Socialist President Alberto Fernández of Argentina apologized on Thursday after remarks the day before in which he implied that Argentine civilization was superior to that of its neighbors because Argentines “arrived on boats that came from Europe.”
In contrast, he proclaimed, Mexicans were “from the Indians” and Brazilians “from the jungle.” Adding to the insult, Fernández incorrectly attributed his statement to Mexican poet Octavio Paz. Mexican and Brazilian leaders as well as media outlets condemned Fernández’s comments as racist, while Argentina’s indigenous communities also condemned their “erasure” from the history of the country.
Fernández made the remark during a joint press conference with fellow socialist, Spanish President Pedro Sánchez, in an apparent attempt to highlight the close ties between their two countries.
“Octavio Paz once wrote that Mexicans came from the Indians, Brazilians came out of the jungle, but we the Argentines came from the boats, and they were boats that came from Europe, and that is how we constructed our society,” Fernández said. “Indians” is widely considered an offensive term for indigenous communities throughout Latin America.
Paz, a Nobel Prize winner, said no such thing, though a similar phrase – with a significantly more dismissive tone towards Argentines as outsiders rather than enlightened beings – is attributed to the writer, according to the Argentine newspaper Clarín. Paz allegedly said, “Mexicans descend from the Aztecs, Peruvians from the Incas, and Argentines from the boats.”
The phrase Fernández paraphrased is part of a song by Argentine rocker Litto Nebbia, a personal friend of the president’s.
The remark elicited international condemnation, particularly in Mexico and Brazil.
“What about that Octavio Paz quote huh?” wrote former Mexican President Felipe Calderón on Twitter. “Very ‘European’ (is it a complex?) but the Argentine president lacks a little culture.”
Calderón joked that the comment was more likely attributable to Cantinflas, a 1950s Mexican comedian, than Octavio Paz.
In Brazil, the left-wing Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper described the phrase as “racist” and representative of “a deep cultural streak that minimizes or even denies the mixed roots of the Argentine population.” On the right, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s son, also used the term “racist” to describe the phrase, adding, “but I say: the only ship that’s sinking is Argentina.”
Argentina’s economy has significantly declined in value since Fernández took power and the country has faced a significant surge in coronavirus cases in the past two months – following a mass vaccination campaign using Russia’s dubious “Sputnik V” product. Argentina lost hosting privileges for the Copa América soccer tournament to Brazil last week due to concerns that the pandemic was out of control there.
The nation experienced nationwide protests in April as well in response to what has become known as the “VIP vaccine” scandal, in which friends and family of Fernández’s, and those of his cabinet members and underlings, received illegal access to Chinese coronavirus vaccines before their emergency use approval, including many individuals who did not belong to high-risk categories.
Jair Bolsonaro, the president, responded to the comments by posting a photo on social media of himself visiting an indigenous community in the Amazon Rainforest, with the caption, “Jungle!”
– SELVA! 🇷 pic.twitter.com/cT9AGjdj5K
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) June 10, 2021
Inside Argentina, the Mapuche Federation, which represents one of the nation’s largest indigenous communities, issued an outraged statement against Fernández’s “racism.”
“It is highly damaging to forge a colonial identity from the position of an Argentineness that impoverishes us as a society and makes indigenous nations invisible,” the statement read in part, accusing Fernández of “erasing us from history … from a place of profound racism.”
“It is nothing but racism … to install in society admiration for a continent that has looted, enslaved, forged its development on the basis of exploitation and destroyed hundreds of millennial cultures through genocidal practices,” the statement asserted.
Fernández attempted to apologize following his remarks Wednesday through a statement on Twitter, claiming he meant only to applaud the nation’s “diversity.”
“More than once it has been affirmed that ‘Argentines descend from the boats.’ In the first half of the XXth Century we received more than 5 million immigrants who coexisted with our original peoples. Our diversity is a source of pride,” Fernández wrote. “I did not mean to offend anyone, but anyway, whoever felt offended or made invisible, to them my apologies. … Litto Nebbia synthesizes better than I the true meaning of my words.”
“Quería que fuera una frase (Zamba) que hable de nosotros. Y de esta tierra que amamos (Latinoamerica)
Y es mezcla de todos”
Litto Nebbia sintetiza mejor que yo el sentido real de mis palabras.
— Alberto Fernández (@alferdez) June 10, 2021
The outrageous comment is the latest in a series of questionable remarks from the socialist president. The Argentine newspaper La Nación noted on Thursday that Fernández recently outraged Venezuelans by claiming that the human rights crisis in the country, caused by over two decades of socialist rule, “has been disappearing,” despite current evidence of the imprisonment and torture of political dissidents. He also recently blamed the eruption of coronavirus cases in the country on children with learning disabilities.
“The kids exchange face masks,” he complained in April, particularly “kids with different capacities.”