Milei’s verbal attack against Spanish PM’s wife sparks diplomatic spat with Argentina

Spain’s foreign minister demands ‘public apologies’ from the Argentine president and warns that, if he fails to do so, there will be ‘appropriate measures’

Milei Pedro Sanchez
Argentina president Javier Milei on Sunday in Madrid.Ana Beltran (REUTERS)
Miguel González

The Spanish government has reacted vehemently to statements made this past Sunday in Madrid by the president of Argentina, Javier Milei, who was attending an international far-right gathering organized by Spain’s ultranationalist Vox party.

In a speech, Milei attacked Spain’s socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, called his wife Begoña Gómez “corrupt,” and sparked a serious political and diplomatic spat between both countries. To give greater solemnity to the response, Foreign Affairs Minister José Manuel Albares read out a harsh institutional statement at La Moncloa, the seat of government, in which he announced that he was calling back the Spanish ambassador in Buenos Aires, María Jesús Alonso Jiménez, on an indefinite basis. He also demanded a public apology from the Argentine president, warning that if one was not forthcoming, “we will take all appropriate measures in defense of our sovereignty and dignity.”

Recalling an ambassador for consultations is one of the strongest protest measures available in diplomatic terms. The Spanish government has been, in recent years, very disinclined to use it, and did not do so when Morocco, Algeria and Israel recalled their own ambassadors in Madrid over other diplomatic crises.

The foreign minister described the Argentine president’s words as “very serious” and stressed that they went beyond “any type of political and ideological differences” and were “unprecedented” in the history of relations between the two countries. He noted that Spain has received Milei “in good faith,” and even though he had not requested any institutional meeting and was coming to participate in a far-right convention, “he has been treated with all due respect and deference and was offered the public resources of the Spanish state.” The plane in which Milei traveled had landed at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base in Madrid.

Albares described Milei’s remarks as “a frontal attack” on Spanish democracy, its institutions and Spain as a whole. He said it was “unacceptable” that a sitting president, on a visit to Spain, should insult the country and its government leader in a complete break with accepted diplomatic rules of conduct.

But a high-placed source in the Argentina government who is in permanent contact with Milei and his foreign minister told this newspaper that the president will not apologize to Sánchez in any way, shape or form, “not even dressed as a kangaroo.” Buenos Aires feels that the response to “a passing remark at a campaign rally” has been “completely disproportionate.”

Marine Le Pen Elecciones Europeas
French far-right National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen gestures as she delivers a speech on stage during the Spanish far-right wing party Vox's rally "Europa Viva 24" in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, May 19, 2024. Manu Fernandez (AP)

At the Vox-sponsored event, “Europa Viva 24,″ which was also attended by France’s National Rally leader Marine Le Pen and by Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni (who participated via video link), Milei verbally attacked Pedro Sánchez without mentioning him directly. “You don’t know what kind of society and country socialism can produce, and what kind of people stuck to power and what levels of abuse it can generate. Even if he has a corrupt wife, he gets dirty and takes five days to think about it,” said Milei, alluding to the period of reflection that Sánchez took last month to decide whether to continue in office following a judge’s decision to open proceedings to investigate his wife, Begoña Gómez, in response to a complaint filed by the far-right group Manos Limpias (Clean Hands), which has a history of initiating legal challenges against left-wing leaders. Sánchez later decided to remain in office.

Although he improvised the comment, Milei seemed to understand the potential consequences right away. He quickly added: “In view of the things I usually say, I often receive criticism from different members of the establishment. They tell me: ‘But you are a head of state, how can you make these comments about your political adversaries? How do you talk like that about other international leaders?’ I tell them that the cultural battle is not something that one takes or leaves at one’s convenience, but rather it is an unavoidable commitment.”

This is not the first diplomatic clash between Spain and Argentina since Milei took power. At the beginning of May, Spain’s Minister of Transportation, Óscar Puente, suggested that the new president consumes narcotics, to which the Casa Rosada responded with a very harsh statement in which it disqualified the government of Pedro Sánchez. Puente expressed lukewarm repentance, and the Argentine foreign ministry closed the incident.

In the five months that he has been in the Casa Rosada, Milei has had diplomatic run-ins with Chile, Venezuela and Mexico. However, the most serious spat occurred last March with Colombia, whose president Gustavo Petro was described by Milei as a “terrorist murderer,” which led Bogotá to announce the expulsion of three Argentine diplomats, although the move was not consummated.

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