BUENOS AIRES – During a recent visit to Argentina by the Prime Minister of Spain, President Alberto Fernandez tried to contact his guest by paying tribute to Argentina’s European immigrant heritage.
Instead, with a statement that was widely seen as xenophobic and insulting, Mr Fernandez managed to insult at home and in Latin America – including in the most powerful countries in the region.
“The Mexicans came from the indigenous population, the Brazilians came from the jungle, but we Argentines arrived by boat. On boats from Europe, “Mr Fernandez said on Wednesday, during a televised appearance with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who was visiting Buenos Aires.
“He forgets the millions of people abducted from Africa for three centuries, namely the Europeans that Fernandez is so proud to be a descendant of,” Jeff Nascimento, a human rights activist and lawyer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, wrote on Twitter.
Eduardo Bolsonaro, a member of Congress and the 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 with mockery, tweeting the word “JUNGLE!” And the Brazilian flag, along with a photo of himself and a group of indigenous people.
Argentines have long had a reputation in Latin America, as they are considered different from the rest of the region, in part because of the country’s large percentage of the population, which comes from European settlers, mainly Spain and Italy. Its neighbor, Brazil, is a majority black and indigenous country.
Now a generation of young researchers in Argentina, including black scientists, are questioning their country’s national narrative and claiming it is both racist and erasing the presence of Argentines from local and black roots.
Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal said Mr Fernandez’s remark “perpetuated the harmful narrative of extractivist colonialism” and complained that it reflected a view that “unfortunately is very common”.
Mr Fernandez, a left-wing leader who was elected in 2019 and has criticized blunders in the past, attributed the quote to Mr Paz.
Mr. Pass’s real quote is, “Mexicans are descended from the Aztecs, Peruvians from the Incas, and Argentines from the boats.”
Mr Fernández seems to have confused Paz’s quote with the lyrics of a song popular in the 1980s by rock singer Litto Nebbia, whom Mr Fernández admires and describes as a ‘friend’. The president’s quote is taken almost verbatim from the song.
The remark overshadowed the agenda of the meeting between the heads of state, focused on trade negotiations and vaccination diplomacy.
Following the criticism, Mr Fernandez wrote on Twitter:
“I’m not going to offend, but in any case, if someone feels offended or becomes invisible, I offer an apology.”
But he added, “It is said many times that ‘Argentines got off boats. Mr Fernandez continued: “In the first half of the 20th century, we received more than five million immigrants living among our people. Our diversity is our pride. “
Daniel Polity announced from Buenos Aires. Ernesto Londoño reports from Rio de Janeiro.