The future of Brazil-Argentina relations after Javier Milei’s victory

By November 29, 2023

São Paulo, Brazil – Argentina’s President-elect Javier Milei, an outspoken Libertarian who is often put into the same category with other far-right leaders like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, openly criticized Brazil’s leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on the campaign trail. 

Since being elected on November 19, however, Milei has backed off a bit and on Monday, he even invited the President of Brazil to join him at his inauguration. Of course, Bolsonaro was invited to attend as well.  

Now the question remains: what will happen to Brazil’s relationship with Argentina when Milei takes office in December?

Milei’s campaign rhetoric

On the campaign trail, Milei openly criticized the left wing ideals of President Lula and threatened to cut trade with Brazil over these differences. 

Milei called Lula “corrupt” and “communist,” and openly received public support from Lula’s defeated rival in last year’s elections, Bolsonaro. In June, Bolsonaro was banned from holding public office for eight years and faces numerous lawsuits against him. 

Read more: Jair Bolsonaro banned from holding office in Brazil for 8 years

Despite the rhetoric, publicly, Lula has been measured but cordial when addressing the news of Argentina’s incoming leader. This despite publicly supporting his opponent, Sergio Massa, during the elections. 

After the elections, Lula went on social media to praise Argentina’s democratic system.

“Democracy is the voice of the people, and it must always be respected. Congratulations to the Argentine institutions for conducting the electoral process, and to the Argentine people who participated in the electoral journey in an orderly and peaceful manner,” wrote Lula on X (formerly Twitter).

He also wished the new government good luck without mentioning Milei by name. “I wish good luck and success to the new government. Argentina is a great country and deserves all our respect. Brazil will always be available to work together with our Argentine brothers.”

Lula also said that he doesn’t need to like the presidents of neighboring countries, but he does need to be able to dialogue with them and reach agreements. 

“I don’t have to like the presidents of Chile, Argentina, or Venezuela. He doesn’t have to be my friend. We have to sit at the table, each defending their interests. As there can’t be supremacy of one over the other, we have to reach an agreement,” Lula said.

Brazil’s president has not confirmed whether or not he’ll attend Milei’s inauguration on December 10. 

However, Milei, after winning the elections, has invited Lula to visit Buenos Aires. “If Lula comes, he will be welcomed. He is the president of Brazil,” said Milei. 

Bolsonaro was also invited to attend the inauguration and Bolsonaro was one of the first former leaders to congratulate Milei in a video call after he won the election. 

“Today, Argentina means a lot to all those who love democracy and breathe freedom,” said Bolsonaro after the election results were confirmed.

Javier Milei sent a letter inviting Lula to his inauguration

Institutional ties probably won’t break down 

Argentina is Brazil’s third-largest trading partner, behind only China and the United States. In 2022, Brazil exported $15.3 billion in products to the neighboring country, which represents 4.5% of all Brazilian exports. Additionally, Brazil and Argentina are among the founding members of the Mercosur trade bloc.

Milei’s victory had initially raised flags about future relations between the two countries going forward. However, Amâncio Jorge da Silva, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the University of São Paulo (USP), believes that the new Argentine president will not cut all ties with Brazil, as he implied during the campaign.

“Having no interaction and diplomatic relations is impossible, given the interdependence of the two countries,” said the professor, who expects a cooling of relations between the governments but not a total rupture, which would be, in Silva’s view, a “disaster.”

According to political scientist Leandro Gabiati, it is possible that Milei and Lula maintain a distant relationship without talking too much. However, institutional relations through the Ministries of Foreign Affairs are likely to be maintained.

“Even if the two presidents don’t speak directly, there are common interests that will keep relations between the two countries relatively normal,” he said.

Gabiati suggested that the scenario is similar to what happened during the administrations of Bolsonaro and Alberto Fernández, who also had opposing ideologies. In 2019, when Fernández was elected, Bolsonaro did not congratulate him and did not attend the inauguration.

He also criticized Fernández’s policies but did not cut relations with Argentina. “The two didn’t dialogue during their terms, but a lot continued to progress,” explained Gabiati.

Of course, a Brexit-like situation could be possible with the Mercosur bloc, but may not be likely. 

“The relationship between Argentina and Brazil won’t be easy, but I don’t think it’ll reach the radicalism of removing Argentina from Mercosur because that would have serious impacts on the Argentine economy and industry,” said Gabiati.