Alberto Fernández and Andrés Manuel López Obrador talked up plans to boost bilateral and regional cooperation on Monday evening, as the new president-elect made his first foreign trip since winning election last month.
The Frente de Todos leader said topics of discussion with his soon-to-be Mexican counterpart in their private conversations at the National Palace in Mexico City included improving what he described as a deteriorated commercial relationship and mutual concerns over political upheaval in countries like Chile and Ecuador. He said they barely touched on the political stand-off in Venezuela because both men's stances are well-known.
Fernández said the two shared a similar vision of how to see the Americas and the world, and outlined a regional vision prioritising equality and boosting marginalised people. He hailed López Obrador's election as a "great breath of fresh air."
"They are alternatives to what has ruled in recent years, for example in Argentina, and it is a return to finding a political system that returns the equity lost in Latin America, the equilibrium lost in Latin America, the social equality lost in Latin America," Fernández said in a news conference following the encounter.
He expressed "satisfaction in meeting with someone who thinks so similarly to me."
López Obrador "has been categorical in his support for us, not only by encouraging commercial ties but by claiming internationally in favour of aid to Argentina," added Fernández.
"We feel that it is necessary to introduce policies that help the abandoned in the current system ... our high priority is those who suffer, those who have fallen into poverty, those who have been unemployed, young people who have not been able to find work," he explained.
After topping conservative incumbent Mauricio Macri on October 27, a key South American partner would have normally been a more likely first stop for Fernández rather than Mexico City, which is a 10-hour flight from Buenos Aires and is far more closely tied to the United States commercially and otherwise.
But there were few good options close to home. The likes of Brazil and Colombia are run by conservative governments with which Fernández has little in common ideologically. Left-led countries like Venezuela and Bolivia are in the midst of political crises. Neighbouring Chile is both conservative-led and in the midst of deadly political protests, and analysts say visiting there would have been seen as validating the government's use of force against demonstrators.
So the president-elect turned to the northern hemisphere and López Obrador, a like-minded, centre-left politician who's often referred to by his initials, "AMLO," and who regularly espouses nonconfrontation and non-intervention in others' affairs as a cornerstone of Mexico's foreign policy since taking office last December.
"Mexico is far away, with few ties," said Shannon O'Neil, senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, "but rhetorically leftist, so safe."
"I think [Fernández] is trying to situate himself publicly within Latin America and that rules out a very large number of countries," agreed Gregory Weeks, a political scientist specialising in Latin America at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. "And so what he's able to say is that 'I align myself more or less along the same lines as AMLO,' and so symbolically he can go forward from there. He's established that 'I prioritise the left,' and then he can visit Brazil or other countries after that."
Argentina is mired in a crisis of its unknown with rampant inflation, deep indebtedness and widespread poverty, and Fernández said his inauguration December 10 "is not a magical date" after which the problems he blames on his predecessor will be quickly solved.
"On December 10 the government changes, the economic reality does not," he warned, adding that Argentina's external debt rose in the last three years to 95 percent of GDP, 40 percent of his compatriots will be in poverty when he takes office and resolving the crisis won't be easy.
As for the debt, he said: "It's not that we don't want to pay ... obligations must be met. What they must understand is that we cannot fulfill it by asking our people for more sacrifice."
Fernández added that Argentina's debt had been "very badly managed."
'Eternal debt of gratitude'
Fernández said Argentina and Mexico share deep cultural ties and Argentina owes the North American nation "an eternal debt of gratitude" for taking in the thousands who fled to political exile during the military dictatorship decades ago.
He said the commercial relationship fell by the wayside and now the challenge is to build it back up. Later Monday he was to meet with Mexican private sector leaders to encourage them to do business in Argentina, and he said he hoped to meet with billionaire Carlos Slim, one of the world's wealthiest men.
"Argentina needs investment," Fernández said.
"To what extent we can we are going to try to help in the acquisition of goods produced in Argentina so the people of Argentina — with their new government — can confront the economic crisis and so there may be growth and well-being in Argentina," López Obrador said Monday.
"With Alberto Fernández, president-elect of Argentina, we talked extensively as if we had known each other for a lifetime. In addition, our people are united by an intimate friendship," López Obrador later posted on Twitter.