BUENOS AIRES – Every day for the past two weeks, the routine has been the same: Argentina’s powerful Vice President Cristina Fernández met a crowd of feverish supporters eager to touch their leader. And every day she followed them and drew near to them.
But on Thursday, the routine pressing of the flesh took an eerie turn when a man in the sea of supporters aimed a handgun inches at the vice president’s face and pulled the trigger with a distinct click.
The loaded .38 caliber semi-automatic weapon apparently jammed and the suspect was arrested. Now the apparent assassination begs the question of whether the most influential woman in Argentine politics of the last two decades should change her relationship with the many staunch supporters who are constantly looking for a handshake or autograph.
“Cristina was cornered,” said Silvana Venegas, a 43-year-old woman who witnessed the incident. “She was easy prey, very easy.”
Fernández continued signing autographs and waving for a few minutes afterward. Their security detail arrested the shooter but did not remove them from the area.
Jorge Vidal, a public safety expert who used to work for the Buenos Aires Municipality, said the security forces’ response to the incident was “far from a professional performance.”
While security teams must do as they are told by their guards, he said, “Politicians must understand that not all hands that are outstretched to touch or greet are to be caressed or shaken.”
No politician arouses more passion in Argentina than 69-year-old Fernández, who is revered by some for her left-wing social policies, reviled by others as corrupt and power-hungry, and who has long drawn political strength from her closeness to the masses.
Supporters liken her to Eva Perón, the wife of Juan Domingo Perón, a military officer who was elected president in 1946. As First Lady, Perón championed women’s rights and was known as a benefactor to the poor. After her early death in 1952, she was included in Argentina’s national mythology.
Devotion to Fernández has intensified recently after a prosecutor tried to jail her for 12 years on public works-related corruption charges while she was president from 2007 to 2015.
Fernández and her supporters say the case is an act of political revenge, and the facade of their apartment building in the Recoleta neighborhood of downtown Buenos Aires has become a haven for hundreds of supporters outraged by the allegations against them.
Every day when she went and came back, she would shake hands with men and women who were shouting “Cristina, I love you!”. She also autographed dozens of copies of her political autobiography entitled Sinceramente, or Spanish for sincere.
A young man who was in the crowd Thursday night said he was right in front of Fernández when the gun appeared.
“I tell Cristina that I loved her and she caresses me. I see an arm sticking out … with a gun,” the man, identified only as Javier for security reasons, told reporters Friday after giving his testimony to the coroner.
The only previous incident occurred last Saturday when tensions arose between Fernández supporters and the police, who were attempting to remove them following complaints from neighbors.
The vice president complained about the treatment of her supporters and accused Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta of keeping her under siege, and security around the building was soon relaxed.
“We noticed that there were fewer police officers. I saw two from the federal police. It was full of people,” Venegas said.
Javier, the young witness, told the court that he and other supporters arrested the suspect, not the police.
“I grab him and others too,” he said.
The Vice President has not commented publicly since the incident. Some friends and political allies were able to see them.
“Cristina is shocked, shocked,” said Senator Oscar Parrilli, who is close to the vice president. “Luckily, she’s doing fine because she has her spirit and temper intact.”
The attempted shooting rocked Argentina, a country that has a history of political violence but has not faced a similar attack since democracy was restored in 1983 after years of dictatorship.
President Alberto Fernández, who is not related to the vice president, said the gun was loaded with five bullets and was not fired for “a reason that has not yet been technically confirmed.”
The suspect has been identified as Fernando André Sabag Montiel, a 35-year-old street vendor from Brazil who has lived in Argentina since 1998 and has no criminal record. He was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. Authorities have not shed any light on a possible motive and are investigating whether the shooter acted alone or as part of a larger conspiracy.
The day after the incident, Fernandez’s supporters demonstrated across the country under the slogan “Everyone with Cristina”.
Buenos Aires’ central Plaza de Mayo is packed with people of all ages waving handwritten signs with messages such as “Always with Cristina, the people don’t forget” and “Cristina belongs to the people and nobody touches her”.
Meanwhile, dozens of federal agents stood guard at her home.
Fernández emerged and approached a group of supporters to greet them, then got into a car to drive to an undisclosed destination.
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/09/03/attack-raises-doubts-about-argentine-vps-security-protocols/ Attack raises doubts about Argentine VP’s security protocols