Spain withdraws its ambassador to Argentina over President Milei's insults, escalating crisis

Spain says it is pulling its ambassador from Argentina in response to comments made by Argentine President Javier Milei, who accused the Spanish prime minister’s wife of corruption and described socialism as “cursed and carcinogenic.”

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A diplomatic crisis between historic allies Spain and Argentina expanded Tuesday as Spain announced the official withdrawal of its ambassador from Buenos Aires and Argentine President Javier Milei lambasted the move as “nonsense typical of an arrogant socialist.”

Spain said its ambassador to Argentina would remain indefinitely in Madrid, where she had been recalled for consultations Sunday in response to comments made by President Milei during a contentious weekend visit he made to the Spanish capital. In a fiery speech defending free market capitalism at a far-right rally in Madrid, Milei accused the Spanish prime minister's wife of corruption and described socialism as "cursed and carcinogenic."

Following Milei's refusal to apologize, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares told reporters Tuesday that “Argentina will continue without an ambassador," speaking with a measure of incredulity that Milei would treat Spain this way.

“We are facing a unique case, not only unique for this government, but unique in the history of international relations,” Albares said. “There is no precedent for a head of state going to the capital of another country to insult its institutions.”

Milei — who has found himself embroiled in diplomatic quarrels across the region and has referred to his opponents as "human excrement" — has never been seen as the most tactful occupant of Argentina's highest office.

He continued lashing out at Spain on Tuesday, telling the local La Nación news channel that the Spanish decision was “nonsense typical of an arrogant socialist."

“Socialists are capable of doing anything,” he added. But he did not immediately retaliate. When asked whether Argentina would do the same, Milei said: “I am not going to be such an idiot.”

The surprise move escalates a long-running diplomatic spat between the socialist government of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Milei's libertarian administration. Sánchez first incurred Milei's wrath when he backed his left-wing opponent in last year's presidential election and declined to congratulate Milei on his victory.

Tensions mounted amid a barrage of insults in recent weeks as Sánchez's Cabinet ministers alleged Milei had taken narcotics during a TV appearance and Milei accused Sánchez of pursuing policies that “only bring poverty and death.”

Defying the norms of presidential behavior, Milei snubbed all Spanish government officials on his first visit to Spain as head of state last week and instead met only Sánchez's fiercest critics, members of the hard-right, anti-immigrant Vox party that hopes to make gains in June's European parliamentary elections.

Analysts said that Milei's diplomatic saber-rattling serves a bigger political agenda.

“Milei might be sensing that the socialist party has short legs, and so he's trying to prepare Argentina to get a really close ally when Spain gets a right-wing government, in the same way he's betting on Trump,” said Sebastián Mazzuca, an Argentine political scientist at Johns Hopkins University. “Milei is taking gambles, taking risks.”

The foreign minister, Albares, complained Milei had used his visit to poke Spain in the eye, breaking diplomatic protocol that Latin American countries and their former colonizer have long observed.

At the Vox party rally Sunday, Milei delivered his typical anti-socialism talking points and mocked Sánchez for taking a break from public view last month over corruption allegations brought by an activist group against his wife, Begona Gomez. The private group, which files lawsuits to promote far-right causes, accused Gomez of using her position to influence business deals.

Gomez has not been indicted or called in for questioning. Spanish prosecutors have recommended the case be thrown out.

The fallout with Spain, a significant investment partner for Argentina, could have lasting political and economic consequences for President Milei, who has promised to rescue the country's long-troubled economy through austerity.

Spain is Argentina’s second-biggest foreign investor after the United States, with Spanish companies investing 140 million euros ($152 million) in the country in 2022. Some 495,000 Spaniards live in Argentina, according to Spanish government statistics, while 97,000 Argentines reside in Spain.

Over the weekend, Milei also met with Spanish business executives. One of them, Antonio Garamendi, president of the main Spanish business council, said he “profoundly rejected” Milei's “off-key remarks” about the Spanish government in an interview with major local radio station Ser.

“Milei is trying to prove that commercial relations are a market issue that goes on one track and political issues are on another track,” said Mazzuca, the political scientist. “I don't know if that's going to work.”

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Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.

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