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New Argentine president Milei invites Pope Francis to visit

Javier Milei, Argentine

LUIS ROBAYO / AFP

Javier Milei, élu président de l'Argentine le 19 novembre 2023.

I.Media - published on 11/25/23

President Javier Milei made insulting statements about the Argentine pope during his campaign; some of his associates were key in this rapprochement.
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Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, spoke by telephone with Pope Francis, La Nación reported on November 21. During the call, he invited the Pope to visit his native country. Pope Francis encouraged Milei, who waged a very aggressive presidential campaign, to show “courage” and “wisdom.” The president-elect won the race on November 19, with 56% of the vote and will take office on December 10. 

A friendly call

The Argentine daily reports that the president-elect received this unexpected call from Pope Francis at around midday Buenos Aires time. To take the call, he interrupted a television interview with a journalist. The exchange between the two men, who had never spoken, lasted eight minutes.

According to sources linked to his political movement, the president-elect invited the Pope to visit Argentina as part of a state visit and as head of the Catholic Church. This information revives the possibility of a papal visit to his home country in 2024. The Argentine episcopate already extended an invitation to him earlier this month.

Javier Milei explained to the Pope that he was aware of the fact that he was facing “a major challenge in the fight against poverty and destitution” and that he intended in particular to improve the education system. The Pontiff congratulated him on his election victory and urged him to act with “wisdom and courage.”

“According to La Nación, the president-elect replied, ‘I don’t lack courage, and I’m working on wisdom.'”

The Argentinian newspaper points out that the personal friendship between a close friend of Javier Milei and ophthalmologist Fabio Bartucci made it possible to establish this direct contact between the Pope and the president-elect. Dr. Bartucci operated on the Pope for cataracts in the past. In the coming days, the doctor will travel to Buenos Aires to present the president-elect with a rosary from the Pontiff.

Turning the page on a polarized campaign

This informal contact, which seems to have bypassed the usual diplomatic channels, comes at the end of a very aggressive campaign. In its course, Javier Milei made several high-profile insulting remarks about Pope Francis. In a television broadcast, the populist candidate criticized the Pope for being “on the side of the bloody dictatorships” of Cuba and Venezuela. Earlier statements in which Milei described the Pope as a “communist” and a “son of a bitch” have also come to light. However, he apologized for these remarks.

Eduardo Eurnekian, head of Corporación América for which Javier Milei had worked, reportedly insisted that the candidate apologize to the Pope. This entrepreneur of Armenian origin, who is very involved in inter-religious dialogue in Buenos Aires, had collaborated on the Pope’s visit to Armenia in 2016. 

Milei’s rise to power

Javier Milei won the Argentine presidential election with over 56% of the vote in the second round against his left-wing Peronist opponent Sergio Massa. He campaigned on an ultra-libertarian agenda, advocating the abolition of numerous government ministries, the Central Bank, the national currency, and social benefits. He puts the emphasis on entrepreneurial freedom as the driving force behind economic development.

Javier Milei
Argentina’s President-elect Javier Milei

Milei is an economist who was elected as a member of parliament in 2021. He has experienced a meteoric political rise by capitalizing on the people’s anger at the elites. Argentina is experiencing 140% year-on-year inflation and an explosion in rate of poverty, which affects over 40% of the population.

On November 21, he met at length with outgoing president Alberto Fernández, who did not stand for re-election but supported Milei’s opponent Sergio Massa with whom he could plan the handover of power. The constitutional transition will lead to Javier Milei taking office on December 10.

Tags:
ArgentinaPope Francis
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