What is behind the attempted murder of the Vice-president of Argentina?

In the evening of the 1 September, TV viewers in Argentina were horrified by a scene in which a weapon was pointed at the vice-president of the country, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK), and triggered pointing at her face.

Although later it was confirmed that the gun was loaded and ready to fire, the bullet failed to fire which was considered a ‘miracle’. In a matter of minutes, the news spread all over the world and condemnation of the assassination attempt and solidarity with Mrs Fernández de Kirchner was expressed by leaders across the globe but there was absolute silence from right-wing politicians in the country.

Since then, the very slow investigation has concentrated its efforts on the individual perpetrators and some Nazi-fascist groups that had demonstrated against CFK in the past have been investigated. It has recently become clear that some of these groups had received financial support from the opposition political circles.

While the investigators are reluctant to find those masterminding the murder attempt, the predominant explanation is that a hateful right-wing discourse amplified by the mainstream media has paved the way for what has happened. Although hate speech has played a role, this is only the tip of the iceberg of a greater conflict; the conflict between two models of development: the neo-liberal model subservient to Washington’s hegemony and the independent model based on the emerging multipolar world. This is today at the core of the conflict in Latin America.

But first let us introduce Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK). Mrs Kirchner is a popular leader in Argentina and was president of the country in two periods (2007-2011 and 2011-2015) following the presidency of her husband (2003-2007).

During the ‘Kirchner period’ the economy grew significantly, unemployment levels decreased, Argentina paid its foreign debt which was defaulted in 2001 by previous governments, including the debt with the IMF, and re-nationalised some of the companies privatised during the neo-liberal years (1989-2001), the most relevant being the national oil company (YPF).

In social terms, levels of poverty dropped, a number of social plans to benefit poor families were implemented, and private pensions schemes were abolished and replaced by a caring national system that extended pensions to housewives and elderly people.

During this period, a number of cases were reopened to bring to justice those members of the armed forces who had been responsible for crimes against humanity during the military dictatorship (1976-1983) and had been pardoned by previous governments. Sites of remembrance for the desaparecidos were also created across the country.

Foreign policy, the most independent since the return of democracy in 1983, was defined by an increase in multilateral positions and the development of institutions for the integration of Latin America (like the Mercosur, Unasur, Caricom, CELAC, Telesur, Parlasur), working together with other popular leaders like Chávez in Venezuela, Lula in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador and Mujica in Uruguay.

Although, none of these policies touched the privileges of the ruling classes or challenged their interests, from the beginning of these presidential periods, landowners and foreign corporations alike embarked in a permanent harassment of the government and its policies through mainstream media, especially after CFK tried unsuccessfully to increase the taxation of the commodities exporters in 2008.

The highly concentrated mainstream media who represent the interests of big capital, daily portrayed a distorted reality and promoted hate speech that took hold of and influenced different parts of society during the last years of her presidency.

In 2015, a right-wing neo-liberal coalition won the elections and in four years Mr Mauricio Macri, the newly elected president of the country, destroyed most of the social improvements, increased energy tariffs by 5,000% during the period 2015-2019, extended government control over the judiciary and used most of Central Bank reserves to benefit corporations and financial institutions.

The external public debt increased by 76% during the period to more than 323 billion USD (£285) and the government was granted the biggest loan in the history of the IMF. As always happens, the external debt brought about three consequences: (1) the money being used to return profits to corporations’ headquarters, (2) fiscal adjustments being required in social expenditure and (3) strong conditions being put in place against any independent foreign policy.

In foreign policy, the Macri government aligned itself with Washington, boycotted all the previously created Latin America institutions, recognised self-appointed Mr Guaidó as president of Venezuela and participated in the coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia.

The official discourse turned more to the right, in particular with the stigmatisation of the poor and of migrants from neighbouring countries, with a notable increase in police repression against any sort of dissent. CFK was put on trial, charged with several cases of corruption, with the aim of imprisoning her and banning her from running for office, in the same manner as was done with Lula in Brazil and Correa in Ecuador. Yet after seven years of effort on the part of the corrupt judiciary and the mainstream media, it proved impossible to find enough evidence to charge her.

In 2019 CFK, an indisputably popular leader, was able to unite the divided ‘Peronist movement’ and other movements under the ‘Frente de todos’ (Front for All) banner, winning the elections in the first round by 48% of the votes against Mr Macri’s 32%.

The elected government renegotiated the external debt, recognised the official government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, was one of the first countries in the world to receive the Sputnik V vaccine, implemented taxation for the wealthy to contribute to the pandemic expenses, gave asylum to the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales after the military coup, requested to join the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and tried to ameliorate, without much success, the life of the poorest people in the country.

But despite the best of intentions, the limits imposed by the monetary fund, the coercion from Washington to abandon any independent foreign policy and the pressure from the big food producers to obtain international prices in the internal market generated increased inflation and frustrated the implementation of many of the policies of the government which today finds itself ‘lost in its own maze’.

The indecisive figure of President Alberto Fernández carries most of the blame, but in fact the ideological limitations of the Peronist movement are at the core of the government’s inability to address the problems of the country and confront the real enemies.

In this context, support for CFK from the popular movements has increased. Some support her in the hope that she could develop more progressive policies than the current ones, some in the hope that a CFK leadership could unite the disunited movement again, some in the hope that she will lead the movement in the next elections, and millions in the hope of not returning to the neo-liberal policies of the past.

Meanwhile, the neo-liberals and right-wing circles, aware of this growing support are hoping to ban her from running for office forever or, if this proves to be impossible, then accomplishing what was left undone.