Tuesday, May 28, 2024

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 15-09-2022 01:19

The crime of the precarious

The attempt on Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s life warranting repudiation throws light on the structural backdrop of the excluded in this country.

Everything would seem to have been said about the extremely serious bid to assassinate Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The avalanche of images, affirmations, accusations and hypotheses has not stopped in recent days, redefining the country’s media agenda. Was it a plot by the vice-president’s enemies? Was it staged by Kirchnerism to favour her in the trials she faces? Or was it the work of a deranged mind seeking his minute of tragic glory? While the investigators do their stuff, we will float another interpretation based on the premise that the political world and the wealthy classes are confronted by an underlying social phenomenon which they fear, do not understand and would prefer to blot out of their minds. Better off talking about hate speech, attributing it to the other side.

Perhaps ethnology, that discipline which studies with acute sensitivity and tape-recorder in hand the customs and practices of individuals and their families, has something to tell us about the frustrated magnicide. The ethnographers are often submerged at the outer edge of  society to pick up testimony of the way in which people live and think in adverse surroundings, immersed in a country incomprehensible for those possessing more resources while constructing the media and political agenda. Whoever wants access to a moving ethnographic investigation of Argentina can read La violencia en los márgenes, by María Fernanda Berti and Javier Auyero, published by Alejandro Katz.

As sometimes happens, with the motive of the assassination attempt the writers went to work picking up data worthy of ethnographic artisans, including the testimony of the accused couple and their close friends. The first revelation came from somebody whom television presented as the “best friend” of the misfiring assailant. This lad said that he had last seen him some months ago at a bus stop where he told him that a group of shantytown Peruvians owed him money and that he was 15,000 pesos short of the price of a “fierro,” or gun. According to the characterisation of Berti and Auyero, that is a typical episode of marginal violence.

“He wanted to squeeze them for that money, supposedly over 100,000 pesos,” explained that friend in a television interview, who recognised that from all the tall tales he was accustomed to tell, some of his friends thought him a mythomaniac and emphasised: “That time I told him that I was not interested in getting mixed up in any shady business. To give you an idea, he told me that he had three cars and also that he had a tenant selling marijuana in bulk who could get him customers.” He further explained that since the age of  18, Fernando Sabag Montiel “had been close to evangelical cults while looking for other groups to which to belong” but that they had kept in sporadic contact, being neighbours.

This testimony, which up to that point had even sounded reasonable according to conventional parameters, took an unexpected turn which scandalised the well-known journalist interviewing him. The witness affirmed that the shot was not fired because “unfortunately” his friend had not practised beforehand, because if he had, he reasoned, he would have killed Cristina. Stunned, the journalist answered that he was saying something outrageous because that opinion was convalidating the intention of assassinating her. The youth then came out with a sincere but exotic argument: if he killed her, “that could mean paying less taxes.” The journalist then assumed the role of censor regulating the permitted and the forbidden, warning him: “We want to tell you that there are limits as to what can and cannot be said.”

The sad story of Brenda Uliarte, the girlfriend of the frustrated assailant, completes the picture: abused in her childhood by a member of the family and brought up by her grandmother without finishing secondary school, she was left pregnant by a stranger at the age of 20 with the baby dying within a few days of birth. Now aged barely 23, she makes a living selling candy floss on the street and peddling erotica on the Internet. She has recently been divulging libertarian opinions, as well as reportedly participating in a violent protest outside Government House where the demonstrators left graffiti reading: “Casa de chorros” (“House of thieves”).

Since the 1990s, the French-born United States anthropologist Philippe Bourgois and the French sociologist Loïc Wacquant have been studying the adverse conditions of life of individuals resembling Brenda and Fernando, who number in the millions. They went to the fringes of the two most emblematic Western cities – Bourgois worked in Harlem and Wacquant in the Paris banlieue. From these investigations it emerged that the structural backdrop conditioning the lives of the inhabitants in such suburbs is the impossibility of meeting the requirements of formal employment due to lack of opportunity and training, bureaucratic requirements which are impossible to satisfy, personal and territorial stigmas, disorganised families, a context of violence and a lack of rhetorical and symbolic resources.  

The conclusion of Bourgois carries impact – faced with those conditions, the excluded resist “being nobody,” being told what they can and cannot say. They demand respect from their equals, the élites and the rest of society to which they cannot belong. That’s why getting a fierro to win respect, something which shocks and frightens, forms part of the codes which they share. The desire to star, to be recognised, to express the resentment burning them up inside and which they channel via the social networks and the yellow press and by throwing stones at government figures. They sell candy floss or pornography, apparently more moved by the desire to form an identity than economic need. A magnicide could be one way of achieving that.

The lives of Fernando, Brenda and their friends stand out for being precarious. To understand their crimes, they need to be analysed from that standpoint. The state treats them as police or psychiatric cases while conventional politicians ignore them because they do not comply with the requisites to be “los pibes para la liberación” of Cristina or the respectable citizens of Macri. They constitute, according to Ernesto Laclau, the expression of the heterogeneous, a social space excluded from representation which tussles, in a disordered and inorganic manner, for legitimacy.

Nobody should then be surprised that aggressive anarcho-capitalism, the attractive utopía which proposes sweeping away the state and politicians in the name of absolute liberty, fits them like a glove. The only partisan sympathies which the investigators have deciphered ties them to Javier Milei, whose presidential bid has regained a strong impulse following the aberrant attack according to the latest opinion polls.

Let us open our eyes or democracy will pay.


*Political analyst and consultant. Founder and director of Poliarquía Consultores.

related news
Eduardo Fidanza

Eduardo Fidanza

Licenciado en Sociología, Universidad de Buenos Aires. Fundador y director de Poliarquia Consultores. Analista político e investigador social. Ex columnista semanal del diario La Nación. Miembro de número de la Academia Nacional de Periodismo. Ex profesor titular regular de la UBA.


More in (in spanish)