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ARGENTINA | 07-05-2024 15:35

'A mistake': Spanish minister backtracks on Milei 'substances' remark

Spain’s Transport Minister Óscar Puente says his suggestion that Javier Milei acted like he was on “substances” was an error and that he didn't foresee the repercussions.

The Spanish government minister who triggered a series of incendiary statements between his nation and Argentina has backtracked on his controversial remarks. 

Spain’s Transport Minister Óscar Puente said his suggestion that Argentina’s President Javier Milei acted like he was on “substances” was an error and that, had he known the repercussions, he never would have said it.

“If I’d had the slightest notion, and that is perhaps my biggest mistake, that it would have gone as viral and had the repercussions it had, I wouldn’t have said what I said,” Puente said at a press conference.

Puente ignited a furious diplomatic clash last Friday when he suggested at a conference at the University of Salamanca that Milei behaved like he was on drugs.

“I’ve seen Milei on television ... in who knows what condition, before or after taking who knows which substances,” said the minister at the time, adding that “there are very evil people who, by being themselves, have reached the top.”

Milei’s office published a typically outspoken statement in response to the remarks on the X social media network, in which the Argentine leader accused Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of “endangering the middle class with its socialist policies which bring nothing but poverty and death.”

The libertarian leader also accused Sánchez of "endangering the unity of the kingdom, by sealing an agreement with the separatists and leading Spain to its ruin," an allusion to a pact the Spanish leader’s Socialist Party (PSOE) struck with Basque and Catalan regionalist parties to form a government.

In an extraordinary breach of normal diplomatic relations, the statement from Milei’s office accused Sánchez of having "more important problems to deal with, such as the corruption accusations against his wife" Begoña Gómez, who is under investigation for alleged influence peddling and corruption.

Spain’s Foreign Ministry snapped back, rejecting the “unfounded” accusations, which it said were not in keeping with “relations between the two countries and their fraternal people.”

Even though he believed “there has been plenty of overreaction on this topic,” Puente reiterated his remorse on Monday: “I said what I said, I wasn’t aware of the repercussions it may have at the time.”

Puente, who is known for putting his foot in it, said that he had spoken before an audience of 200 people at the university and finished his speech by praising Milei for his “authenticity.”

He said considered the clash with Argentina settled, and recalled that on Monday Milei’s Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni had declared the matter to be “closed.”

“I’m sure that regardless of the ups and downs of the relations between both governments, which are sometimes better, sometimes worse, they will still be good, positive, collaborative relations,” Puente added.

Milei will travel to Spain in two weeks for an event on May 18 and 19 organised by the far-right opposition party Vox, which is in a race with the Socialists in next month's European elections. 

Argentina’s leader is not due to meet either Sánchez or the King of Spain, Felipe VI, during his visit.

During last year’s presidential election, which Milei won, Sánchez openly supported Peronist candidate Sergio Massa and did not call the president-elect after his win in the run-off.

Spain’s Foreign Ministry instead limited itself to wishing "success to Argentina in this new stage," without even mentioning Milei's name.

Vox leader Santiago Abascal did travel to Buenos Aires to attend the inauguration.


– TIMES/AFP

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