With slight retreats from side to side, Argentina and Brazil managed to at least baste a reasonable coexistence on Wednesday, 12, after the signs of a collapse in bilateral relations emitted throughout 2019. In meetings in Brasilia, the Argentine Minister of Relations Abroad, Felipe Solá, gave signs of a slight retreat in his country's position on Venezuela and extracted goodwill from Chancellor Ernesto Araújo and President Jair Bolsonaro at his request for a less accelerated pace in Mercosur's free trade negotiations with other partners.
In principle, this resumption of bilateral relations should be enshrined in the first meeting between Bolsonaro and the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, initially scheduled for March 1 on a neutral ground – Montevideo, Uruguay. The challenge will be to approach the two leaders in a photograph with the certainty that neither of them will stab each other in the back, comments in the Argentine chancellery.
Solá's visit to Brazil was carefully studied in Buenos Aires to reverse the disastrous course that had been predicted since the election campaign of the Peronist Fernández, elected last October. In particular, at this time when Argentina is trying to implement its new economic project, which has public debt renegotiation as its main pillar, and when it receives the mission of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), its largest creditor. Disarming any bomb from Brasilia has become as important as enlisting the support of European governments and the United States – the task accomplished by Fernández on his journey abroad in recent weeks.
Solá clearly asked Bolsonaro to support Argentina's position with the Fund. “There is an understanding of the delicate Argentine economic situation. We want Brazil to understand this fragility and for (commercial) opening to take place at a speed that addresses this situation, ”he said at the end of the meetings.
One of the bombs prepared by Brasilia is the acceleration of Mercosur free trade negotiations, which is already engaged in talks with Canada, South Korea and Singapore. The ratification of the largest treaty already concluded, between the bloc and the European Union, is another matter. In a deep economic crisis, Argentina has already announced its intention to revise the agreement with Brussels. But now it calls for, at least, more moderation of the pace of the new negotiations that, in the view of Buenos Aires, would lead to a devastating commercial opening for the country's industry.
Another bomb would be the imposition, by Brasília, of an ambitious revision – downwards – in the Common External Tariff (TEC), applied by the four partners of Mercosur. The worst explosive, however, would be the Bolsonaro government's refusal – or its omission, in practice – to support Argentina before the IMF. However, the key minister for these responses, Paulo Guedes, of the Economy, was not present in the conversations of Chancellor Solá with Araújo and Bolsonaro.
At the meeting with Bolsonaro, Solá had the sensitivity to indicate the easing of Buenos Aires' position on the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela. Last week, with an eye on the repercussions of the White House, the Argentine chancellor had said that the Chavista government had “endangered the rule of law”. Before the Brazilian, he announced that his country will be present at the next meeting of the Lima Group, created to pressure Maduro. Until the end of 2019, Argentina maintained its intention to withdraw from the group and its support for the Venezuelan leader.
“We are not in favor of Maduro. We are in favor of democracy, and democracy means fulfilling conditions, ”he declared at the end of the meeting at the Planalto Palace.
The geographic inevitability and the calculation of the benefits of the bilateral relationship and the preservation of Mercosur counted a lot for Brazil and Argentina to hoist the white flag, despite the stark ideological differences between their governments. The degree of productive integration, especially in the automotive area, is not negligible and counted points. Pragmatism now seems to prevail – at least until the negotiations on the most sensitive bilateral issues. But there is still no absolute certainty that Brasília's ideological outbursts will be appeased by a larger objective: to help lift the neighbor's economy.
The disagreements increased in a dangerous way during the second semester. Bolsonaro had openly given his support for Mauricio Macri's reelection and went further, referring to Fernández and his running mate, former president Cristina Kirchner, as “left-wing bandits. The Brazilian withdrew from being present in the Argentine's possession and only at the last minute decided to send a high-level representative to the ceremony, Vice President Hamilton Mourão.
These diatribes did not go unnoticed. Fernández himself had defended the release of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was anathema in Brasília, on the day of his election, and Solá himself even declared that his country was "in mourning in relation to Brazil", last November. The appeasement was foreshadowed on the day of Fernandez's inauguration, when Mourão transmitted an invitation from Bolsonaro for an official visit. When arranging the meeting in Montevideo, it is clear that this is an overly ambitious kindness.