Former head of state Mauricio Macri hit back at President Alberto Fernández on Tuesday, accusing his successor of misrepresenting a conversation between the two and of disrespecting the “value” of the presidency.
In the war of words between the two leaders, carried out on social networks and in radio interviews, Argentina’s past and present presidents clashed over the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The row started on Sunday, when in an interview President Fernández alleged that his predecessor had called him on March 19 – the day before the Peronist leader ordered a nationwide quarantine to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in the country – and advised him not to order the lockdown, regardless of the cost in lives.
According to the president’s version of events, Macri suggested leaving “all the people on the street," saying that "those who die have to die.”
However, in a strongly worded response on social networks, the former president denied the Fernández’s version of events and suggested his character was being slurred.
"The version that the president has told about our conversation is false. In no way did I say the things that he has related in these days," Macri said in an open letter from Switzerland scathingly titled “The value of the presidential word.”
"It is true that I spoke with President Fernández on March 19, before the announcement of social and compulsory isolation. I called him, to put myself at his disposal and show him my support at a time of difficult decisions for the country and for the whole world," he said.
The ex-president, who led Argentina from 2015 to 2019, said Fernández’s comments were inappropriate for his position, declaring boldly that “the credibility of the presidential word must be cared for like a treasure."
Taking aim, Macri said that he wanted to “remind the president that nothing is more important for a political leader – and especially for a president – than his word.”
“Argentina needs broad and generous consensus to solve the problems that it has caused for decades,” he concluded.
It's not the first time the two leaders have found themselves at loggerheads since the handover of the Presidency in December. Fernández has been strident in the criticism of the former administration at times.
In another recent interview when discussing employment rates, the Peronist leader said that his administration “did better” with the coronavirus than with the Macri administration
"In the midst of the pandemic, the drop in registered employment was less" than in 2019, the final year of his predecessor’s government, the president claimed.
Macri in turn has been critical of the lockdown measures in Argentina and members of his centre-right coalition Juntos por el Cambio coalition have backed citizen-led anti-government protests against the restrictions put in place to battle the coronavirus.
The former president also vocalised his support for this month's '#17A' anti-government rally and those who demonstrated – a move governing officials described as "irresponsible."
Speaking at the inauguration of a train station in Pilar later on Tuesday, Fernández showed no sign of backing down.
“Some recommended that the economy should not slow down and that society stop, that those who have to fall, fall, that those that have to fall ill get sick and that those that have to die, die. I preferred to preserve the lives of the people, the health of the Argentines, rather than gain one more peso in the economy,” declared the president.
Argentina has recorded more than 340,000 infections of the novel coronavirus, with more than 7,000 deaths.
In the first half of 2020, the economy contracted by 12.9 percent compared to the same period of the previous year. GDP is expected to contract by more than 10 percent this year. The country has been in recession since 2018.