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Diplomatic crisis deepens as Spain pulls out Argentina envoy

By AFP - May 21,2024 - Last updated at May 21,2024

MADRID — A diplomatic crisis sparked by Argentina President Javier Milei calling Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s wife “corrupt” deepened Tuesday with the “definitive” withdrawal of Madrid’s ambassador to Buenos Aires.

Spain withdrew its ambassador to Argentina at the weekend and Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said that the envoy “will remain definitively in Madrid. Argentina will no longer have a Spanish ambassador”.

“We did not provoke this situation, but it is the government’s obligation to defend the dignity and sovereignty of Spanish institutions,” Albares told a news conference following a regular weekly Cabinet meeting.

“There is no precedent for a head of state coming to the capital of another country to insult its institutions and blatantly interfere in its internal affairs,” he added.

Argentina’s outspoken president caused outrage with an attack on socialism at the weekend while at a Madrid conference organised by the far-right Vox party.

“The global elites don’t realise how destructive it can be to implement the ideas of socialism,” Milei said.

“They don’t know the type of society and country that can produce, the type of people clinging to power and the level of abuse that generates.” 

He added: “When you have a corrupt wife, let’s say, it gets dirty, and you take five days to think about it.”

Sanchez, a Socialist, recently considered resigning after Spanish prosecutors opened a preliminary corruption investigation against his wife, Begona Gomez, which was quickly closed.

Within hours of Milei’s attack, Spain recalled its ambassador and Albares slammed the visiting president’s “insult”.

He demanded a “public apology” from Milei, saying that Madrid would not exclude the possibility of rupturing diplomatic ties. Sanchez also called on Milei to retract his comments.

Milei kept up his attacks against Sanchez when he returned to Buenos Aires on Monday, describing the Spanish premier as a “coward”.

“I am in no way going to apologise to him,” he said during an interview with the TN channel. 

“I’m the one who was attacked,” he added, recalling that representatives of the Spanish government had described him as “xenophobic, racist, ultra-right... a science denier, a misogynist”.


Business concerns 


Milei arrived in Spain on Friday and there was immediate diplomatic friction as no meetings with Sanchez or King Felipe VI were organised during his stay.

A self-declared “anarcho-capitalist”, Milei won elections last November with a vow to cut Argentina’s vast public debt to zero. He has instituted an austerity programme that has seen the government slash public subsidies.

But he has also become known for his controversial remarks.

There has been weeks of rising diplomatic tensions between Spain and Argentina leading up to the latest spat. 

Spanish Transport Minister Oscar Puente angered Buenos Aires by suggesting earlier this month that Milei was on drugs.

Puente later said he had made a “mistake”, saying he was not aware of the repercussions his comments would have, and Buenos Aires said the dispute was “over”.

The weeks of mounting tensions are starting to worry Spanish companies that invest $15 billion a year in Argentina.

Spanish companies are the second largest investors in Argentina behind US enterprises. The CEOE business federation chief, Antonio Garamendi, said Milei’s attack could “damage” exchanges.

Spanish companies, including banks BBVA and Banco Santander and Zara-owner Inditez, the world’s biggest fashion retailers, are the second largest investors in Argentina behind US enterprises.

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