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LATIN AMERICA | 09-12-2019 23:18

Bolsonaro backtracks on inauguration, sends vice-president to Argentina

Vice-President Hamilton Mourão will attend Tuesday's inauguration of Alberto Fernández, confirms press office of the Brazilian Foreign Relations Ministry

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has reversed course and decided to send an official representative to Alberto Fernández's presidential inauguration ceremony.

Vice-President Hamilton Mourão will attend Tuesday's inauguration of Alberto Fernández, said the press office of the Brazilian Foreign Relations Ministry, which declined to provide a reason for the change.

Earlier Monday, the presidential office had confirmed that no emissary was being sent.

In recent months, Fernández and Bolsonaro have traded barbs in the press stemming from their ideological differences.

The far-right leader's decision not to attend personally will be the first time in 17 years that a Brazilian head of state has not attended a presidential inauguration in Argentina, which is Brazil's third-largest trading partner.

The initial announcement that Bolsonaro wouldn't send anyone to represent Brazil had seemed to confirm a tumultuous relationship ahead for Latin America's two largest nations, analysts told The Associated Press earlier Monday.

Bolsonaro won last year's election by surfing a wave of discontent against the leftist Workers' Party (PT), whose leader, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was jailed until last month on a corruption conviction. Bolsonaro was particularly needled by Fernández's visit to see Lula behind bars.

Bolsonaro, for his part, also stuck his finger into Argentina's domestic politics, publicly backing the unsuccessful re-election campaign of conservative President Mauricio Macri. Bolsonaro warned a victory by Fernández could turn Argentina into “a new Venezuela.”

Brazilian Economy Minister Paulo Guedes s working to accelerate the opening of the Mercosur regional trade bloc. But the proposal has drawn resistance in Argentina, with Fernández criticising a free-trade deal between Mercosur and the European Union as sure to damage Argentine industry.

The public airing of grievances has created fresh uncertainty for investors, said Oliver Stuenkel, an international relations professor at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation, a university in São Paulo.

Argentina is Brazil's biggest trading partner after China and the United States, and the main export destination for Brazilian manufactured products. But Brazil is Argentina's top trading partner, and Bolsonaro feels that gives him leverage, said Rafael Saliés, an independent political risk consultant.

“Bolsonaro doesn't see international relations in terms of exchange, but rather as strong countries and weak countries that should obey,” Saliés said by phone.

by Marcelo Sousa, Associated Press

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