Former Uruguayan president José "Pepe" Mujica cancelled his speaking appearance at an event Tuesday in Buenos Aires alongside former regional allies Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Dilma Rousseff, citing a desire to avoid stoking tensions between Montevideo and Buenos Aires.
Organisers of the CLASCO think-tank's "Critical Thinking" summit, held in Buenos Aires this week, have denied the event was a "counter-summit" to the G20, which begins next Friday in the capital.
As Fernández de Kirchner and Rousseff took the stage at the Ferro stadium to speak out against capitalism, Mujica said in a statement that he wanted to be "very prudent at this very special turning point" in global affairs and to avoid "creating obstacles" between his country and Argentina.
"Every time a fortuitous event of this kind affects our relations (between Uruguay and Argentina), my country suffers the consequences. I committed a long time ago (...) to participating in an event about Latin American integration. In the last few days, the media have created the idea of it being a counter-summit", Mujica said in a statement published by his political party.
Uruguay's current president Tabaré Vásquez is part of the same coalition Mujica led as president from 2010 to 2015.
In August, Mujica, a 83-year-old former guerrilla leader, resigned his Uruguayan senatorial seat despite having the right to remain as a lawmaker until 2020.
While serving as president in 2010-2015, his homespun oratory, simple ways and social reforms such as the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage made him wildly popular abroad. But critics said his administration failed to deal with problems in education, security and environmental protection — all pillars of his presidential agenda.
Mujica still lives on a flower farm with his wife and drives an old VW Beetle. He said that after resigning as a lawmaker he plans to travel to Europe and attend the Venice Film Festival for the premiere of a movie that chronicles his life, directed by Emir Kusturica.
But Mujica added in his letter that he will not retire from politics.
"While my body is functioning, I can't renounce solidarity and the fight for ideas," he said.
Although Mujica has said he will not be a candidate in next year's election, there is speculation he resigned from the Senate so he can run for the presidency again. He also had denied he would run before he won the presidency in 2010.