A man has been arrested after pointing a gun at close range at Argentina’s vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in what the president said was an attempt on her life.
Fernández de Kirchner survived only because the gun — which was loaded with five bullets — failed to fire, President Alberto Fernández said.
The incident, in which Fernández de Kirchner appeared unharmed, happened when she greeted supporters outside her home in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires at 9 p.m. Thursday.
“A man pointed a gun at her head and pulled the trigger,” the president said in a national broadcast. “Cristina is still alive because, for some reason yet to be confirmed, the gun…didn’t go off.”
He called it “the most serious incident since we restored democracy” in 1983 and urged political leaders and society at large to reject the incident.
The Argentine newspaper Clarín reported that a 35-year-old Brazilian man had been arrested on the spot.
The dramatic events were captured by television cameras outside Fernández de Kirchner’s home, where supporters had gathered for days to protest corruption charges brought against her in court.
The footage shows the man pushing through supporters, pointing a gun at Fernández de Kirchner’s face and apparently trying a shot, which seems to fail. According to some reports, the man aimed the gun at Fernández de Kirchner, but did not fire. The two-time former president, Argentina’s leading political figure, can be seen reacting, covering her face and leaning forward. She was reportedly unharmed.
Security Minister Aníbal Fernández told local news channel C5N that a man had been arrested. “A person identified by those close to him who had a gun was detained by” [the vice-president’s] security personnel. They put it aside, found the weapon and now it needs to be analyzed,” he said.
Fernández said the firearm had five bullets “and did not fire even though the trigger was pulled”. He declared Friday a national holiday to give people time to “express themselves in defense of life, democracy and in solidarity with our Vice President”.
The level of verbal abuse has risen alarmingly this year among opposition politicians in Argentina, mainly over corruption charges brought in court against Fernández de Kirchner. Some extreme opposition politicians have called for the reintroduction of the death penalty for the vice president.
After the incident, a statement from Fernández de Kirchner’s Frente de Todos party said: “The incitement of hatred from various political, media and judiciary forces against the former president only created a climate of extreme violence.”
Economy Minister Sergio Massa called the incident an “attempted murder”.
“When hate and violence prevail over debate, societies are destroyed and situations like this arise: attempted murder,” he said in a tweet.
Former President Mauricio Macri demanded an immediate investigation into this “extremely serious” attack, “which fortunately did not harm the vice president”.
“They Wanted to Kill” [Kirchner],” tweeted Argentina’s Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero. “This is the most serious act of political violence since the return of democracy.”
Fernández de Kirchner, a powerful and divisive figure in Argentina, has been embroiled in long-running allegations that she preferred a close ally’s construction company to road contracts during her two terms as president from 2007-2015 in her home province of Santa Cruz.
Prosecutor Diego Luciani last week pushed for a 12-year prison term if convicted, sparking widespread protests across Argentina, including in front of Fernández de Kirchner’s Buenos Aires home. She replied that the charges were politically motivated and that she is facing “a judicial-media firing squad”.
It is widely expected that Fernández de Kirchner will run for the Senate and possibly the presidency in next year’s general election.
Reports that the alleged perpetrator was a Brazilian sent shockwaves through Brazil, where fears grew that the extremist rhetoric of its far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, could lead to some sort of violent incident.
Brazil is a month away from a presidential election in which Bolsonaro will face his bitter rival, left-wing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula has reportedly worn a bulletproof vest at rallies for fear of a similar attack from right-wing extremists.
Last week, the Guardian saw federal police officers checking garbage cans for explosives before Lula, an ally of Fernández de Kirchner, gave a press conference for foreign media in São Paulo.
In 2018, Bolsonaro infamously called on supporters to “machine gun” their left-wing opponents.
News of the events sparked outrage across the region.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez said his country was “shocked” and called the incident “attempted assassination”.
“Hate will not prevail,” tweeted Sacha Llorenti, Bolivia’s former ambassador to the United Nations.
Gleisi Hoffman, the president of Brazil’s Workers’ Party, said the attack was “the result of political violence and hate speech”.
“Thank goodness she got out unharmed,” wrote Lula, who attributed the attack to “a criminal fascist.”