Argentina’s ambassador to Chile Rafael Bielsa drew an angry rebuke from Santiago this week after he let rip at the man who may well be the country’s next president.
In an extraordinary outburst breaking with diplomatic tradition, Bielsa branded Chilean far-right presidential hopeful José Antonio Kast “ant-Argentine” and “xenophobic.” Santiago, in turn, responded by slamming the envoy’s “inappropriate” remarks.
The comments, delivered by Bielsa on Monday in a radio interview, came less than 24 hours after the outspoken far-right hopeful finished first in Chile’s presidential election with 27.8 percent of the vote.
Kast, an apologist and supporter of late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, now faces a second-round run-off on December 19 against left-wing candidate Gabriel Boric, with most analysts tipping him to win control of the presidency.
Speaking in an interview with the El Destape radio station, Bielsa expressed concern over bilateral relations, condemning the presidential hopeful’s “aggressive” attitude towards Argentina and comparing his rhetoric and views to those of former US president Donald Trump and Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro.
Bielsa, a former foreign minister and national deputy who has served as envoy since 2000, said a victory for the Partido Republicano candidate would not be in the government’s interests.
"If one takes public statements as an element of judgement, Kast has exhibited his anti-Argentinism," said Bielsa, citing examples such as: “Telling us that we have historically stolen territories, that we have to stop stealing territories from Chile, to all kinds of xenophobic expressions against Argentines, which I have filed, registered, read and studied."
The right-wing leader’s discourse is “very generic and imprecise, but it is not comparable to [current Chilean President Sebastián] Piñera's, it is [from] a right-wing that is not afraid to say its name," considered Bielsa, the brother of renowned football coach Marcelo Bielsa, who coached the Chilean national team between 2007 and 2011.
"Kast's is a rupturist, from the Pinochet right that does not speak of human rights, nor of the disappearance of people, nor of torture, nor of state responsibilities," the ambassador said in a second interview with Radio Con Vos.
Speculating over the outcome of the run-off, Bielsa noted that the candidate “who came second in the first round has never won the vote."
"The sum for the run-off is simple. The official [government] candidate [Sebastián] Sichel got 11 percent, plus 28 percent for Kast and 12 percent for [Franco] Parisi. There is not much doubt," said Bielsa, the brother of renowned football coach Marcelo Bielsa, who previously coached Chile.
In a statement, Chile’s government said it “rejected” the “inappropriate” comments by the ambassador.
"These expressions represent an unacceptable interference in Chile's internal affairs and violate the norms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," it read.
"The Government of Chile reiterates its permanent disposition to maintain the best political and diplomatic relations with the Republic of Argentina, within the framework of the historic friendship that unites us and the reciprocal respect that our peoples deserve," the communiqué concluded.
Reacting to the diplomatic furore, Argentina’s government briefed reporters that they were Bielsa’s private views and did not reflect the position of President Alberto Fernández.
Presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti said that the statements were “absolutely of a personal nature.”
She revealed that Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero had spoken with his Chilean counterpart, Andrés Allamand, on the issue to clarify that “we do not have a disagreement or any kind of formal complaint."
Opposition leaders criticised the behaviour of both the diplomat and the government, slamming what it described as “improvisation” in foreign policy.
UCR leader Alfredo Cornejo accused the Fernández administration of having its priorities all wrong, decrying the lack of strong criticism against nations such as Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.