Surprising meeting in Cologne between Alberto Ferná …

With a surprising and informal barbecue “between friends”, Presidents Alberto Fernández and Luis Lacalle Pou relaunched the bilateral link between Argentina and Uruguay, with some shorts in times past. At Estancia Anchorena, on the outskirts of ColoniaBoth presidents, who until yesterday had been discussed more virtually than personally, reviewed all the items on the agenda and agreed on the need to strengthen regional unity through organizations such as Celac. “We believe that we must work together to bring the region back together, respecting ideological diversity and making ourselves strong in a world that is globalizing,” Fernández later commented.

As soon as he was informed that his second swab was negative and that he was no longer obliged to remain isolated, the President traveled to Colonia by helicopter accompanied only by his spokesman Juan Pablo Biondi. The meeting between the two presidents – which was surprising because it was not on the official activities agenda – had been in conversation since the beginning of the year and had a couple of postponements until the pandemic left everything to be seen. Fernández is a friend of Uruguayan Foreign Minister Francisco Bustillo, who was ambassador in Buenos Aires when he served as Néstor Kirchner’s chief of staff.

In last year’s electoral campaign, when Fernández traveled to Madrid, he stayed at the residence that Bustillo occupied as Uruguayan ambassador. Days ago, they met again at the assumption of Luis Arce in Bolivia and they finished closing lunch, which was postponed for a few more days due to the isolation that the President had to maintain due to the contagion of coronavirus from the Secretary for Strategic Affairs, Gustavo Beliz. Who was aware of these conversations was the ambassador in Montevideo, Alberto Iribarne, another personal friend of Fernández who participated yesterday in the meeting.

Lacalle Pou was in Buenos Aires last December for the inauguration of Fernández, together with the still president Tabaré Vazquez and the former president Jose Mujica. After that there was no other personal meeting between the two – virtual conversations – and the successive suspensions had Uruguayan officials uneasy. But yesterday all the resentments were left behind and both presidents were very relaxed and hugging. As proof that it was a “camaraderie lunch” and not a work meeting, the Chancellor did not travel Felipe Solá. “We were aware of the meeting but it was reserved,” they commented at the Chancellery.

The Estancia Anchorena is the resting place of Uruguayan presidents, with its aristocratic Norman-style helmet and its dreamlike surroundings of impeccable green. Lacalle Pou received Fernández in sports shoes and shoes with blue espadrilles, and took over the grill: there were chorizos, entraña and roast, with flan for dessert. Well served from the River Plate menu that the Uruguayan president himself took care of serving, as a good host. “I must confess that he surprised us all as a very good grill,” said Bustillo, who served as spokesman. Something that was repeated at the meeting was that the ideological differences that might exist between the two administrations were not going to be an obstacle for the bilateral bond to be strengthened and aim together to strengthen the region. They specifically mentioned the Celac, the Latin American body currently temporarily chaired by the Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of excellent bond with Fernández.

Instead, they did not speak of Unasur. Another body, in this case South American, that Fernández already warned that he wanted to relaunch, especially after the triumph of the MAS in Bolivia and the one expected from Correísmo in February in Ecuador. Given the orientation, this is probably not an idea Lacalle Pou is excited about. But They agreed that the position regarding the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela cannot continue to function as a watershed in the region. Who wants one thing for Venezuela, on the one hand, and who wants something else, on the other. “Besides, nobody knows for sure if the solution goes through a or b, then it cannot be that that is why Latin America is divided,” was the conclusion they reached.

They played a list of songs, but without going too deep. Bustillo commented that they reviewed the situation of Mercosur, with its trade agreement with the European Union in limbo, and relations with the United States and China. Even before taking office, Uruguay has been showing itself more inclined to open up with other countries. Lacalle Pou put it as a priority, at which point he coincides with Jair Bolsonaro. The president of Brazil, as you might imagine, took more than one section of the meeting in Cologne. “There is no one who speaks well of Bolsonaro in the region,” commented yesterday an official aware of what was discussed at the barbecue. They also spoke about the navigability of the Uruguay and Paraná rivers, which are always among Uruguayan concerns in the bilateral relationship.

It was a very good meeting. We were able to speak at ease about the problems of the region in general and of Argentina and Uruguay in particular, “Fernández said later.” We both feel that we must deepen the bond and the relationship of our peoples, “added the President.” It was an opportunity that they owed, “said Bustillo later, who had to bustle to close the meeting.” It was an excellent opportunity to meet two people who respect and appreciate each other, “he concluded.

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