Argentina holds second round of presidential election

Argentine president-elect Javier Milei addresses supporters after winning Argentina’s runoff presidential election, in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 19, 2023. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

Nov 21 (Reuters) – The victory of Argentina’s libertarian President-elect Javier Milei at the weekend has sparked mixed reactions worldwide – including hostility from some Latin American leftists, tentative support from others, and a pledge from China to work with him despite his critical comments.

Milei, a self-described anarcho-capitalist, channeled voter anger over a deep economic crisis and years of economic dysfunction to win by double-digits in Sunday’s runoff vote.

The former television pundit is set to take the reins of power next month, moving Argentina decisively away from the center-left Peronist government of outgoing President Alberto Fernandez.

Asked for his reaction on Tuesday, Mexico’s leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he respected the voters’ verdict, but added that he believed Milei’s win is unlikely to alleviate Argentina’s problems.

“This is something we don’t think will help,” Lopez Obrador told reporters. He later applied a soccer term to describe the outsider’s victory: “It was an own goal.”

Bolivia’s former leftist President Evo Morales, a close ally of past Peronist governments in Buenos Aires, took to social media on Tuesday to assert that he would never “wish success to fascism, ultra-conservatism and neoliberalism.”

The leftist leaders of Venezuela and Colombia also lamented Sunday’s election results. Colombian President Gustavo Petro described the outcome in a post on X as “sad for Latin America.”

But other leftist Latin American leaders were more supportive. Chilean President Gabriel Boric and Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva both extended best wishes to Milei.

Lula’s congratulations came despite Milei’s harsh criticism of the Brazilian leader on the campaign trail, where at one point Milei labeled Lula an “angry communist” and corrupt.

“Democracy is the voice of the people, and it must always be respected,” Lula said on social media on Sunday. However, a close aide to Lula said Milei had offended Brazil’s leader and owed him an apology before any talks could start.

Others outside the region for whom Milei has shown little friendship were also diplomatic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Milei, mostly shrugging off his past support for Ukraine in its war with Moscow, as well as indications Argentina will not join the Russia-backed BRICS grouping under Milei’s leadership.

“We will focus on and judge (Milei) mainly by the statements that he makes after the inauguration,” said the Kremlin’s spokesman.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said Beijing was ready to work with Argentina to “keep relations on a steady course” despite some critical comments from Milei’s team during campaigning.

Milei found enthusiastic support among right-wing populists, including former U.S. President Donald Trump, who told Milei in a video to “make Argentina great again,” and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who Lula narrowly defeated last year.

“I’m really happy,” Bolsonaro gushed in video footage of a call with Argentina’s next president. “You have a big job ahead of you … and it’s a job that goes beyond Argentina,” said Bolsonaro, while pumping his fist in the air.

The leader of Spain’s far-right Vox party congratulated Milei, while Chile’s right-wing opposition leader José Antonio Kast heralded his “resounding victory.”

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, who also rode a wave of popular discontent to office, reacted with a riff on the song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from the musical “Evita.” But he gave it a positive spin.

“Now say it without crying,” Bukele wrote in a post on X.

Reporting by Steven Grattan in Sao Paulo; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Rosalba O’Brien

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