The Summit of the Americas made it happen. Alberto Fernández and Jaír Bolsonaro spoke in Los Angeles in the run-up to Thursday's presidential speeches. For Argentina's government, what was only the second face-to-face meeting between the leaders was just an informal exchange, but it is also the beginning of the thawing of a relationship that has had many flashpoints.
Alberto Fernández's administration has always sought to play down the tone of the meetings with Bolsonaro and their attempts to meet with the president's Brazilian counterpart. This second meeting was no exception. It happened last time with a brief talk they held a year ago at the G20 Leaders Summit, and also when, two years ago, Bolsonaro invited the Argentine head of state to meet for the first time on Uruguayan soil for the inauguration of Luis Lacalle Pou, a proposal that never convinced Fernández and which ended up being deactivated.
The duo's first face-to-face meeting eventually took place last year. At the G20 summit, the Argentine delegation remarked on the Brazilian's solitude among his diplomatic peers, contrasting Bolsonaro's isolation with the number of bilateral agreements achieved by Fernández.
When Fernández and Bolsonaro shared their talk they agreed on the idea of strengthening the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) and then joked about football – the Brazilian had predicted that his nation would thrash Argentina 5-0 in the Copa América. (The Albiceleste, in fact, won the tournament.)
This time around, in the year of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, the two leaders also found time to joke about football, though Bolsonaro decided to talk mostly about Argentina's need to import gas. During this dialogue, before the presidential speeches began, they also reviewed the numbers of inhabitants of their two countries who now live in the United States.
Argentina's government sought to play down the importance of this second meeting between the heads of state, which took place as Buenos Aires' Ambassador in Brasilia, Daniel Scioli, departs to take up a Cabinet role as productive development minister. The envoy was not mentioned during the exchange, though Congress Speaker Sergio Massa was there.
Among the president's entourage this time, they even dared to describe Bolsonaro's role at international meetings as that of a "supporting actor." Fernández's support for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva means that the president will not flaunt this second face-to-face meeting, although they understand Bolsonaro's need to seek a photo in the midst of political weakness as the October elections draw nearer.
In two-and-a-half years in office, Fernández and Bolsonaro were neither able, nor willing, to agree on a bilateral meeting. But a summit made it again and both were cordial.