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LATIN AMERICA | 14-11-2023 13:16

Brazil’s Lula sides with Massa in Argentina vote as regional split widens

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has backed Sergio Massa ahead of Sunday’s presidential election, the latest leader taking a side in the heated contest that has highlighted deepening ideological divisions in the region

Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva backed Argentina’s Sergio Massa ahead of Sunday’s presidential election, the latest leader taking a side in the heated contest that has highlighted Latin America’s deepening ideological divisions.

Although he did not mention either candidate by name, Lula painted the race between Massa — Argentina’s economy minister — and self-described “anarcho-capitalist” Javier Milei as a battle for South America’s future, nodding toward Milei’s pledges to stop doing business with Brazil and abandon the four-nation Mercosur trade bloc.

“I would like to ask the Argentine people to think about Argentina when they vote,” Lula said during his weekly social media interview on Tuesday. “Your vote is sovereign, but think about what kind of South America, Latin America and Mercosur you want to create. Together we will be strong, and apart we will be weak.”

“I wanted to ask you to remember that Brazil needs Argentina, and Argentina needs Brazil,” he said.

The leftist leader’s comments are the latest indication that Latin America’s sharp ideological battles are playing out across borders, diverging from a longstanding policy of non-interference to shape both major elections and relationships between neighbouring nations.

Both Massa and Milei have racked up public support from a litany of foreign leaders. Nearly 20 veterans of the campaign team that helped Lula defeat right-wing former president Jair Bolsonaro last year are now working for Massa, who earlier this month won the endorsement of the Brazilian leader’s leftist Workers’ Party (PT). Former Uruguay president José Mujica and Spain Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez have also backed Massa’s bid for the Presidency.

Bolsonaro, meanwhile, recorded a video in support of Milei in October. And nine other former leaders — Argentina’s Mauricio Macri; Spain’s Mariano Rajoy; Iván Duque and Andr32s Pastrana of Colombia; Mexico’s Felipe Calderón and Vicente Fox; Sebastián Piñera of Chile; Bolivia’s Jorge Quiroga and Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico — released a joint statement supporting the libertarian’s candidacy.

Since taking office in January, Lula has sought to resuscitate Brazil’s relationship with its neighbour, which largely froze amid political differences between Bolsonaro and leftist Argentina leader Alberto Fernández. He has also pushed for more cooperation on economic, trade and environmental issues across Latin and South America.

“For that we need a president who loves democracy and respects institutions,” he said.

Milei, by contrast, has leveled harsh criticisms at his country’s largest trading partner throughout the election, casting Lula as a “socialist with a totalitarian vocation” and including Brazil among a group of “socialist” nations — headlined by China — that he would cut ties with. 

Milei has also called Mercosur, which is currently seeking to finalize a trade agreement with the European Union, a “failure.”

Lula is a close ally of Fernández, whose Peronist coalition Massa is representing in the election. Massa earlier this year visited Brazil in a bid for support for the ailing economy he oversees.

Most polls, which have a shaky track record in Argentine elections, showed Milei slightly ahead of Massa entering the race’s final week, although his lead appears within the margin of error. Milei captures 52 percent of vote intention compared to Massa’s 48 percent, according to a poll released November 10 by Brazil-based consulting firm AtlasIntel, which was among the most accurate in the first round last month.

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by Simone Iglesias, Bloomberg

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