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In a video endorsement of Javier Milei days before he was elected president of Argentina, U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar praised the country as having everything, including “only one culture, only one religion and only one race, completely homogenous.”
The comment by Salazar, a Florida Republican who is of Cuban descent, appeared to refer to a perception of Argentina, including among its own citizens, as a country of white European descendants. That perception is often criticized for ignoring the South American country’s Black and Indigenous culture and ancestry, and it is sometimes fodder for mockery, as well as memes.
Speaking in Spanish, Salazar said on video: “We want it to be one of the best countries in the world, because it’s what they deserve. A country that has everything. It has soy, it has meat, it has minerals, it has land, it has water, and it has only one culture, only one religion and only one race, completely homogenous.”
Salazar further questioned why, with those characteristics, Argentina is in the state it is in, referring to its crippled economy.
Democrats who see her Miami-area district as one of the few opportunities for the party in the state criticized her statement in a news release.
“María Elvira Salazar’s comments praising the notion of advancing a society with a single culture, religion, and race are antithetical to our American values,” José Muñoz, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose job is to elect and re-elect party members to the House, said in a statement.
“It is clear that Salazar is not interested in working to lower costs, provide jobs, or protect the fundamental rights of all diverse people who make up Florida’s 27th district,” he said.
In response to a question about her statements and the DCCC criticism, Salazar’s spokeswoman, Mariza Smajlaj, said in an email that “Argentines were united as one people against the failures of communism” and that Milei is a staunch anti-socialist. She said that as a former TV news journalist, Salazar reported on the impact of socialism on many countries, including Argentina, and is keeping socialism and communism from taking root in the U.S.
Her statement did not address why Salazar praised Argentina as a country with “only one culture, only one religion and only one race, completely homogenous.”
The definition of Argentina as predominantly white and Catholic is misinformation that was held through most of the 20th century and been repeated in foreign encyclopedias and textbooks, uncritically until recently, said Oscar Chamosa, an associate history professor at the University of Georgia.
"Regarding ethnicity, if something represents the Argentine population, it is its diversity," said Chamosa, the author of "Indigenous or Criollo: The Myth of White Argentina in Tucumán’s Calchaquí Valley," a 2008 article in the Hispanic American Historical Review.
“Although the official censuses do not account for race, it is apparent that there are two major ancestral groups: one of predominantly European ancestry, the result of large migration waves at the turn of the 19th century, and the other, made of the Mestizos, that is individuals of mixed Indigenous, African and Spanish ancestry," Chamosa said.
Large numbers of people identify as Indigenous and Afro-descendant immigrants from other South American countries, particularly Bolivia and Paraguay, Chamosa said.
Argentines tend to identify as Catholic, but the number of Pentecostal Protestants has been growing since the 1970s, almost exclusively among the dark-skinned working class and the South American immigrant population, he said. There also is a sizable Jewish population. But the majority of the population does not attend religious services.
"All that said, Argentines, like most Latin Americans, tend to place the nation above class, ethnic and religious differences. That strong sense of national belonging does create a form of unity. I'd recommend Ms. Salazar revisit her geography class notes," he said.
Salazar, a former Spanish-language news anchor, was re-elected last year in a pitched battle against Democrat Annette Taddeo. Salazar won her first election from Florida’s 27th District in 2020, when she defeated Rep. Donna Shalala, who had flipped the seat, which Rep. Iliana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, had held for decades.
Lucia Baez-Geller, a Miami-Dade County school board member, has stepped up to challenge Salazar in 2024, should they win their primaries, The Miami Herald reported.
Milei’s victory is being compared to Donald Trump’s 2016 White House campaign and win. A far-right outsider known from his television persona, he promises to privatize much of the government, eliminate government offices, slash spending and convert Argentina’s currency to the U.S. dollar. Milei, a strong opponent of abortion who favors loosening the country's gun laws, drew from voter frustration over 140% inflation and rising poverty.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com