Photo via AFP

Everyone knows that the third time is the charm, or “third time lucky.” In President Mauricio Macri’s case, his third statement on interpreting a brief encounter with UK Prime Minister Theresa May may not be considered “lucky” as such: he’s had to back track fully on his earlier statements leading to a confusing set of back-and-forths. It all began when he said that the British prime minister had expressed willingness to discuss the Argentine sovereignty claim over the Malvinas islands.

Let’s recap what happened:

  • On Tuesday, Macri had a very brief encounter with UK Prime Minister Theresa May and went straight to the media to say that the two countries would start negotiating Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the Malvinas.
  • This was apparently something of a stretch and on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra downplayed the exchange saying “I don’t think [May] meant ‘I agree to bilateral talks and that the sovereignty claim will be the first item on the agenda’.”
  • Yet Macri wouldn’t stand down. And after Malcorra tried to clear up the situation, he continued making the case that his original statement was right in a radio interview with El Exprimidor. “During lunch, yes, I greeted Theresa May […] and I told her I was ready to begin an open dialogue, which obviously includes the issues of sovereignty for the Malvinas Islands,” recounted Macri, a proposal to which May allegedly acquiesced.
  • That’s when the British government spoke out and made it clear that the sovereignty claim was not on the table unless Malvinas residents were present or voted for it to be discussed. “The sovereignty issue was never discussed in the informal meeting that May and Macri had in New York,” a Foreign Office source told La Nación. “So there could not have been a statement from Great Britain in that regard.” “
  • Then, later in the day yesterday, Macri completed the U-turn by downplaying his own statements in a third interview, this time with the journalists who traveled to New York. Macri explained that May had actually told him that “‘Dialogue is always good’ but the word ‘sovereignty’ was never mentioned.” He also repeated calls for Argentina and local media to “lower the anxiety levels” on the issue.

So if the word sovereignty wasn’t actually mentioned, why did Macri go to such lengths to say that it was? It would seem that it was meant to be a form of compensating for certain slip-ups in the Malvinas department lately, including a lukewarm call for the UK to negotiate sovereignty in his debut speech at the U.N. and a joint statement with the UK government on the Malvinas based on the premise that certain issues could be discussed separately from the sovereignty claim (which, in Argentine politics, they can’t.)

As such, the reactions within Argentina on this contradictory back and forth have been unsurprisingly negative. Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, for example, said in a speech yesterday that she wanted to “seek redress for [Malvinas veterans] who gave their lives for the nation because when […] someone speaks so lightly of these things, it can only be explained as stupidity, not as evil.”

In the attempt to do better by politics back home, the statements could well have led to bilateral tensions with the U.K. at a time when the president is trying to boost relations with London. It’s unclear whether this apparent attempt to be more forceful about the sovereignty claim was an intended good cop/bad cop scenario with Malcorra (with Macri forgetting to pick just one) or another situation in which the government has jumped the gun with the press. Either way, Macri should continue to keep the popular local proverb in mind: “a fish dies from its open mouth.”