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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 29-06-2024 04:52

From the attempted murder of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to an attempted coup in Bolivia

Fernando Sabag Montiel is a consequence of an exhausted political and economic system in Argentina, while Milei has emerged as a response to that same failure.

“First and foremost, I’m apolitical. The reasons or justifications as to why I [tried to murder Cristina Fernández de Kirchner] are not tied to having an ideology that is opposed to Kirchnerism.” So spoke Fernando Sabag Montiel, the man accused of trying to murder the ex-president in September 2022 when he approached her amidst a crowd in front of her apartment, pointed a gun at her face and pulled the trigger. The gun, as we know, never fired. 

“The ends are more personal rather than in the benefit of a political sector,” added Sabag Montiel in an extravagant intervention during the first day of the trial for the attempted murder of the ex-head of state. The prime suspect stands accused together with ex-girlfriend Brenda Uliarte and former employer in a street vending business Nicolás Carrizo. 

“All of the reasons stem from the same place, that [CFK] is corrupt, that she’s a murderer. She brought inflation to Argentina, and I felt humiliated having gone from being well-off economically to street salesman. While it’s a personal issue, indirectly [she] has a lot of influence, it affects all of us,” said Sabag Montiel.

As with many judicial investigations in Argentina since the return of democracy in 1983, the case of the attempted murder of Fernández de Kirchner, and the main protagonist, Sabag Montiel, is fascinating. In a way, it resembles the literary genre of magical realism, of which Gabriel García Marquez is the foremost exponent. To a certain extent, these cases and the wild theories that circulate about them say a lot about the wild state of affairs in a country that fathoms itself as nearly a first world country, at least culturally. Listening to Sabag Montiel, who appears rational and capable of building complex arguments, this week describe that he decided to murder the primus inter pares of Argentine politics given his personal feeling of needing to exact revenge for the economic decrepitude of the country illustrates a certain decadence of Argentine society. 

Sabag Montiel, who appears to have been radicalised in his anti-systemic ideology in great part on digital forums, had a gradual and consistent descent into a state of marginalisation that seems to have justified the use of physical violence against the person he considered responsible for his fate – none other than the leader of Kirchnerism. Apart from the economic decadence that in great part began with the end of the Kirchnerite cycle, Cristina’s presidencies were also marked by a cultural war that saw a deepening of polarisation and increased levels of aggression. Whether social media helped create this or only exacerbated it is still under discussion, but it is undeniable that public discourse has become more of a space for militancy than public debate.

Javier Milei is also the consequence of a local and global paradigm shift. There isn’t a clearcut moment, such as when the previous model of financialised global capitalism lost steam, but across the globe there had been a trend of stagnant middle-class wages that has fed a stark anti-system sentiment, particularly among the disillusioned youth in Western democracies. In Argentina, Kirchnerism’s hegemony helped spark a mirror movement aimed at eradicating it, identifying all of the abuses of power it had under its belt after more than a decade of absolute power within the weak institutional framework of Argentine democracy. The digital revolution, powered by the penetration of the Internet into every aspect of our lives and the proliferation of smartphones, has led to the widespread use of social media as a means of both information and entertainment. This has exacerbated certain ideological positions, dragging them toward the extremes, while giving fringe movements a voice that has made it possible for absolute outsiders to take the centre of the stage. While Barack Obama and Mauricio Macri used sophisticated digital marketing strategies to become presidents in their respective countries, both viewed politics in a professional manner. The same methods allowed Donald Trump and Milei to turn the system on its head, in Trump’s case probably for personal benefit, while for Milei the ultimate goal is to destroy the state and put in place an anarcho-capitalist reality.

In the current information ecosystem, synthetic power is built on top of deep communities tied together by ideological affinity that seek self-congratulation. The most efficient way of communicating on social media is through attractive images and short videos, allowing the quick portrayal of a simple, generally binary idea to millions. Thus, today it is possible for Milei to spend a large amount of his time jetting around Europe to receive distinctions from second-tier institutions and toss his hat in the ring for a Nobel Prize, indicating he should win one for economics if he manages to turn around Argentina. Lying and manipulating the public is as old as politics itself, but in the current information ecosystem it has become exponentially scalable at little to no cost.

The “crazy circus” of Latin American socio-political reality also extended this week to Bolivia, where an attempted coup d’état saw the head of the Armed Forces lead a charge to the presidential palace, only to step down minutes later after having had discussed things face-to-face with the very president he was seeking to depose. General Juan José Zúñiga indicated he wouldn’t allow former president Evo Morales — who is opposed to his former ally and current president, Luis Arce — to run for the top job again. Zúñiga marched on the presidential palace, took the square and publicly defied his commander. But almost as quickly, his soldiers retreated with social movements in pursuit. The Army chief was later deposed and arrested. As he was being detained, he claimed Arce had asked him to take up arms in order to boost the popularity of his government. In a continent historically riddled with coups, the idea of the military deposing a democratically elected government is absolutely an anachronism, but the existence of regimes such as Nicolás Maduro’s in Venezuela and the Cuba of the Castro brothers keeps the flames of military authoritarianism alive. Even if those dictatorships represent the left, while Zúñiga was opposing Evo and Arce. At the ideological extremes, methodology meets.

The global trends that affect the socio-political-economic ecosystem are inescapable, even if certain governments seek to latch onto the past. At the same time, regional and domestic tendencies influence the specific vicissitudes of every country. The growth of groups of marginalised youth, deep polarisation, and a violent public discourse have popped up across the world. Political ideologies have moved toward the extremes, while outsiders have gained centrality and power. Sabag Montiel, seeking to murder Fernández de Kirchner, is a consequence of an exhausted political and economic system in Argentina, while Milei has emerged as a response to that same failure. Ultimately, the attempted coup in Bolivia and the persistence of Evo as a leading political figure also responds to Latin America’s decadence.

Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia

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