Brazil President Makes Argentina a Campaign Boogeyman

By DANIEL POLITI, Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) - As a Brazilian journalist living in Argentina, Luciana Taddeo says she spends ever-more effort rebutting ever-crazier rumors.

There were claims that Argentinas presidential palace had been invaded, that people had to leave keys in their cars ignitions so the government could use them at any time, that the government had abolished the right to inherit properties.

Journalists have been forced to dedicate more and more time to say, Look, this isnt real, this isnt happening,' she said.

Many of those rumors have been fanned by the presidential election in neighboring Brazil, where incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro has turned Argentina - already a bitter soccer rival - into a sort of political boogeyman, a warning of the horrors his nation could face if it elects leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

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On Wednesday, Bolsonaros campaign began its nightly ad slot on national television with a blast at Argentinas left-leaning leaders, who have been friendly with his election rival.

In Argentina, the leftist candidate that Lula supports also promised barbecue and beer for everybody, said a voice as images showed people complaining of rising poverty and soaring inflation under center-left President Alberto Fernández.

Bolsonaro and his allies had long used another leftist neighbor - crisis-wracked Venezuela - as a cautionary tale, but shifted to Argentina after Fernández defeated center-right President Mauricio Macri - whom Bolsonaro favored - in 2019.

Venezuela was far away and Brazilians didnt understand it very much; it was a whole other universe, said Paulo Pereira, 38, coordinator of da Silvas campaign in Argentina. Argentina is the country where many Brazilians go on their first international trip.

The neighboring nations also have a deep rivalry over their shared passion, soccer.

Among Bolsonaro and his allies, there is almost an obsession related to to Argentina, said Andressa Caldas, 46, a Brazilian human rights lawyer who has lived in Argentina for eight years.

The presidents lawmaker son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, used a trip to Argentina this month to take a swipe at Argentinas rampant inflation. In a video posted on his social media accounts, he is seen counting out dozens of bills to pay for a meal at a restaurant.

Paying for lunch in Argentina, he wrote on his Instagram account. If you dont want this for Brazil, vote Bolsonaro.

The political rivalry is also personal. Bolsonaro in 2019 urged Argentines to vote for Macri rather than Fernández - who had ostentatiously visited da Silva in jail before convictions were thrown out by Brazils Supreme Court.

The ties were already poor, but the electoral context has been very bad for the bilateral relationship because it put political differences at the top of the agenda, said Esteban Actis, an international relations professor at the National University of Rosario.

Brazilians living in Argentina largely agree theres certainly plenty to criticize: galloping annual inflation of 83%, a stagnant economy and poverty that affects half of the nations children.

The strange thing is that instead of focusing on the real problems that there are already so many of in Argentina, they have to exaggerate even more the situation, which is already serious, Taddeo said.

Nattascha Dumke, a 30-year-old medical student who has lived in Argentina since 2018, has almost 80,000 followers on Instagram. Shes accustomed to Brazilians asking about life in Argentina, but recently the tone of the questions has turned much more negative.

People who want to live here, study here, and even the parents of students here are writing me, Dumke said. They ask me about violence, if supermarkets dont have food, if were going hungry.

Dumke became so exasperated by a viral video that claimed Argentinas supermarkets were filled with empty shelves that she made her own video refuting the claims and showed fully stocked markets.

The woman who helped make the original empty-shelves video, 25-year-old Maria Laura Assis, pushed back against claims she was spreading falsehoods about Argentina to help Bolsonaros campaign.

What I tell them is to go to the supermarkets and see for themselves, said Assis, a Brazilian who has lived in Argentina for 15 years. Today Argentina really does have a limit in the number of units of certain products you can buy and is suffering shortages of certain products due to the closure of imports.

When Dumke published her video showing shelves full of products in several Buenos Aires supermarkets, many accused her of being the one spreading misinformation.

Even using videos to try to show the reality of the country … they dont believe it, Dumke said. Theyre not alarmed by receiving fake news, they only want to share disinformation for political ends.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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