BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentines and Uruguayans had a great time joking about their leaders on Friday after Uruguayan President Jose Mujica was caught making insulting comments about his supposedly close friend and ally, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez.
Speaking in the riverside slang that citizens of both countries love to share, Mujica apparently didn't realize a microphone was on when he basically called Fernandez a "old shrew" who is "worse than her one-eyed" late husband, Nestor Kirchner. "The one-eyed guy had more political sense. This one is just stubborn as a mule," he added, alluding to Kirchner's strabismus.
As officials on both sides of the border tried to contain the diplomatic fallout, their citizens reveled in the unscripted comments, joking on talk radio, creating web sites and cartoons, and adding thousands of comments on social networks. One person even put Mujica's words to a cumbia beat.
Mujica is a 77-year-old former leftist guerrilla and flower farmer noted for a cantankerous personality and for speaking off the cuff in ways that polished politicians never would.
Fernandez, 60, a lawyer who became rich as a real estate investor, wears designer fashions and often rules by decree, treating other politicians either as friends or enemies.
The two reflect aspects of a cultural divide that has widened ever since the former Spanish colonies became independent nations in the 1820s, divided by the Rio de la Plata.
Argentines have grown accustomed to much rougher politics, while Uruguayans tend to seek consensus. And while debt problems and currency controls have isolated Argentines from global commerce, tiny Uruguay, wedged between Brazil and Argentina, has always had to make accommodations with its neighbors.
Mujica touched on this as well in his unguarded comments, telling a local mayor ahead of a news conference that "to get something from Argentina, you have to get in bed a bit with Brazil ... it's like the old law of the pendulum."
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman formally protested to Uruguay's ambassador, calling the comments "unacceptable and denigrating ... particularly from someone whom Dr. Kirchner had considered to be a friend."
Mujica, however, said he had nothing to apologize for because "publicly, I've never talked about Argentina," and insisted that the countries will remain close allies, no matter what.
"Even though history separated us, nothing and no one can tear apart our history," Mujica said. "We were born from the same placenta as the Argentine people, and if this drama has separated us, the pain also draws us together."
Pablo Fernandez in Montevideo, Uruguay, contributed to this story.