BUENOS AIRES – During a recent visit to Argentina by the Spanish Prime Minister, President Alberto Fernández attempted to connect with his guest by paying homage to the legacy of European immigrants in Argentina.
Instead, with a statement widely seen as xenophobic and offensive, Fernández succeeded in offending his country and throughout Latin America, including the most powerful countries in the region.
“The Mexicans came out of the indigenous peoples, the Brazilians came out of the jungle, but we Argentines arrived on boats. On ships from Europe, ”Fernández said Wednesday, in a televised appearance alongside Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, visiting Buenos Aires.
the video of the statement, which Fernández said was a quote from Mexican Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz, has gone viral on social media, generating widespread media coverage as well as a deluge of criticism and astonishment from politicians and ordinary citizens of neighboring Brazil and Mexico.
“He forgets the millions of people who have been abducted from Africa over three centuries, precisely by the Europeans of whom Fernández is so proud to be a descendant,” Jeff Nascimento, human rights activist and lawyer at São Paulo, Brazil, wrote on Twitter.
Eduardo Bolsonaro, congressman and son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, called the statement racist and mocked the state of Argentina’s economy, which has been in recession for years.
“Argentina is a sinking ship,” he wrote.
The president, Mr Bolsonaro, also responded derisively by tweeting the word “JUNGLE! and the Brazilian flag with a photo of himself and a group of indigenous people.
Argentines have long had a reputation in Latin America for seeing themselves as distinct from others in the region, in part because of the large percentage of the country’s population which traces its ancestry back to European settlers, primarily from Spain and Italy. . Its neighbor, Brazil, is a predominantly black and indigenous country.
Today, a generation of young scholars in Argentina, including black academics, question their country’s national narrative and say it is both racist and erases the presence of both indigenous and black Argentines.
Mexican actor Gael García Bernal says the remark of Mr. Fernández “Perpetuates the harmful narrative of extractivist colonialism”, and lamented that it reflects an opinion which “is unfortunately very common”.
Mr Fernández, a leftist leader who was elected in 2019 and has drawn criticism for blunders in the past, attributed the quote to Mr Paz.
Mr. Paz’s actual quote is: “Mexicans are descended from the Aztecs, Peruvians from the Incas, and Argentines from ships.”
Mr Fernández appears to have confused Paz’s quote with the lyrics of a song made popular in the 1980s by rock singer Litto Nebbia, whom Mr Fernández admires and described as a “friend”. The president’s quote was taken almost verbatim from the song.
The remark overshadowed the agenda for the meeting between heads of state, which focused on trade negotiations and vaccine diplomacy.
After the criticisms, Mr. Fernández wrote on Twitter:
“I didn’t mean to offend, but anyway, if anyone feels offended or made invisible, I apologize.”
But he added: “It has been said more than once that ‘the Argentines are getting off the boats. Mr. Fernández continued: “In the first half of the 20th century, we received over five million immigrants who lived among our natives. Our diversity is a source of pride.
Daniel Politi reported from Buenos Aires. Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro.