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LATIN AMERICA | 26-01-2023 16:14

Leaked recording reveals Chilean minister's anger at Argentina's ambassador

Leaked audio clip in which Chilean Foreign Minister Antonia Urrejola calls Argentine Ambassador to Santiago Rafael Bielsa "mad" triggers controversy and political crisis across the Andes.

A leaked recording of Chilean Foreign Minister Antonia Urrejola describing Argentina’s ambassador in the country as “mad” has raised tensions between the two nations and sparked a political crisis in President Gabriel Boric’s government.

In the audio clip, Urrejola expressed herself in harsh terms against Argentine Ambassador to Chile Rafael Bielsa. The envoy had previously criticised the decision of the leftist government of Gabriel Boric to reject the construction of the Dominga mining and port project on environmental grounds.

"Five species of animals woke up today hopping around because they are not going to disappear," was Bielsa’s ironic comment on the decision of the Boric government to reject the project in a rich maritime and coastal reserve in Northern Chile due to the environmental damage.

According to the leaked audio, to which Perfil had access, Urrejola expressed her annoyance to her Argentine counterpart Santiago Cafiero regarding Bielsa’s conduct and recent surprise presentation to the Foreign Relations Committee of Chile’s Senate, in which he also criticised some government moves in sensitive areas like the continental platform or opinions about Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

The audio was leaked at noon on Tuesday during the build-up to the CELAC summit in Buenos Aires, precisely when the bloc’s leaders were meeting in plenary session. Among those present were the protagonists of this episode - the Chilean foreign minister and her communications director, who later resigned following the scandal. Both had formed part of the delegation travelling with President Boric to Buenos Aires.

In the recorded conversation, which Chilean officials said was mistakenly leaked to the press, the voices of Urrejola, her Cabinet Chief Carola Muñoz, Foreign Policy Secretary Alex Wetzig and Planning Director Andrés Villar are heard. 

The meeting was called to decide on which basis to respond to Bielsa’s statements. 

"We must tell the press about this when they ask us aboard the aeroplane too because we’re going to Argentina. Does this guy do whatever he likes and is the explanation that he’s mad?" Urrejola was heard to say on the tape in which she was giving a series of explanations from her communication team.

"Bielsa accepted immediately that he had screwed this up. The irritating thing is the Dominga issue," she said in reference to the mining project, which she believes would have benefitted both countries and whose unilateral cancellation annoyed the Argentine diplomat.

"Bielsa went over the top with the Dominga project of metal mining, caricaturing a decision of the Boric government involving its ministers in a complex political cycle. He opted to align himself with the right over this one," she added.

 

Complaint to Cafiero

In another part of the audio, Urrejola details a message sent to Cafiero prior to the CELAC summit, in which she complained about Bielsa’s attitude.

"I sent him the Youtube link and told him that the Dominga issue was a unanimous decision of the Council of Ministers. Your ambassador is directly attacking Presidente Boric in a very spiky issue. This is sincerely unacceptable when we are heading to the CELAC [summit] in Argentina."

After the audio was leaked, Chilean Foreign Ministry Communications Director Lorena Díaz presented her resignation on Tuesday.

"Given the erroneous leak of a private meeting, the Foreign Ministry informs that its Communications Director has presented her resignation, which was accepted,” an official communiqué stated.

“The situation motivating the cited conversation has already been clarified and does not represent in any way the excellent bilateral relationship between Argentina and Chile, which has been constructed on the basis of confidence and historic friendship," said the communiqué.

"My role is to boost and nurse the bilateral relationship [with Argentina] and I want to convey the certainty that that bilateral relationship is in very good shape," was Urrejola’s assurance.

 

– TIMES/AFP/PERFIL

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