, the same bosom only that history marked us different paths”.
Many Uruguayan political officials and business leaders were apprehensive over Mujica’s recent comments and worried that they may face repercussions from the Argentine government because of them.
It was reported in the Uruguayan newspaper El País that government officials met last Friday to evaluate possible retaliatory measures that Argentina could take after the leader’s comments. The official word directly from Mujica was ‘no comments on the incident’.
Officials thought it was highly likely that more import restrictions would increase and that bilateral relations would “chill even more,” according to Uruguayan official sources who didn‘t want to be identified.
The first test will be on 28 June in Montevideo when the Mercosur summit. Mujica will host Cristina Fernandez, Dilma Rousseff and the future president of Venezuela to whom he will handover the six month chair until December. If the lady does not turn up, the freeze will still be on.
Deputy Foreign minister Roberto Conde on Sunday said Mujica had “been reflecting over” the incident with Argentina and the Kirchner couple and is “thinking about the best way to address the situation”.
However “bilateral issues don’t have to have an impact on the (Mercosur) integration process. They run on parallel lanes”. Conde added that the president said “he would be talking about the issue when he decides to”.
Regarding the Argentine protest letter describing Mujica’s words as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘denigrating’. Conde said “it does not display a level of tension which means a fundamental alteration of our relations. On the contrary the communiqué says that the historic good relations between the two countries will not be altered, and we are also working on promoting the long standing good relations”.
Despite the official ‘good chemistry’ between Mujica (who took office in 2010) and the Kirchners, contrary to his predecessor Vazquez, there is a long list of shared interests and mutually beneficial issues which remain stalled and with a heavy political price for the Uruguayan president who is increasingly criticized for being ‘submissive’ and virtually ‘begging on his knees’ before Argentina and the ‘old lady’.
Precisely and because of this political situation and when the ruling Broad Front coalition is in the midst of an all-out internal full battle to decide who will be the partner of Vazquez in the 2014 presidential ticket, some political analysts believe there can be a rational intentional reason behind Mujica’s comments towards the ‘old lady’ and the ‘one eyed man’.
In effect, the main two contenders for the second place in the ticket with Vazquez are a yet to be unveiled representative from Mujica’s party and another from the group that supports Vice-president Danilo Astori. The dispute includes clashes over economic and fiscal policy, where Astori is the orthodox, while the soft belly of Mujica is his attitude towards Argentina. Sometime in the coming months the dispute must be resolved.
Changing the ‘submissive’ to a ‘get lost’ attitude will strengthen Mujica besides the fact that next October Argentina faces mid term elections and Cristina Fernandez allegedly is targeting a strong congress that supports a constitutional amendment to open the way for her third consecutive mandate. Some firecrackers from the two sides of the River Place could help both presidents with the bonus for Mujica that the ‘old lady’ could also end up as a ‘lame duck’ in her last two years in office.