(Bloomberg) – A man has been arrested in Argentina after pointing a gun at Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as she greeted supporters outside her residence in Buenos Aires, a rare case of political violence that has shocked the nation South American.
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Video footage circulating on social media late Thursday showed a man approaching within inches of the vice president and pulling the trigger on the gun, which did not fire. The man was arrested at the scene.
The incident comes at a time when Argentina is bitterly polarized after years of economic crisis and political infighting. Even the Peronist ruling coalition is split between far-left supporters of Kirchner and more moderate supporters of President Alberto Fernandez. Argentina has experienced low levels of political violence since the return to democracy in 1983.
Fernandez said the incident was an “attempt on the life” of the vice president and that the gun had five bullets but did not fire “for technical reasons that have yet to be confirmed.”
A video of the attack is shared on Twitter and has been viewed millions of times.
— Eric Martin (@EMPosts) September 2, 2022
“We are forced to regain the democratic coexistence shattered by hate speech,” he said in a recorded video message, adding that he declared Friday a national holiday. “This event is extremely serious.”
On Friday, Kirchner supporters are expected to gather in downtown Buenos Aires to show solidarity. A spokesperson for Kirchner did not say if she would speak later in the day.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the left-leaning former Brazilian president who is trying to beat Jair Bolsonaro in next month’s election, tweeted his solidarity with Kirchner. Governments around the world sent their condolences to Kirchner and his government through Thursday evening and Friday morning.
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“This violence and political hatred encouraged by some is a threat to democracy in our region,” Lula said in a tweet.
Government and opposition officials in Argentina united in denouncing the attack, with senators from both sides coming together for a photo in congress showing their support for all parties. As vice president, Kirchner is the leader of the senate.
“If the political class stands above this crime and comes to consensus on key issues,” it could help lift public opinion across the spectrum, said Lucas Romero, director of consultancy firm Synopsis. based in Buenos Aires. “If this doesn’t happen, this crime will spread throughout the political division.”
Former President Mauricio Macri, a political rival of Kirchner, condemned the incident, asking the justice and security system to clarify the events around the situation as soon as possible.
The attacker is a 35-year-old man of Brazilian nationality living in Argentina who had a history of carrying weapons, according to the Clarin newspaper. Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Franca said the country’s embassy in Buenos Aires was monitoring the situation closely.
Crowds have gathered outside Kirchner’s home in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires since a federal prosecutor last week called for 12 years in prison and a life ban from public office for the former president as part of of a trial for corruption.
Read more: Argentinian vice-president asks supporters for calm after clashes
Kirchner is accused of alleged fraud and leading an “illicit association” with other government officials and businessmen, whose companies received numerous public works contracts while she was president of Argentina from 2007 to 2015.
The vice president, who holds top-tier immunity in her dual role in the Senate, has long denied any wrongdoing, lambasting the charges as politically motivated. She is unlikely to face a short-term prison sentence.
Read more: Why 70% inflation is just one of Argentina’s problems
The assassination attempt comes at an already chaotic time for crisis-prone Argentina. Inflation is above 70%, the highest level in three decades and fueling fears of a possible currency devaluation. Nearly 40% of Argentines live in poverty. The government’s internal division on economic strategy has resulted in three economy ministers since early July.
Argentina is struggling to meet its $44 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund, which has long been a source of division between Kirchner and Fernandez. As the government cuts spending, it hasn’t built up enough cash reserves to come close to meeting the deal’s target, raising questions about how the IMF and Argentina will move forward. ‘before.
Economy Minister Sergio Massa is due to meet IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on Sept. 12 in Washington, according to an IMF spokesperson.
(Updates with analyst commentary and additional details)
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