Latin American Leaders’ Name-Calling Has Real-World Consequences

Latin American Leaders’ Name-Calling Has Real-World Consequences
Argentine President Javier Milei talks during the International Economic Forum of the Americas, in Buenos Aires, March 26, 2024 (AP photo by Natacha Pisarenko).

Last week I wrote that Colombian President Gustavo Petro “tweets more than he governs,” but he’s far from the only Latin American politician who moonlights as an internet troll. The past few weeks have seen the insults fly among Latin American leaders, with Venezuela’s foreign minister labeling Argentina’s ruling party “neo-nazis,” and Argentina’s president calling Colombia’s president a “murdering terrorist.” Unfortunately for the region, the consequences of these statements threaten to be deeper and longer lasting than the ephemeral number of likes that a social media post receives.

The most recent dispute between Argentina and Venezuela goes back to 2022 when Argentina, under the previous administration of President Alberto Fernandez, detained a Venezuelan cargo plane tied to a sanctioned Iranian company. Venezuela said the plane was stolen from them and unjustly detained while the U.S. and Paraguay both believe there was something suspicious about how the aircraft was being used and its contents. When the government of Argentine President Javier Milei handed the plane to the United States in February, Venezuela acted with fury. While the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had relatively good relations with Fernandez and did not want to escalate the conflict, Maduro hates the government of Milei and the feeling is mutual. Maduro and Milei portray themselves as diametric opposites on the left-right ideological spectrum, and Milei has taken it upon himself to criticize all leftists as he defends capitalist ideals.

The real-world consequence of this dispute is that, in early March, Venezuela closed off its airspace to planes traveling to Argentina. Now flights to and from Argentina that would normally pass over Venezuela are being routed instead over Essequibo, a region of Guyana that Venezuela claims as its own. While this is a simple logistics move by the airlines not intended to send any geopolitical message, it threatens to inflame a regional dispute that has at times threatened to become a military conflict. Online, critics of Maduro have taken to posting flight paths of planes to Argentina to demonstrate the emptiness of the regime’s rhetoric about Essequibo.

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