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Argentina-Uruguay Relations Suffer Blow - 2002-06-04


Relations between Argentina and Uruguay have suffered a blow following disparaging remarks about Argentine politicians by Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle. Mr. Batlle traveled to Buenos Aires to personally apologize for his comments.

In an interview with the Bloomberg television service, Mr. Batlle described Argentine politicians as a band of thieves. He also called his Argentine counterpart, Eduardo Duhalde, powerless. "Do you know the extent of corruption in Argentina?" he asks, speaking to someone off camera. Then he says, "How can I tell Duhalde anything? He has no political support or backing, and does not even know where he is going."

These comments, broadcast in Argentina late Monday, prompted a government spokesman to demand an explanation, saying President Duhalde was pained by the remarks.

At a news conference later, the Uruguayan leader explained he was speaking off the record after the formal interview with Bloomberg on economic matters had ended. Mr. Batlle said he had no idea the camera was still on while he spoke to a reporter, whom he described as having goaded him to make his intemperate remarks.

The Uruguayan leader then traveled to Buenos Aires to meet with President Duhalde. With him at his side, Mr. Batlle publicly apologized. "When we make a mistake, he said, it is proper to recognize it and apologize apologize to you," he said referring to Mr. Duhalde, and to the Argentine people.

The two men then shook hands, and Mr. Duhalde declared the matter over.

But the comments generated criticism, and some appeals for calm.

Uruguayan opposition leader Tabare Vazquez described Mr. Batlle's remarks as "unfortunate and defying a logical explanation". But former Argentine Foreign Minister Dante Caputo urged calm, saying the comments should not be taken seriously and should not prevent the two nations from continuing to work together.

Argentina is Uruguay's main trading partner. Because of this, Uruguay has been the country most affected by the Argentine economic crisis.

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