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LATIN AMERICA | 18-04-2024 12:38

Diplomatic U-turn: Milei requests meeting with Lula to discuss 'joint policies'

Bending to reality, Argentina’s President finally proposes an encounter with his Brazilian counterpart after trashing him on the campaign trail last year; Foreign Minister Mondino delivers a formal invite to her colleague Mauro Vieira in Brasília.

Argentina’s President Javier Milei has extended an olive branch to his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, proposing an encounter to thaw high-level relations between the neighbouring countries.

The meeting, should it take place, will represent quite the presidential turnaround. On the campaign trail last year, Argentina’s outspoken anarcho-capitalist head of state repeatedly insulted the Brazilian president, branding him “a corrupt Communist” and proposing that business leaders would be the key players in bilateral relations.

Despite those past differences, however, Milei is seeking to turn around ties with Argentina’s largest trading partner. The request was made via a letter delivered by Foreign Minister Diana Mondino to her colleague Mauro Vieira in the framework of her visit to the South American giant with the aim of re-establishing the relationship between both nations.

Mondino arrived in Brazil on Tuesday night and stayed for three days with an agenda in the cities of Brasilia and São Paulo. 

In comments reported by the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, the minister assured that her government "is very interested in maintaining the bilateral relationship" while revealing that the letter contained "a greeting."

The invite does not set a date or place for the informal meeting, according to officials from both governments familiar with the text, which would imply Milei travelling to Brasília.

 

Second try

This is the second letter sent by Milei to Lula since last year’s insults. The first was to invite him to his inauguration last December 10. 

At that time, the Brazilian leader decided to give his Argentine peer the cold shoulder, skipping the ceremony and waiting for clarity on the incoming administration’s plans.

Sources within the libertarian administration are confident that this time, Lula will answer in the positive. This is "not about personal issues but joint policies," they said. 

On their side, Brazilian diplomatic spokespersons avoided any statements, though a Foreign Ministry source cited by Bloomberg on Thursday said that Lula initially intends to wait until a meeting happens naturally.

If an encounter does not materialise, the two will meet at the Group of 20 summit in Rio de Janeiro later this year, which Lula will host.

While the two presidents have never met, trade relations between South America’s two largest economies have continued as usual in the meantime. Much of that can be credited to the work of Mondino, who was sent to Brasília even before Milei’s inauguration to ease tensions caused by his fiery rhetoric. 

Since then, Mondino has repeatedly assured Lula’s administration that Argentina not only wants to keep trade ties with Brazil, but deepen them.

Lula and Milei represent radically different economic models and have not minced words when criticising each other. Argentina’s leader has pledged to privatise public companies and fire tens of thousands of state employees, while the Brazilian leftist has embarked upon plans to ramp up public spending and revitalise state firms.

Brazilian diplomatic sources said that “all issues were on the agenda” during talks with Mondino this week, with her visit considered “a success.”

The minister said as much at a press conference together with her Brazilian colleague, describing the visit as "very good." 

Viera said that the possibility of a meeting between presidents "is always present," highlighting and hinting that "it might happen at some point."

Lula has expressed his willingness to overcome his differences with Milei, saying he doesn’t need to be “friends” with other presidents to work with them. 

 

Ambassadorial appointment

In line with this bridge-building, Argentina’s government made official the appointment of its new Ambassador to Brazil: Guillermo Daniel Raimondi, the permanent representative to the Organisation of American States (OAS).

His appointment was formalised by Decree 324/2024, published Wednesday in the Official Gazette. Although Brazil had already approved the nomination, the final formal step was taken after the foreign minister started her visit. 

Both Raimondi’s appointment and Mondino’s trip signify a clear desire to improve relations between the two countries, as expressed several times by the visiting minister earlier this week.

The new envoy has a long track record in international relations. He worked with the Secretaríat-General of Mercosur and was the Foreign Relations secretary in the 2017-2019 period before being named permanent representative to the OAS by ex-president Mauricio Macri. 

Although lasting only two months in that mission at the time, Milei restored him to that post last December soon after his inauguration.

 

– TIMES/NA/BLOOMBERG

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