EMBATTLED Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has sparked a furore by joking about her hosts’ accents on Twitter while on a state visit to China seeking badly needed investment.
Ms Fernandez tried to mimic a Chinese accent by switching “r’s” with “l’s” in a tweet in Spanish that translates as: “Did they only come for lice and petloleum.”
A few minutes later, she added: “Sorry, the levels of ridiculousness and absurdity are so high they can only be digested with humour.”
The tweets came as she met Chinese president Xi Jinping. Chinese diplomats declined to respond yesterday to the comments by Ms Fernandez, a prolific tweeter who has 3.53 million followers.
But that didn’t stop a flood of criticism from Twitter users in the South American country and beyond over what many considered a racist tweet.
Since Twitter is blocked in China and Chinese state media has not reported on it, the accent-mimicking went largely unnoticed by the Chinese public.
For a handful of Chinese who read about it in foreign media, some brushed it off as a joke with no ill intent, while others challenged Ms Fernandez to speak proper Chinese. China’s foreign ministry declined to comment yesterday.
The controversy comes as Ms Fernandez struggles to distance herself from the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was found dead in his bathroom on 18 January, hours before he was to elaborate on allegations that Ms Fernandez helped shield Iranians connected to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in which 85 people died.
Ms Fernandez has vehemently denied the accusations, saying Argentina had nothing to gain from such an intervention. She has suggested rogue elements in the intelligence services ordered Mr Nisman’s death, but has not elaborated.
Earlier this week, just as her visit to China was beginning, investigators looking into Mr Nisman’s death said they had found an arrest warrant for Ms Fernandez that Mr Nisman had written up.
On Wednesday, relatives of bomb victims marched with the families of people killed under Argentina’s military dictatorship and in other national tragedies to demand an end to impunity and the truth about what happened to Mr Nisman. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of Congress in Buenos Aires with the march ending in the capital’s Plaza de Mayo.
“The demand for truth and justice that relatives of the AMIA [Jewish centre] victims are making is the same as what we want for the 30,000 people who disappeared [during the dictatorship],” said Nora Cortinas, co-founder of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group.