Members of Argentina’s main opposition coalition, Juntos por el Cambio, found themselves at loggerheads this week after an explosive reaction to a statement put out by the grouping’s leader Patricia Bullrich.
The former security minister led efforts to issue a public statement after it emerged that the body of Fabián Gutiérrez had been found in El Calafate. Gutiérrez, a former presidential secretary to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, had testified in the sweeping ‘Cuadernos’ corruption investigation as a state witness, after facing initial money-laundering charges in the probe himself.
Gutiérrez’s killing sparked an immediate reaction, prompting opposition supporters and even some lawmakers to suggest that he may have been murdered in an attempt to silence him and cover up graft during the Kirchnerite administrations.
That thesis now seems to have been debunked, with the local investigating judge confirming four individuals had been arrested and that a political connection is not thought to his investigation.
Events began rolling last Saturday, when the shocking news emerged that Fabián Gutiérrez, a businessman and former private secretary to ex-presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, had been found dead in El Calafate.
As news of the killing spread through political circles, the three parties that make up Juntos por el Cambio geared into action, with texts exchanged between the presidents of PRO, UCR and the Coalición Cívica. Minutes before 3pm, a statement – titled “A crime of extreme institutional gravity – was uploaded to social networks, calling for a full investigation and the investigation to be moved under federal jurisdiction. It was by signed by Bullrich, Federico Angelini (both PRO), Alfredo Cornejo, Alejandra Lordén (both UCR) and Maximiliano Ferraro and Mariana Zuvic (Civic Coalition).
"The kidnapping, disappearance and murder of Fabián Gutiérrez, who in 2018 confessed in court to having witnessed the corruption circuits of Kircherismo, is a crime of the greatest institutional gravity,” read the statement. “We ask that, for the possible connection of his death with crimes federal, the investigation passes to the orbit of federal justice. And that there are no relatives of the vice president Cristina Kirchner in the process.”
According to reports over the last few days in local outlets, a number of coalition members are unhappy with the statement penned by Bullrich, a former security minister who often clashes with Peronist politicians.
Vocalising his dissent last Sunday, Nicolás Massot (PRO) said he thought some members of the coalition was operating under the "false idea" that "the political class has to comment on the events as soon as they happen."
It is “a matter for Justice,” he added, rejecting this idea that you have an obligation to give an opinion as soon as the events that trigger judicial cases happen – it is the complete opposite of what we politicians say when we say that we respect the independence of Justice.”
Cornejo played down reports that there was disagreement in the ranks on Monday in an interview. "Those opinions are off, no-one expressed a critical opinion to me," he told Radio Con Vos.
Some analysts now suggest that the coalition is separating into two clear streams: a more hardline group unafraid of confrontation with the government and a more centrist grouping that seeks to adopt a more responsible approach.
According to reports in both Infobae and Perfil this week, some members of the opposition coalition are unhappy that they weren’t consulted fully before the statement was issued, while some parties are said to be taking steps to ensure such a move doesn’t happen again.
Perfil’s Ezequiel Spillman reported this week that Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and ex-Buenos Aires Province governor María Eugenia Vidal have decided to create a special executive committee with figures from each of the three parties in order to ensure communiqués are approved prior to them being issued.
Bullrich, for her part, has rejected criticism that the statement implied Kirchnerite elements were behind the crime. She also hit back at suggestions from President Alberto Fernández, issued in a tweet, that the opposition had been irresponsible in issuing the statement.
"I remind you that you were one of the first to link our government with the disappearance of [Santiago] Maldonado,” she posted on Twitter, a reference to the late artisan who went missing in 2017. “You did not have the slightest compunction then in saying that it had been a state crime."
"Understand the seriousness of the situation, president. As a man of the law, I do not have to explain to you that ours is a request for transparency to clarify the crime," she concluded.