Spain permanently recalls ambassador from Argentina amid feud with Milei

Spain permanently recalls ambassador from Argentina amid feud with Milei

Spain has said it is permanently withdrawing its ambassador from Argentina as a result of a growing diplomatic feud with the South American country’s radical rightwing president, Javier Milei.

Milei – a notoriously pugnacious ally of the fellow populists Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro – sparked the row last weekend by insinuating that Begoña Gómez, the wife of Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, was “corrupt”.

The remarks to a summit of the global far right outraged Spain’s centre-left government, which denounced Milei’s “frontal attack” on its democracy and demanded a full public apology. But Milei doubled down on Monday, declaring that he had no intention of retracting them and was himself “the victim”.

Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, responded on Tuesday by announcing that his top envoy to Buenos Aires, María Jesús Alonso Jiménez, would not be returning to her post, having been recalled the previous day. “The ambassador will remain permanently in Madrid, Argentina will be left without an ambassador,” Albares said, according to the Spanish newspaper El País.

Milei quickly hit back, calling the move the “baloney” of an “arrogant socialist” but said he would not be “stupid enough to repeat the same mistake” by withdrawing Argentina’s ambassador to Spain.

Spain’s opposition, the conservative People’s party (PP), accused Sánchez of overreacting, hypocrisy, using the row to political ends ahead of June’s European elections, and of making life harder for Spanish companies that supply the Argentinian market. “A country’s foreign policy can’t be set according the whims of one person,” said a PP source.

“The same government that didn’t pull out its ambassador in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine and after Vladimir Putin decided to start a war that has already lasted more than two years is doing so now with its ambassador in Argentina because Pedro Sánchez feels insulted by the word Javier Milei used at a rally,” the source added.

The spat is part of an intensifying global skirmish between progressive political forces and a coalition of hard-right populists of which Milei is one of the leading lights alongside the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele.

The Argentinian politician – a former television celebrity who calls himself an “anarcho-capitalist – was elected last November, with Trump celebrating his ally’s campaign to “Make Argentina Great Again” and the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage hailing Milei’s exciting plans to implement “Thatcherism on steroids”. Liz Truss, who has sought to insert herself in that movement after her 49-day premiership, called Milei one of her “favourites” – although in a recent BBC interview Argentina’s president appeared flummoxed when asked who the former British prime minister was.

Leftwing parties in Europe and South America have lamented Milei’s radical economic vision and this week’s attack on Gómez.

The Worker’s party of Brazil’s leftwing president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, called Milei’s “pitiful” remarks about Gómez and Sánchez part of an ultra-conservative attempt to cause political instability and undermine democracy.

Milei’s spokesperson, Manuel Adorni, has rejected that portrayal, accusing members of Sánchez’s government of starting the spat by launching unfounded attacks on the Argentinian president. In early May, Spain’s transport minister, Óscar Puente, alleged Javier Milei had “ingested substances” during last year’s election campaign in Argentina, although he subsequently withdrew the claim, calling it a “big mistake”.

“They treated him as a hater, a denialist, [accused him of] ‘ingesting substances’, of being authoritarian, anti-democratic and of being ‘an awful’ person,” Adorni tweeted on Sunday. “Let’s hope at some point they reflect on this and sincerely apologize.”