The country’s leader said that Argentina’s vice president survived an assassination attempt late Thursday after a gunman’s weapon jammed as he tried to shoot her at close range outside her home.
Vice President Cristina Fernández was unharmed in the incident, which has rocked the South American nation already racked by turmoil due to spiraling inflation and her trial on corruption charges she denies.
The man attempted to kill the vice president as she was surrounded by large crowds of supporters outside her Buenos Aires residence around 9 p.m. local time (8 p.m. ET) Thursday, according to a statement by President Alberto Fernández.
Video footage of the incident shows the vice president greeting boisterous supporters near a white vehicle when a hand appears from the crowd holding a black pistol. The hand appears to pull the trigger inches from her face, and a click is heard, but no shot rings out. Members of the crowd then appear to turn and overpower the gunman.
The gun was loaded with five bullets, according to the president. “A man pointed a firearm at her head and pulled the trigger,” he said in a national broadcast following the incident.
The alleged assailant, whom authorities identified as a 35-year-old man of Brazilian origin, was quickly arrested by police and the weapon was seized, according to Reuters.
It was not immediately clear what his motive might have been.
The president said it was “the most serious incident since we recovered democracy,” referring to the end of the country’s military junta in 1983.
“We can disagree, we can have deep disagreements, but in a democratic society, hate speech cannot take place because it breeds violence and there is no possibility of violence co-existing with democracy,” he said. “Our vice president has been attacked and social peace has been disturbed.”
Alberto Fernández, who is unrelated to the vice president, called for an immediate investigation into the incident and announced Friday would be a national holiday in solidarity with her.
Other officials also decried the attack, accusing the opposition of promoting violence.
“When hate and violence prevail over the debate of ideas, they destroy societies and generate situations like today’s: an assassination attempt,” Economy Minister Sergio Massa said on Twitter.
The vice president previously served two terms as the country’s president from 2007 to 2015. She is a politically powerful and polarizing figure in Argentina.
She faces corruption charges during her time as president, which she has consistently and vehemently denied.
Supporters of the vice president have been gathering in the streets surrounding her home in the upscale Recoleta neighborhood of Argentina’s capital since last week, when a prosecutor called for a 12-year sentence for her and a lifelong prohibition on holding public office.
Cristina Fernández became Argentina’s first elected female president in 2007. She was first lady before that when her husband, Néstor Kirchner, led the country in the early 2000s. She belongs to the left-wing Justicialist Party.
Former President Mauricio Macri, a conservative who succeeded her, also condemned the attack. “This very serious event demands an immediate and profound clarification by the judiciary and security forces,” he wrote on Twitter.
Patricia Bullrich, a former minister under Macri and the opposition Republican Proposal party leader, criticized the president’s response to the attack.
She said the country’s leader was “playing with fire” and that “instead of seriously investigating a serious incident, he accuses the opposition and the press, decreeing a national holiday to mobilize activists.”
According to Reuters, tensions have been running high in the country, which is struggling with soaring inflation that could hit 70% this month. Analysts cited by the news agency expect it to hit 90% by the end of the year, further increasing food prices and worsening poverty in the country of around 47 million.
In neighboring Brazil, where there are also growing fears of political violence ahead of next month’s presidential election, left-wing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva expressed solidarity with Cristina Fernández. He said she was a “victim of a fascist criminal who doesn’t know how to respect differences and diversity.”
Da Silva leads the polls ahead of far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, himself the victim of a campaign trail stabbing in 2018. Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has fueled fears he may reject the results if he loses the vote.
Other leaders in the region also responded to the assassination attempt Thursday.
“We emphatically repudiate the attempt on the life of sister @CFKArgentina , vice president of #Argentina,” Bolivian President Luis Arce tweeted following the attack.
“We strongly repudiate this action that seeks to destabilize the peace of the brother Argentine people,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro tweeted.