“My deepest apologies to those whom I might have hurt with my words in recent days” said Uruguayan president Jose Mujica in his daily broadcast on Thursday, the first public apology for the controversial expressions he used last week to refer to Argentine president Cristina Fernandez and her late husband Nestor Kirchner.
President Mujica also announced he would send a personal letter to Cristina Fernandez on the issue and leaves it up to the Argentine leader to make it public or not.
During an official ceremony last week with several elected officials Mujica was caught, with the open microphone saying that “the old lady is worse than the one-eyed man” in direct reference to Cristina and Nestor Kirchner, complaining about Mercosur and trade differences with protectionist Argentina and Brazil. He added that Kirchner “was more political, she’s very stubborn”.
A few minutes later Mujica’s words were headlines in Buenos Aires media and the Argentine government considered the expressions ‘unacceptable, denigrating and offend the memory of a dead person” and summoned the Uruguayan ambassador to make a formal protest.
The Mujica administration reacted ordering complete silence and no official should make any comments on the incident, until the president decides what path to follow, despite the Uruguayan opposition’s call for an official apology.
A flash public opinion survey among Montevideo residents showed an overwhelming (76%) support for Mujica’s expressions.
In his following radio program after the incident, Mujica didn’t mention the mishap but talked long about the common roots of Argentina and Uruguay, the common stock, the common ideals and culture, and despite history, he emphasized “nothing or nobody” can separate Argentina from Uruguay.
But on Thursday in his daily broadcast Mujica formally apologized: “my deepest apologies to those whom I might have hurt with my words in recent days. And even more to those who as us, are members of the big and federal fatherland”. He then went on to make a long introduction why the use of ‘coarse’ and ‘jail’ slang.
“Fifty years ago I was clandestine. We wanted to change the world. And one of the problems was when you were jailed, tortured to extract information. I had to erase from my memory phone numbers, and the truth is, based on effort and discipline I managed it, to such an extent that my mental system was reprogrammed not to remember phone numbers. Even today I can’t remember my phone number or that of my wife and with great efforts that of my secretary”, confessed Mujica.
Half a century ago Mujica and another group of young failed politicians frustrated with the Uruguayan system founded an urban guerrilla movement, involved in killings, kidnappings and robbing with the purpose of bringing down the democratic government of the time. Despite Cuban military training and financial aid, they were finally crushed by the Uruguayan Police and Armed Forces with most of them ending in jail by 1972. But their insurgency opened the way for a military coup and dictatorship that lasted from 1973 to 1984.
Thus added Mujica, given the long years of jail experience, “we can’t avoid using in our common and intimate daily communication language at times coarse; I’d say even jail slang. We spent many years in jails and dungeons and we had to find ways to communicate and survive. That language is far distant from the official discoursing. It has little to do with freedom of the press. Since then nick names such as Monkey, Stallion, One Eyed, and Gimpy have survived”
In his broadcast the Uruguayan president also praised the Kirchner governments. “For years they have been saying that Argentina is collapsing, on the path to authoritarianism. And they accuse this government, my administration of being subordinate to Argentina. It’s a pack of lies. Argentina keeps growing. Since 1952 (when Juan Domingo Peron was president) no other government has done so much to lift the dispossessed. Sometimes their defensive measures hurt us, but who can deny that the mass of the Argentine people loves us, loves Uruguay?”
Likewise, “whoever knows something about history knows that if things roll fine for Argentina, we also benefit, they also roll fine for us. And when it’s bad for them, it’s bad for us. When our relations are bad the only ones that benefit are those that are far”. Finally “I know it is raining. On the long run water washes out”.
From Buenos Aires Foreign minister Héctor Timerman said the Argentine government would “welcome” the letter Uruguayan leader José Mujica announced he will send to President Cristina Fernández explaining the controversial comments that flared up bilateral tensions in recent days.
“I have no news about (the letter) but if he sends it, it will be welcome,” Timerman pointed out in statements to a Buenos Aires radio station.
According to reports in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, Mujica tried to contact Cristina Fernandez by phone, but he was “left waiting in the line”