BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Maria Belen Chapur, the woman who won former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s heart and ended any chance he’d become the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, broke her long silence on their romance Friday, telling an online Argentine news outlet that she’s still getting used to the idea of living with an American politician.
“When we’re together, we live together,” a visibly nervous Chapur told Carlos Mira on InfobaeTV, the new video streaming venture of the website to which Chapur still contributes columns. “We’re itinerant, partly in Washington, partly in Charleston.”
Although Sanford used to come to Buenos Aires, “it’s more complicated for him now” since he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. He has not come to Argentina this year. She, however, spends about half her time in the Argentine capital.
“I’m happy,” she added.
The interview was the first time Chapur has spoken openly about her relationship with Sanford, whose extramarital affair with Chapur was revealed in 2009 when he disappeared from the governor’s mansion for days after telling his staff he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail. Instead, he flew to Argentina.
The two are now engaged, and Chapur appeared on stage with Sanford in May when he declared victory in a special congressional election to replace Tim Scott after Scott was named to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jim DeMint.
But the Argentine has kept a decidedly low profile, refusing to speak to the news media both during the campaign, which featured negative publicity generated by a trespassing complaint against Sanford filed by his ex-wife, and since he was sworn in.
On Friday, she said she was just beginning to figure out her new life.
“I’m starting out, I can’t tell you much yet,” Chapur said when asked what it was like to live with an American politician. “What I can tell you is that he works a lot and deeply loves his country.”
She acknowledged that while she has met Sanford’s four children, she has not spent much time with them.
“I’ve seen them very little because there isn’t much time, but, yes, they’re doing great,” she said.
Before meeting them in person, Chapur had been seeing pictures of them for years.
“We met in 2001 in Uruguay and for 10 years we were friends,” she said. “I would receive Christmas cards with photographs of his family” before the two began a romantic relationship in 2008.
Chapur appeared to still be in campaign mode for her fiance, who must stand for re-election in November 2014. She said that he did not stay in politics for the money, implying it was a financial hardship to be in public office.
“Everybody has a fantasy that governors or lawmakers make a lot of money,” Chapur said. “I’m going to take away that fantasy because a governor in the United States makes $108,000 per year, and from that you have to take out 33 percent in taxes . . . it’s not even enough to pay for private school for his children.”
Chapur also said that Sanford has “just won the most difficult campaign of his life,” noting that “they invested $7 million against him . . . when his budget was $400,000, $600,000.”
When Mira asked Chapur how she met Sanford, she laughed nervously and said it would be the last question she would answer on the air, complaining it had turned into a gossip show. Chapur had been invited on the recently inaugurated online streaming news network to talk about the recent U.S. government shutdown and the risk of a debt default.
She revealed no differences on policy with Sanford, who once famously called her his soul mate.
“Nothing was resolved,” Chapur said of the recent end to the government shutdown. She acknowledged that there are “extremists” among Republican lawmakers, but “just because there are extremists that doesn’t mean they aren’t fundamentally right.”
Chapur writes an occasional column for Infobae, the same site that hosts the show on which she was a guest. Her latest, published on Oct. 8, addressed the topic of why a U.S. debt default is “unthinkable.” Prior to that, she wrote about the Middle East.
Chapur was once a television journalist and worked for many years with Daniel Hadad, a journalist turned media mogul who runs Infobae. The two are now close friends and Chapur confirmed news of her engagement to Sanford in August 2012 to Infobae, which also published a 15-picture slideshow of Chapur, including several of her and Sanford.
Politi is a McClatchy special correspondent.