Cristina Fernández de Kirchner: arrest after attempted shooting of Argentina vice-president

Fernández de Kirchner was greeting supporters when man approached her and raised handgun to her face

A man has been arrested after a handgun was aimed at point-blank range at Argentina’s vice-president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in an apparent assassination attempt.

Fernández de Kirchner survived only because the pistol – which was loaded with five bullets – did not fire, President Alberto Fernández said.

The incident, in which Fernández de Kirchner was unharmed, took place as she was greeting supporters outside her home in the Recoleta neighbourhood of Buenos Aires at 9pm local time (0100 BST) on Thursday.

“A man pointed a firearm 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 … did not fire.”

He called it “the most serious incident since we recovered democracy” in 1983 and urged political leaders, and society at large, to repudiate the incident.

Photo shows how close gunman came to Fernández de Kirchner.
A photograph showing how close the gunman came to Fernández de Kirchner. Photograph: TELAM/AFP/Getty Images

Police arrested a suspect whom they named as Fernando Andrés Sabag Montiel, a 35-year-old Brazilian man, who has lived in Argentina since 1993. Investigators later reportedly found about 100 bullets in his home in Buenos Aires.

Thousands of Fernández’s supporters are expected to congregate in the city’s Plaza de Mayo on Friday afternoon to show their solidarity with the vice-president.

The dramatic events were captured by television cameras outside Fernández de Kirchner’s home, where supporters had been gathering for days to protest against corruption charges filed against her at court.

The footage shows a man pushing through supporters, raising a gun to Fernández de Kirchner’s face and apparently attempting a shot with the pistol, which seems to misfire. Some reports said the man pointed the gun at Fernández de Kirchner but did not fire. The two-time former president can be seen reacting, covering her face and crouching down. She was reportedly unharmed.

The security minister, Aníbal Fernández, told the cable news channel C5N that a man had been detained. “A person who was identified by those who were close to him who had a gun was detained by [the vice-president’s] security personnel. They set him aside, found the weapon, and now it must be analysed,” he said.

The minister said the firearm had five bullets “and didn’t fire even though the trigger was pulled”. He declared Friday a national holiday to give people time to “express themselves in defence of life, democracy and in solidarity with our vice-president”.

The level of verbal violence has grown alarmingly among opposition politicians in Argentina this year, mainly centred on corruption charges filed in court against Fernández de Kirchner. Some extreme opposition politicians have called for the death sentence to be reintroduced for the vice-president.

After the incident, a statement from Fernández de Kirchner’s Frente de Todos party said: “The incitement to hatred emanating from different spheres of political, media and judicial power against the former president, only led to a climate of extreme violence.”

The economy minister, Sergio Massa, called the incident an “attempted assassination”.

“When hate and violence prevail over debate, societies are destroyed and situations like these arise: attempted assassination,” he tweeted.

The former president Mauricio Macri demanded an immediate investigation into the “extremely serious” attack, “which fortunately caused no harm to the vice-president”.

“They wanted to kill [Fernández de 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, is embroiled in long-running accusations that she favoured the construction firm of a close ally for road contracts in her home province of Santa Cruz during her two terms as president from 2007 to 2015.

Prosecutor Diego Luciani last week called for a 12-year sentence for Fernández de Kirchner if convicted, provoking widespread protests across Argentina, including in front of her Buenos Aires home. She responded saying the charges were politically motivated and that she is facing “a judicial-mediatic firing squad”.

Fernández de Kirchner has been widely expected to run for the Senate, and possibly the presidency, in next year’s general elections.

Reports the alleged culprit was Brazilian sent shock waves through Brazil where fears have been growing that the extremist rhetoric of its far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, may inspire some kind of violent incident.

Brazil is a month away from a presidential election in which Bolsonaro will face his bitter rival, the leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula has reportedly taken to wearing a bullet-proof vest at rallies for fear of a similar attack from rightwing extremists.

In 2018, Bolsonaro notoriously called for supporters to “machine-gun” their leftist opponents.

The former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff condemned the attack on Fernández de Kirchner – whom she called “one of our continent’s greatest leaders” – and warned of the rising dangers of political violence.

“Political hatred and fascist-type violence, encouraged by extremist politicians, are a threat to democracy in Latin America,” Rousseff tweeted.

News of the incident in Buenos Aires prompted outrage across the region and beyond.

Pope Francis phoned the vice-president from the Vatican in Rome, and also sent a telegram saying: “I pray that social harmony and respect for democratic values will prevail in beloved Argentina, against all kinds of violence and aggression.”

The Argentinian pontiff is seen as politically sympathetic to Fernández de Kirchner, who he has received at the Vatican several times.

The Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, said his country was “appalled” and called the incident “attempted murder”.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said Washington strongly condemned the attempted assassination. “We stand with the Argentine government and people in rejecting violence and hate,” Blinken said.

The Chilean president, Gabriel Boric Font, said the attempted assassination ought to be condemned by the entire continent.

“I send my solidarity to her, to the government, and to the Argentinian people,” he tweeted. “The path must always be that of ideas and dialogue, never that of weapons and violence.”

The sentiments were echoed by Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, who offered his support to the vice-president and all Argentinians. “Hatred and violence will never triumph over democracy,” he tweeted.


Uki Goñi in Buenos Aires, Tom Phillips and Sam Jones

The GuardianTramp

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