President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s (PT) relationship with Argentina should be colder than ever after the victory of libertarian Javier Milei for the country’s presidency. After the government of leftist Alberto Fernández, which left the country with 142% inflation in 12 months, scarce reserves and a scenario of social chaos, the country elected a libertarian candidate who promises to break with the Argentine left’s past.
With Milei’s victory, Lula must see his plan to impose left-wing ideological agendas on Latin America, such as support for the Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, the strengthening of Unasur (Union of South American Nations) and Argentina’s entry into the Brics bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
With Milei in Argentina, South America now has four right-wing presidents, in Uruguay, Paraguay and Ecuador, and nine left-wing: in Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana , Suriname and French Guiana, which is subordinate to France as it is an overseas department.
For experts, the relationship between the presidents of Brazil and Argentina should be cold, as was the relationship between Jair Bolsonaro and Alberto Fernández. “Certainly, if Sergio Massa had won, the relationship between presidents would be better, because they are more aligned in ideological terms. But this does not mean that ideological misalignment will necessarily have a negative impact on relations between countries. What prevails in relations between countries and States is pragmatism”, points out the professor of International Relations at Ibmec Brasília, Ricardo Caichiolo.
The Palácio do Planalto and Itamaraty predict the same scenario. After the result of the vote, the Brazilian president did not make the typical call to congratulate Milei on the victory in Argentina and published a timid post on his account on X (formerly Twitter), without mentioning Milei, wishing “good luck and success to the new government” .
Bolsonaro published on X that the president-elect of Argentina called him and invited him to attend his inauguration in December. Lula, found out the People’s Gazette with members at Itamaraty, do not wait for the same invitation. The exchange of visits that existed between the two countries this year will no longer be the same. While Fernández came to Brazil four times in the last 11 months, Lula went to Argentina twice. This transit must be interrupted during Milei’s term.
In an interview with the newspaper The globe, Lula’s special affairs advisor, Celso Amorim, revealed that the PT member will not attend Milei’s inauguration, scheduled for December 10th. Brazil, however, will be represented by members of the government, who will be selected depending on the “tone” that Milei adopts with Lula in the coming days. Former president Bolsonaro must go with a delegation of around ten people.
Rupture in the economic relationship with Brazil remains uncertain
In line with libertarian ideas in the area of economics, Milei’s campaign proposals directly confront the left, as they contradict everything that leftists defend by promoting actions that benefit the free market, reducing the size and weight of the State, drastically reducing taxes, relaxation of regulations to minimum levels and privatization of education and healthcare. Experts assess, however, that pragmatism must be maintained for now in the economy, to avoid immediate damage from possible ruptures.
“Milei’s victory in Argentina introduces uncertainty, but also opportunities in the relationship with Brazil, especially in the context of Mercosur and bilateral trade relations. The key will be the ability to adapt and negotiate to guarantee the strengthening of economic and commercial relations between the two countries”, observed Eduardo Galvão, professor of government relations at Ibmec-DF.
Argentina is considered Brazil’s largest trading partner in South America. Thus, the two nations have economic codependency. For the doctor in social sciences and researcher at Fundação Araporã, Rogério Pereira de Campos, it would not be beneficial for Argentina to completely break relations with Brazil, one of its main economic partners.
“Argentina is going through a complicated moment and this is not the time to put its foot down on some decisions, especially with Brazil, which is its main economic partner. Changing drastically, as proposed during the election and reviewing some economic positions is very complicated. I believe that at first, little should change”, he assesses.
According to Campos, it will only be possible to have an idea of what direction the relationship with Brazil will take after the political decisions made by Milei. He should not reveal his entire policy before taking office to avoid speculative attacks against the Argentine currency.
“The electoral speech is very different from what is done in practice. Furthermore, he does not have a majority in the Argentine Congress and, therefore, we need to wait for his next steps and see how he will sew up his governing base”, points out the researcher.
Left weakens in South America with Milei
On the other hand, Lula could lose space in South America. Since taking office for this third term, the PT member has tried to assume the position of South American leader. In May of this year, Lula gathered all the presidents of South America in Brasília with the aim of trying to reactivate the Union of South American Nations, Unasur, a left-wing bloc since its conception in 2008. The Brazilian’s attempt, however, was thwarted by other presidents.
Luis Lacalle Pou, from Uruguay, opposed the bloc due to its ideological bias and criticized its possible reactivation. The presence of the Venezuelan dictator at the event, Nicolás Maduro, was also not a good advertisement for Lula. At the summit, the PT member claimed that what happens in terms of human rights abuses and political crimes in Venezuela is nothing more than a “narrative”. Not even left-wing leaders spared criticism of the Brazilian president.
With Milei’s election, four South American countries are now presided over by right-wing leaders – three of them members of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur). As the only left-wing president in the bloc, Lula must encounter resistance when discussing issues with an ideological content, such as his interest in reintegrating Venezuela into the organization.
Lula’s approach to dictatorships has already caused friction between Lula and Pou. During a ceremony in which the Brazilian president assumed the presidency of Mercosur, the Uruguayan refused to sign the joint declaration and threatened to leave the bloc to close a bilateral agreement with China – which, if implemented, could put an end to the free trade agreement. Mercosur-European Union trade.
During his campaign, Milei opposed the bloc, but moderated his speech after being elected. In an interview with CNN Brazil, Brazil’s ambassador to Argentina, Julio Bitelli, said “there is no imminent risk” to the bloc. “In more recent statements, both he and his closest circle have talked about modernizing Mercosur and changing the way it operates, but from within the bloc,” said the ambassador.
For the experts interviewed by the People’s Gazette, it would be harmful for Argentina to leave the bloc. Despite the change in discourse, Rogério Pereira believes that there must be resistance in discussions in Mercosur. “It is logical that similar political alignments facilitate communication, but it does not mean that different positions prevent the existence of the bloc. Perhaps they create a little more resistance and a greater need to align points”, he points out.
“The problem with these negotiations is that they involve many factors, it’s not just the economic or political side, there are partnerships, there are bilateral trade agreements between countries… and all of this interferes in these negotiations. A country is always looking for the best for itself , and the best for it is not necessarily the best for the other country”, assesses the researcher from Fundação Araporã.
As president of the bloc, Lula has rushed to close the agreement with the European Union before he loses the support of South American countries, mainly Uruguay, which has threatened to leave the bloc. Itamaraty’s fear is that Milei will find support in Pou’s objections and, together, they will dismember Mercosur. For Eduardo Galvão, however, the libertarian’s presence in the group could give momentum to the negotiations, as its ratification would be beneficial for Argentine agricultural production. “Brazil can work to maintain the pace of negotiations and seek agreements that benefit both parties”, says the director of BCW Brasil.
Milei should reject Lula’s invitation to join the Brics
Another question that is still uncertain is Milei’s position regarding the Brics (bloc formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). In August, the bloc announced, after strong pressure from China and Russia, its expansion and invited six countries to join it from next year. With more than 40 nations interested in joining the group, only six were invited by the founding members.
Argentina was the name indicated by Lula, still in one of the Brazilian’s several attempts to support the country’s then president and his friend, Alberto Fernández. At the time, the Peronist saw his popularity plummet as the country sank into a serious economic crisis. With the defeat of Sergio Massa – Fernández’s Economy Minister and the candidate chosen by Peronism – the invitation to join Brics could be rejected by Milei.