President Alberto Fernández issued an apology Wednesday after misguided comments made during a high-profile state visit sparked anger and controversy.
A clip of the Peronist leader went viral within minutes on social networks after he outrageously stated that modern-day Mexicans originate from indigenous peoples, Brazilians "from the jungle" and that Argentines come from Europe. The remarks were a clumsy attempt to underline common origins with his state visitor Spanish premier Pedro Sánchez,
"I am a European-minded. I’m someone who believes in Europe," said Fernández during a press conference, as the two leaders met with business leaders in Buenos Aires.
Mexican poet Octavio Paz, he continued, once wrote that "Mexicans came from their Indians, the Brazilians came out of the jungle, but we Argentines arrived from boats, and they were boats that came from there, from Europe. And that is how we built our society."
Within minutes, the comments were condemned fiercely on Twitter by citizens and politicians alike.
Though there was no initial response from the Casa Rosada, Fernández apologised hours later via Twitter, albeit half-heartedly.
"In the first half of the 20th century we received more than five million immigrants who lived side-by-side with our native peoples," he said, adding: "Our diversity is a source of pride."
"I did not mean to offend anybody but in any case if anybody does feel offended or made invisible, I apologise, of course."
The comments drew plenty of reaction in Brazil, with local outlets splashing it across the front pages of their websites and newspapers.
Reading Fernández's statement, "I'm starting to understand rather better why after World War II Nazi war criminals hid out in Argentina," Brazilian Senator Ciro Nogueira said on Twitter.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted a picture of himself wearing a feather headband and surrounded by a group of indigenous people under the headline "JUNGLE!" but with no comment – a picture that led to a series of memes.
Eduardo Bolsonaro, a congressman and the president's son, slammed the comments as "racist" and shot a retort back at Argentina over its troubled economy. "I say the ship that is sinking is that of Argentina," he quipped on Twitter.
Former Mexican president Felipe Calderón wanted to know if the quote really was from Mexican author Paz, a Nobel laureate.
"That could have been said by [Mexican comedian] Cantinflas, or [Argentine comedians] Les Luthiers, but Octavio Paz? I hope he cites the source," Calderón tweeted.
Local culture experts pointed out that Fernández had indeed mangled his quotes.
While Paz actually wrote that "Mexicans descend from the Aztecs, Peruvians from the Incas and Argentines ... from ships," the president in fact quoted the lyrics of a 1982 song by Litto Nebbia ("The Brazilians come from the jungle, the Mexicans come from the Indians, but we Argentines come from the ships.")
Fernández has previously declared himself to be a fan of the singer-songwriter.