On the evening of the 1 September, TV viewers in Argentina were horrified by a scene in which a weapon was pointed and triggered in the face of vice-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Although it was later confirmed that the gun had been loaded and ready to fire, the bullet failed to detonate, 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 Ms Fernández de Kirchner was expressed by leaders across the globe. Meanwhile, there was absolute silence from right-wing politicians in her own country.
Since then, the very slow investigation has concentrated its efforts on the individual perpetrators. Some nazi-fascist groups that had demonstrated against Ms Kirchner in the past have been investigated, and it has become clear that some of these groups had received financial support from opposition political circles.
While the investigators are reluctant to pinpoint those masterminding the murder attempt, the predominant explanation has been that a hateful right-wing discourse amplified by the mainstream media paved the way for the assassination attempt.
A subservient or an independent Argentina?
But 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 neoliberal model subservient to Washington’s hegemony and the independent model based on the emerging multipolar world. This is at the core of all political conflict in Latin America today.
Mrs Kirchner is a popular leader in Argentina and was president of the country during two previous periods (2007-11 and 2011-15) following the presidency of her husband Néstor Kirchner (2003-07).
During the ‘Kirchner period’, Argentina’s economy grew significantly, unemployment levels fell, the country paid off its foreign debt (which had been defaulted on in 2001 by a previous government), including its debt to the IMF, and renationalised some of the companies that had been privatised during the neoliberal years (1989-2001), the most significant of these being the national oil company (YPF).
In social terms, poverty levels dropped, various social plans to benefit poor families were implemented, and private pension schemes were abolished and replaced by a national system that extended pensions to housewives and all the country’s elderly.
During this period, a number of cases were reopened to bring to justice members of the armed forces who had been responsible for crimes against humanity during the military dictatorship (1976-83) but had been pardoned by previous governments. Sites of remembrance for the desaparecidos (the disappeared) 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 (such as Mercosur, Unasur, Caricom, Celac, Telesur and Parlasur), cooperation with other popular leaders like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Lula da Silva in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and José Mujica in Uruguay.
Although none of these policies abolished the privileges of the ruling classes or seriously challenged their interests, from the beginning of these presidential periods, landowners and foreign corporations alike embarked on a permanent harassment of the government and its popular agenda via their privately-owned media – especially after Ms Kirchner tried unsuccessfully to increase taxes on commodities exporters in 2008.
US imperialists and their reactionary allies push back
The highly-concentrated media that represent the interests of big capital in Latin America daily portrayed a distorted reality and promoted hate speech that took hold of and influenced different parts of society during the last years of Kirchner’s presidency.
In 2015, a right-wing neoliberal coalition won the elections and over the next four years newly-elected president Mauricio Macri’s government destroyed most of the hard-won social improvements, increasing energy tariffs by 5,000 percent, extending government control over the judiciary, and using central bank reserves to benefit corporations and financial institutions.
Argentina’s external public debt increased by 76 percent during this period, rising to more than $323bn (£285bn), and the government was granted the biggest loan in the history of the IMF.
Inevitably, this high external debt brought about three consequences: (1) the loaned money was used to return profits to corporations’ headquarters, (2) fiscal ‘adjustments’ were required in return for the loan to reduce social expenditure; and (3) strong conditions were put in place against any independent foreign policy.
In foreign policy, the Macri government aligned itself with the USA, boycotted all the previously created Latin-American institutions, recognised the self-appointed Juan Guaidó as ‘president’ of Venezuela, and participated in the coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia.
Official discourse turned sharply 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.
Meanwhile, Ms Kirchner was put on trial, charged with several counts of corruption, with the aim of imprisoning her and banning her from running for office – just as had been done with Lula in Brazil and Correa in Ecuador.
Yet after seven years of effort on the part of Argentina’s corrupt judiciary and corporate media, it proved impossible to find enough evidence to convict her.
Return of the ‘pink tide’
In 2019, Kirchner, an indisputably popular leader, was able to unite the divided ‘Peronist movement’ and others under the Frente de todos (Front for All) banner, winning the elections in the first round by 48 percent of votes as against Mr Macri’s 32 percent.
The elected government in which she serves as vice-president renegotiated the country’s external debt, recognised the official government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, was one of the first countries in the world to receive Russia‘s Sputnik V Covid vaccine, implemented taxation for the wealthy to contribute towards the pandemic expenses, gave asylum to ousted Bolivian president Evo Morales after the US-backed coup removed him from office, requested membership of the independent Brics trading group, 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 IMF, 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 all generated increased inflation and frustrated the implementation of many of the government’s policies, so that today Kirchner’s cabinet 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 of the people.
In this context, support for Ms Kirchner 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 Kirchner 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 neoliberal policies of the past.
Meanwhile, the neoliberals and right-wing circles, backed by US imperialism and aware of this growing wave of support, are looking for any way to keep Ms Kirchner out of office – permanently.