State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus described the leaders of Venezuela, Iran, and Syria as the “three evil amigos” during a panel discussion on Monday evening.
Ortagus, who was hired for the State Department position from Fox News in April, was introducing the panel’s speakers when she used the phrase.
“We were joking backstage that these three gentlemen are ambassadors to the three evil amigos: the Ayatollah, Assad, and Maduro,” Ortagus said, referring to Iran’s leader, Ali Khamenei; Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad; and Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro.
The panelists were Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran; Elliott Abrams, the special representative for Venezuela; and James Jeffrey, the special representative for Syria engagement. The panel on “Diplomacy in the World’s Hot Spots” was part of the Concordia Summit, a three-day event hosted by Concordia, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization “dedicated to actively fostering, elevating, and sustaining cross-sector partnerships for social impact,” according to its website.
Later in the discussion, Jeffrey referred back to the phrase when discussing the Syrian government’s actions against its people. (The Assad regime has repeatedly been accused by U.S. officials and the United Nations of using chemical warfare against civilians, leading to the deaths of thousands of Syrians.)
“In the three amigo evil sweepstakes, Syria trumps even Venezuela because 30% of the population have fled that country and another 20% have fled Assad’s rule into areas under control of the opposition or foreign forces, including American forces,” Jeffrey said.
This isn’t the first time that members of the Trump administration have peppered their statements with phrases that University of Arizona anthropologist-linguist Jane H. Hill calls “mock Spanish.” The president himself has also frequently used words like “loco” and “hombre” when speaking disparagingly of others.
Hill argues that the use of “mock Spanish” marginalizes members of historically Spanish-speaking populations, assigning them “undesirable qualities” including “gross sexual appetites, political corruption, laziness, disorders of language, and mental incapacity.” She adds that those who use such language “play their part in a larger racist system, and contribute to its pernicious and lethal effects.”
It should also be noted that two of the three leaders in question aren’t from Spanish-speaking countries.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment from TheWrap. You can watch the stream from the panel above.