The Argentine president Alberto Fernández made a surprise visit to Uruguay on Thursday to meet his peer Luis Lacalle Pou, with whom they shared a barbecue and according to both leaders addressed bilateral and regional affairs with special emphasis on trade prospects such as the Mercosur/EU trade agreement.
It was the second overseas trip for president Fernandez, and the first time the two leaders met since 10 December when the Argentine took office and Lacalle Pou travelled to congratulate him in Buenos Aires.
But the fact that the newly elected Argentine president did not visit neighboring Uruguay was quite surprising in political and diplomatic circles but both underlined that they were too busy and anyhow have very good personal and family relations.
Apparently the meeting was prepared by the Uruguayan foreign minister, Francisco Bustillo, a former ambassador in Buenos Aires and well known in Argentine political circles. President Fernandez invited Bustillo to fly with him last week to the taking office of Bolivian president Luis Arce in La Paz.
It was an opportunity for two long standing friends who respect each other very much to continue working in this pleasant relation, we all have many friends in common said minister Bustillo who was the official spokesperson of the four hours meeting.
We must continue to work jointly, it was an excellent meeting and the presidents talked about the bilateral relation and the situation in the region, underlined the minister.
Bustillo added it was a very, very good meeting, in an excellent atmosphere, and the barbecue of Uruguayan beef, done by the president was really tasty.
The presidents did not speak about the sanitary situation in the two countries but rather about their experiences since the Uruguayan handling of the pandemic has been very successful and the Argentines are only now lowering the number of contagions.
The River Uruguay, which is a natural border between the two countries and turning it into a navigable waterway, which is of interest for Uruguay, was also addressed, but it was not a work agenda, so it was enough with the promised support from president Fernandez.
Regarding trade the two presidents agreed to insist on regional integration, injecting vitality to the Mercosur block, particularly the accord with the European Union, likewise with a possible China/Mercosur trade agreement, and why not consider something similar with the United States.
President Lacalle Pou later said that it was the first meeting since he took office, because Fernandez did not attend his inauguration on March first, and later the reason was the pandemic, which made it very difficult to get together
The meeting took place in the Uruguayan presidency camp residence in Colonia, just a twenty minutes helicopter flight from Buenos Aires. Fernandez was accompanied by his press officer, and was met in the Anchorena farm by president Lacalle Pou, minister Bustillo and the Argentine ambassador in Uruguay, Alberto Iribarne.
The Argentine foreign minister Felipe Solá surprisingly was absent, although in mid afternoon he joined president Fernandez when the inauguration of a new cabinet minister in Government House.
It was a very good meeting , we talked in a relaxed atmosphere about the region, about Argentina and in particular about Uruguay, said the official Argentine media release.
We both felt that we must strengthen links between our peoples. We also believe that we have to work together so that the region again unites, respecting ideology diversity and making ourselves strong in a globalized world. We are convinced that together we can contribute to this objective.
President Fernandez was allowed to fly to Uruguay and abandon quarantine following a second negative swab. He was in quarantine because several of his ministers and aides had tested positive, and he is considered a potential risk case giving his age and a blood clotting problem.
A month ago Fernandez interviewed by a Uruguayan radio program said ”there is no conflict between Uruguay and Argentina, or between Luis (Lacalle Pou) and me.
The following day the Uruguayan president said that respect is mutual, it is true that we don-t have much dialogue in other issues because of the closed frontiers. I mean if I go to visit him in Buenos Aires, I will have to remain seven days locked in and vice versa. Finally we have many complementary interests, most of them, and some maybe conflicting, but the Argentina Uruguay relation is beyond all this”