Milei’s election victory in Argentina puts Petro on the defensive

Argentina's President-elect Javier Milei. Photo: Handout

It wasn’t that long ago that Colombia was held to a higher standard than most Latin American countries, given its stable macroeconomic management, cash reserves based on commodities, and strong GDP growth. As a solid partner within multilateral organizations such as the OECD, World Bank, and IMF, and a close security ally of the United States and Israel, over the last 15 months of the Gustavo Petro administration, Colombia has transitioned from a nation of political engagement to one of increasing isolationism, especially in the hemisphere and among the Latin American community of nations.

Assured by his own victory at the ballot last year that other progressive governments across South and Central America were secure in their mandates, and that the so-called “pink tide” would continue to sweep votes for leaders running on socialist tickets, recent elections in the region have proven him wrong, starting with the victory of a conservative in Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, and, on Sunday, the first libertarian and right-wing President-elect Javier Milei in Argentina.

As Presidents took to social media to send messages to the economist and staunch admirer of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Petro’s first response to the victory of Milei was to post a message on “X” in which he slammed former President Iván Duque’s congratulatory words, stating: “The far right has prevailed in Argentina; it is their society’s decision. A sad day for Latin America, and time will tell… neoliberalism lacks a viable proposition for society, unable to address the contemporary challenges facing humanity.”

In a message that was hardly fitting for a head of state, and one that put ideology ahead of reason and decorum, within 20 minutes of posting his cryptic – and caustic – words, Petro attempted an about-face highlighting in another post, “the binding ties between Colombia and Argentina, the connections between our citizenry, and that will persist in mutual respect. Congratulations to Milei.”

But the damage of the initial posting, in which Petro regretted Milei’s victory as a “sad day for Latin America,” immediately made headlines in every Argentine news network. Within hours, and with no damage control from Casa de Nariño, El Salvador’s hardline anti-crime President, Nayib Bukele, responded to Petro in no uncertain terms. In a punchy one-liner, Bukele told Petro to: “Now, say it without crying.” The El Salvadorian President’s statement amassed over 13 million views on “X” and unleashed a new diplomatic row between Bogotá and San Salvador.

This diplomatic sparring on the digital stage, as well as a tidal wave in Colombia of criticism from diverse political circles of Petro’s angry and sour message, was overshadowed by that of another leftist leader on the continent, Chile’s Gabriel Boric. In a statesman-like manner and representing his fellow citizens, Boric lauded Milei’s triumph and commended Sergio Massa for gracefully acknowledging defeat. Expressing his well-wishes for the Argentine people, the Chilean President also assured Milei of ongoing respect and support, “committing to tireless collaboration for the collective welfare of our sister nations.”

One of the strongmen of the Sao Paulo Group of leftist Latin American leaders, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, sent a curt note to Milei on his victory but will not attend the inauguration in Buenos Aires. El Salvador’s Bukele and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have already confirmed.

Petro’s vitriol has once again strained relations with another close South American ally, starting with Peru as Pedro Castillo was being ousted from office by Congress. Peruvian lawmakers have designated Petro a “persona non grata” for meddling in the internal affairs of their nation.

In an official account linked to the Milei 2023 campaign, the position of the incoming government is clear: “The Colombian guerrilla Gustavo Petro and corrupt Nicolás Maduro are crying because Javier Milei is the new President of Argentina. Excellent.” The anti-woke, anti-globalist, has vowed to cut ties with Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua once sworn into office on December 10. And should Colombia’s Petro intensify his social media tirades against the ultra-right-wing President-elect, Colombia could also make the list of infamy.