The attack against Cristina Kirchner pushes political polarization to the limit in Argentina

Supporters gather near the residence of Argentine Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner this Friday in Buenos Aires.Juan Ignacio Roncoroni (EFE)

Political violence in Argentina has escalated to unprecedented levels in almost 40 years of democracy. Thursday night, Fernando Andre Sabag Montiela 35-year-old Brazilian, pointed a loaded gun at the head of the vice president of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The pistol, a Bersa 32 caliber semi-automatic, had five bullets in the magazine but it did not work. The attack was the first against a high-ranking official since Raúl Alfonsín replaced a military officer in the Casa Rosada in 1983. The entire political arc joined in a closed repudiation, with calls for peace and shows of solidarity towards the former president. But the consensus in the parties does not reach the street. Many Kirchnerists have accused the opposition and the media of fueling violence against the former president through hate speech. On the other hand, anti-Kirchnerist sectors consider that the attack has been staged to distract attention from the corruption cases that Fernández de Kirchner is facing.

In Buenos Aires there is a great commotion before an attack that nobody believed possible. The assailant blended into the crowd Kirchnerist who was waiting for the vice president in front of her home and managed to reach a few centimeters from her and point her out. “Last night was the longest, saddest, darkest night in a long, long time. We have to mobilize to defend democracy,” says retired Julián Pereyra on his way to the Plaza de Mayo mobilization called by the ruling coalition, the Peronist Frente de Todos. “I am here to defend a democracy that cost us all Argentines so much blood,” says Rosa Jiménez, wrapped in an albiceleste flag.

When questioned about the possibility of a political truce, most protesters are pessimistic. “I am a doomsayer. It may be that for a few days this will calm down, but when you listen to some messages from the opposition you realize that it won’t last long”, says taxi driver Horacio Luis Lotitto. “I hope that the leadership lives up to this situation, we ask them for institutional responsibility, but I doubt that will be the case, I hope I am wrong,” says Fátima López.

The climate of polarization has even installed in some sectors the idea that, despite not providing any argument, everything responds to a montage by Peronism. “Everything is armed, everything, didn’t you see the images? She adjusts her hair, doesn’t flinch. In three weeks she announces her presidential campaign, you’ll see, ”criticizes a kiosk as he sees protesters passing by on their way to the epicenter of the country’s great mobilizations.

The assassination attempt has diverted the attention of all of Latin America to Argentina at a time when eyes were on Sunday’s constitutional referendum in Chile. Alberto Fernández described the attack as the “most serious” event recorded in the country since the end of the dictatorship. At the stroke of midnight on Thursday, the president declared a national holiday so that people could join the demonstrations of repudiation. The decision did not go down well in opposition provinces, such as Mendoza (west) and Jujuy (north), which did not abide by it. “We must work normally, which is the best way to repudiate any expression of violence and adherence to social peace,” said the Mendoza government, headed by the radical Rodolfo Suárez.

The Cabinet of Ministers has met urgently to analyze the state of social unrest and Fernández has convened for this Friday afternoon the trade union, social, business, religious and human rights sectors “to build a broad consensus against hate speech and violence”, according to the statement issued by the Argentine Presidency. Congress will meet on Saturday in an extraordinary session to repudiate the attack.

The attack against Kirchner has lowered the levels of violence that has been growing between the parties for months, but it is possible that everything is an illusion. Both the president and members of his Cabinet blamed the attack on the hateful messages poured from opposition, judicial and media spaces. The main leaders of the macrismo were careful to respond to the president, with the exception of his most extreme representative. Mauricio Macri’s former Security Minister, Patricia Bullrich, accused the president of “playing with fire.” “Instead of seriously investigating a serious incident, he accuses the opposition and the press, and decrees a holiday to mobilize militants. He turns an individual act of violence into a political move.”

The tension between Kirchnerists and anti-Kirchnerists, which has lasted almost two decades, began a dangerous upward spiral since a prosecutor asked Kirchner for 12 years in prison on August 22 for alleged corruption during his two governments (2007-2015). The request for imprisonment was received with applause by detractors of the vice president and, at the same time, activated a great wave of popular support among her supporters.

Cristina Kirchner considers herself the victim of judicial persecution, orchestrated by a right wing in which she places Macri, the big media and businessmen, all presumably coordinated by the United States. Two Tuesdays ago, Kirchner defended himself against accusations of corruption with a live speech on social networks. She said that in Argentina there is a “judicial party” that has decided to ban her from politics, fearful that in 2023 she will be a candidate and obtain a third term. “This is not a trial against Cristina Kirchner, it is a trial against Peronism,” she said then, raising the ghost of the decades in which her party was banned by the military. The prison request against the president activated a great wave of popular support.

Since then, hundreds of protesters have gathered every day in front of his house in the Recoleta neighborhood., one of the richest in the city of Buenos Aires, to give him his support. The neighbors complain about what they consider an inadmissible occupation of the public space. The situation exploded a week ago. The head of the Government of Buenos Aires and political rival of Kirchner, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, put up fences to prevent further demonstrations. The Kirchnerists demolished them and the police repressed them with pepper spray. At night, Kirchner asked his supporters to put an end to the neighborhood siege, while demanding that the opposition stop “competing to see who hates the Peronists the most and who beats them the most.” His son, deputy Máximo Kirchner, upped the ante even more and said that the detractors of the vice president were seeing “who kills the first Peronist.” “Those things end very badly,” he anticipated.

The opposition reaction further fueled the state of general tension. From the toughest sectors of the macrismo they accused Mayor Rodríguez Larreta, one of their own, of letting himself be defeated by the Kirchnerists and removing the fences. And Kirchner for promoting violence with his constant calls for popular mobilization. They are the same groups that call the vice president a “mare” or “chorra”, while they march with a guillotine that they adorn with inflatables in a striped suit. “Prisoners, dead or exiled” is one of the slogans of those mobilizations against Peronism.

Finally, Máximo Kirchner’s warning was fulfilled and things ended badly on Thursday night. The combination of mobilized Peronism and politicians crossing accusations crystallized in a gun triggered on the face of the vice president.

Peronism is historically a source of great conflicting passions. In 1955, the Navy aircraft bombed the Plaza de Mayo during office hours, leaving 308 dead. Then came Perón’s exile in Spain and an escalation of violence that reached its zenith with the 1976 dictatorship. The return to democracy in 1983 drastically changed the rules of the game. In Argentina there are no attacks of political origin and the presidents feel safe with minimal custody. But when the problems get worse, those memories return, either as an alibi or simply as a mobilization strategy.

The detractors of the vice president have redoubled their militancy on social networks with messages in which they warn that the assassination attempt is a setup. The Kirchnerists redoubled their bet on the street.

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