Racism: Argentine president apologises for ‘jungle’ comment

Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez made the comments during a visit from Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez [File: Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez has apologised after triggering a Twitter storm and a regional race debate after telling visiting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez that modern-day Mexicans originate from Indigenous peoples, Brazilians “from the jungle”, and his own country’s inhabitants from Europe.

Fernandez made the comments on Wednesday in an apparent attempt to stress the close ties between Argentina and Spain.

“The Mexicans came from the Indians, the Brazilians came from the jungle, but we Argentines came from the ships. And they were ships that came from Europe,” Fernandez said, claiming the words had been written by Mexican poet Octavia Paz. He also told the visiting leader: “I am a Europeanist. I am someone who believes in Europe.”

He later apologized for the comments, which sparked a widespread response on social media, with many criticizing Fernandez for racial insensitivity. “In the first half of the 20th century we received more than five million immigrants who lived with our native peoples,” he said. “We are proud of our diversity.”

YouTube users also posted replies under a video of the speech, expressing anger or unease.

“Excuse me, Mexican and Brazilian friends, on behalf of all Argentines we feel a lot of embarrassment. You know how much we love you, and your countries and customs,” said one user under the name Barbara Bongiovanni.

Meanwhile, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon questioned if the quote really was from Mexican author Paz, a Nobel laureate. “That could have been said by [Mexican comedian] Cantinflas, or [Argentine comedians] Les Luthiers, but Octavio Paz? I hope he cites the source,” Calderon tweeted.

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