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LATIN AMERICA | 01-07-2024 15:29

Milei picks pro-Bolsonaro rally over Lula for first Brazil trip

Javier Milei is finally making his first visit to Brazil – but instead of meeting President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, he will instead rally with his leftist counterpart’s biggest rival, Jair Bolsonaro.

Argentine President Javier Milei is finally making his first visit to Brazil, his nation’s largest trading partner. But instead of meeting President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the libertarian will rally with his leftist counterpart’s biggest rival.

Milei decided against attending next Monday’s summit of Mercosur nations in Paraguay, where he would have crossed paths with Lula, due to a busy agenda, Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni said Monday. He will, however, attend CPAC Brasil — an offshoot of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in the US that Jair Bolsonaro is also scheduled to take part in — this weekend, Adorni said.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, one of the right-wing former president’s sons and a CPAC Brasil organiser, said in a social media post Monday that his father and Milei would meet during the event, which will take place Saturday and Sunday in southern Brazil. Adorni had earlier declined to confirm that the meeting would take place.

Lula’s government declined to comment on Milei’s plans. But the Argentine’s decision to choose the conservative event over Mercosur — the customs union of which both Argentina and Brazil are members — nevertheless threatens to further dent an already-troubled relationship. The pair of neighbouring leaders have traded public insults since Lula deployed a team of advisers to campaign against Milei and the libertarian labelled his counterpart a “Communist” with whom he wouldn’t work last year.

It is the latest in a series of provocative foreign policy moves from Milei, who has prioritised ties to ideological allies like Elon Musk and Donald Trump over traditional relations with counterparts like Joe Biden and Spain’s Pedro Sánchez.

That strategy has helped turn him into a burgeoning superstar of the global right, a status that an appearance at CPAC Brasil will likely further bolster. But it has irritated other leaders, including Argentina’s allies. 

His endorsement of Trump on the sidelines of CPAC earlier this year came during a trip in which Milei did not schedule meetings with Biden or other top administration officials. Sánchez’s socialist government, meanwhile, yanked its ambassador from Buenos Aires after Milei’s appearance at a far-right Vox party rally in Madrid in May, plunging the historic allies into their worst diplomatic crisis in memory.

Brazil, however, is considerably more important to Argentina’s limping economy than either Spain or the United States: it is its neighbour’s chief customer for agricultural commodities and other exports, and has often backed Argentina’s efforts to win financing and economic assistance from global institutions like the International Monetary Fund.

So far, the frosty relations — which have continued in recent weeks with Lula’s demand for an apology Milei doesn’t believe he owes — have had little impact on the two nations, with long-standing trade and business ties proving immune to the sort of ideological differences that have become common between them in recent years.

The Mercosur summit appeared to offer them the chance to mend fences after they refused to do so at last month’s Group of 7 gathering in Italy, where Lula and Milei not only failed to meet but went so far as to stand on opposite sides of the official photo. 

Brazil and Argentina are the bloc’s two largest members, and both have sought to finalise the group’s long-elusive trade deal with the European Union, an issue that will again feature prominently on the agenda in Asunción, Paraguay next week. 

by Manuela Tobias, Bloomberg

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