Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro compared his Argentine counterpart, socialist Alberto Fernández, to Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and laughed at him in response to Fernández declaring his country’s citizens superior to Brazilians because the latter “came from the jungle.”
Fernández made the remark, which also derisively referred to Mexicans as “Indians,” during a press conference with Spanish President Pedro Sánchez, also a socialist. After a wave of condemnations from officials in the two countries he mentioned as well as politicians and members of the indigenous community at home, Fernández apologized, claiming he was merely attempting to celebrate his country’s “diversity.”
“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. The Nobel-prize-winning Mexican author did not say this; the quote appears to be from Argentine rocker Litto Nebbia.
Discussing the remark on Thursday, Bolsonaro appeared to imply that Fernández was suffering from hallucinations.
“The president of Argentina said that they came from Europe, on a boat, and we came from the jungle, right?” Bolsonaro told reporters. “I remember something that, after [Hugo] Chávez died, Maduro took over. And he said that he was talking to the birds that were possessed by Chávez.
“I think Maduro and Fernández, there’s no vaccine for them,” Bolsonaro said, laughing.
Bolsonaro was referring to a notorious television appearance by Maduro in 2013, shortly after he replaced late dictator Hugo Chávez, in which he claimed that Chávez visited him posthumously in the form of a “little bird” who whistled at him and thus spread the message of Bolivarian socialism.
“Suddenly, a little bird came in and went around my head three times. He stood on a piece of wood here and started to whistle, a nice whistle,” Maduro narrated. “I stayed looking at him and I also whistled … the bird gave another spin around my head and left, and I felt his [Chávez’s] spirit. I felt him there blessing us, telling us ‘today the battle starts.'”
Chávez formally maintains the title in Venezuela of “Supreme Commander of the Revolution” despite being dead for almost a decade.
Elsewhere in his remarks on Thursday, Bolsonaro revealed that he had communicated with Fernández’s predecessor, former President Mauricio Macri, who formally apologized on behalf of the Argentine people for Fernández’s racist comments. Bolsonaro insisted no tension existed between Argentina and Brazil, except for one caveat: “only in soccer.”
Bolsonaro had initially responded to Fernández’s comment with a simple post on social media reading “Jungle!” and showing a photo of Bolsonaro visiting an indigenous Amazonian community.
– SELVA! 🇷 pic.twitter.com/cT9AGjdj5K
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) June 10, 2021
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, the other country implicated in Fernández’s comments, offered reporters a much more forgiving attitude towards what the fellow socialist world leader said of his people, claiming that Fernández had simply made “an error in expressing himself” and noting, “he already apologized.” Fernández claimed on Thursday that he had reached out to Mexico’s foreign minister and did not receive any significant backlash from that country.
Following his apology, Fernández sent a letter to the country’s National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI) claiming that his original remark “has been interpreted by some in a way that contradicts my actions and our decisions as a government.”
“Argentina has been among the top countries of the world that has received European migration between the end of the 19th century and the 20th century. This creates an undeniable cultural tie,” the president wrote. “This does not make me lose sight of the fact that, since before colonization, in various countries there were indigenous peoples. We know the situation of violence and genocide that existed throughout our history.”
Fernández goes on to claim that “almost half” of Argentines can trace their heritage back to indigenous peoples. According to the CIA World Factbook, 2.4 percent of Argentina’s population identifies as “Amerindian.”
The letter appeared to be less of a response to offended Brazilians and Mexicans than a response to the indigenous population of Argentina. The Mapuche Federation, which represents a significant percentage of the population, published an infuriated statement accusing Fernández on Thursday of “erasing us [indigenous people] from history.”
“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. “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.”