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Questions surrounding shooting of Argentine vice president

Aargentina is A country of political drama and intrigue, both real and imagined.Consider, for example, Eva (“Evita”) Perón, the actress who became scammer (Shirtless) died at the young age of 33, her embalmed body stolen by officers who loathed her and feared her seductive influence in the grave. Or consider the political murders that remain unsolved. One of these was the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed 85 people. Two decades later, prosecutor Alberto Nisman brought charges against then-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, accusing her of covering up Iran’s links to the bombings (which she said were “ridiculous”). The night before he was supposed to state his case, his body was found lying in a pool of blood in his apartment. Authorities say he committed suicide. Many believe he was murdered.

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Now, Argentina is once again facing an event that combines drama and what appears to be some kind of conspiracy. On Sept. 1, a man pointed a gun at the face of the current vice president, Ms. Fernandez, at close range before pulling the trigger. She survived “for some reason … the gun did not fire,” said President Alberto Fernandez (unrelated). He denounced what he called “hate speech” in politics, the media and the judiciary. Of course, some of her opponents have made inflammatory statements and called for her to be sentenced to death. But the event is fraught with unanswered questions.

The assailant, Fernando Montiel, a 35-year-old homeless man, was caught and released last year for possessing an assault weapon. His tattoos and some of his social media posts hint at his sympathies for the far right. Was he acting alone, or was he part of a wider conspiracy? When Ms Fernandez was greeted by sympathizers when she returned to her apartment, how did her 30 security personnel keep him in such close proximity? What does the attack portend for Argentina’s polarized politics?

The incident comes as a prosecutor is seeking a 12-year prison sentence for Ms. Fernandez for her alleged role in handing public works contracts worth about $1 billion to an associate in Santa Cruz province, in Bata. Gonia, whose late husband once ruled the province. She has denied wrongdoing and said the allegations were political. She issued a tirade denouncing an alleged conspiracy against her and called on her supporters to take to the streets.

Ms Fernandez leads the left-wing populist wing of Argentina’s dominant political movement Peronism, named after Eva and her husband Juan Peron. As president from 2007 to 2015, she combined liberal measures such as legalizing same-sex marriage with nationalism and statist economics and political clientelism. She raised taxes on farmers, prompting them to protest and used the money to hand out to poorer Argentines. She tried unsuccessfully to gain control of the judiciary and private media groups.

Her political fortunes have been declining as Argentina’s economy has deteriorated. She chose Mr. Fernandez, a former critic who appeals more to moderates, to lead the Peronists in the 2019 election and to serve as her surrogate.But she fell out with him after he agreed International Monetary Fund Enact austerity measures, which she fears will hurt political clients in Buenos Aires’ impoverished suburbs. She has no policy answers for an economy with 71% inflation, central banks printing money and depleting reserves. In July, she couldn’t stop another rival Peronist, Sergio Massa, from taking over a strengthened economy ministry with a plan to cut indiscriminate subsidies.

Ms Fernandez is the most cunning Argentine politician of her generation. She took advantage of the legal case against her, calling it an “assault on the whole of Peronism,” which has formally rallied behind her. Mr Montiel’s actions add credence to her claims of being a victim. Mr Fernandez declared the next day a public holiday, allowing tens of thousands of people to march for her in Buenos Aires. The opposition also condemned the violence.

Mr. Montiel has said little so far. During police inspections, his phone was completely wiped, removing many potentially relevant information. Many will take the president’s warning to the far right at face value. Others are skeptical. This is part of the drama in Argentina, whose people may never know exactly what happened on September 1st, or why.

Read more from our Latin America columnist Bello:
Central America Accelerates Transition to Authoritarianism (August 11)
Energy subsidies in Latin America are good politics, but bad policy (July 28)
Latin American Politicians Yearn for Utopia (July 23)

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