Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sparked a media firestorm on Wednesday after she delivered a controversial speech to open the 14th plenary session of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat) in Buenos Aires.
Reacting to a speech in which the vice-president praised the state’s role in the economy, placed doubt over the true power of Argentina’s presidency and reiterated claims of judicial and political persecution against her, the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition accused Fernández de Kirchner of “shamefully” exposing the country’s problems to European parliamentarians.
"The statements made by the vice-president before the Plenary of Latin American and European Parliamentarians are a new expression of the internal rupture of the government, delivered before world public opinion," opposition lawmakers said in a statement issued Thursday.
Highlighting tensions in the ruling coalition, Fernández de Kirchner was accused by the opposition of deepening the “internal crisis” facing Frente de Todos.
Criticism also came from a group of European parliamentarians, who expressed their “discomfort and surprise at being involved in a political act with absolutely local characteristics that have nothing to do with the purposes and mechanisms of this type of meeting,” the opposition said.
Immediately after the speech, a group of European lawmakers had criticised the “partisan” nature of Fernández de Kirchner’s speech in a letter to EuroLat President Javier López Fernández, who the vice-president mistakenly called “Jordi” during the speech.
"The Members of the EPP Group participating in the plenary meeting of the Euro-Latin American Assembly wish to convey to you our deep unease following the shameful spectacle that took place during the opening session of the plenary session of the Assembly," the letter read.
"We believe that a solemn and institutional act such as the formal opening of the plenary session of the Assembly cannot be exploited or used for the partisan purpose for which today's event was held, more typical of a political rally than that of a democratic legislative parliament,” it concluded.
López had himself referenced the expectations surrounding Fernández de Kirchner’s address, declaring in jest before the speech that he “felt like the opening act for The Beatles.”
‘That is power’
Fernández de Kirchner’s speech began a few minutes past noon on Wednesday, April 13, in the Centro Cultural Kirchner (Kirchner Cultural Centre). The speech was closely anticipated, given the tensions in the ruling coalition and reports of strained ties between the vice-president and President Alberto Fernández .
Opening her speech, Fernández de Kirchner addressed the effects of the pandemic on the country and on a global level, highlighting the role of the state in tackling the Covid-19 crisis.
“The pandemic reinstated the idea of the state,” she said. “Has anyone wondered what our life would have been like without the state during the pandemic? I would say that anyone who continues to assert that the state is not important is either a fool or a cynic.”
With sharp criticism of neoliberalism and inequality, the Senate president turned to the topic of power, referring to the president and the Judiciary indirectly.
“Today our parliaments, our executives, ourJudiciary so often co-opted by the economic powers, how much of the power do they represent?” she asked, arguing that the awarding of a presidential “sash and a baton” did not truly show who was in charge.
“Not to mention if the things that need to be done are not done, but let’s leave it there,” she asserted, implicitly criticising the president.
In a nod to ongoing marches in downtown Buenos Aires protesting the lack of economic measures to improve quality of life for the poor, Fernández de Kirchner moved onto inequality, highlighting how poverty had been exacerbated by the economy.
“Inequalities are the result of political decisions or the lack of political decisions,” she argued, adding that the issues made even more visible by Covid-19 “contribute to a debate on inequality, and it is very clear that in a world that is increasingly unequal, the pandemic has accentuated it.”
‘A just and Inclusive economic recovery’
The latest annual EuroLat session is titled “Una Recuperación Económica Justa e Inclusiva en Paz” (“A Just and Inclusive Economic Recovery in Peace”).
On Tuesday, April 12, the president of the European component of the Assembly, Javi López, and the president of the Latin American component, Óscar Darío Pérez Pineda, explained the roadmap for the event with two central themes: Ukraine and the impact of coronavirus.
The four EuroLat commissions, as well as the Working Groups and Women’s and Civil Society Forums, met Wednesday, before a full meeting on Thursday.
Themes discussed included, among others, digital platforms, environment, multilateralism, human trafficking, safety, drug trafficking, money laundering, culture, health, education, economy, sexual and reproductive rights, and gender.
In a statement issued Thursday, López and Pérez Pineda condemned the "illegal, unprovoked and unjustified military aggression and invasion committed by the Russian Federation against Ukraine."
The two leaders called for “intensified efforts to strengthen food supply chains and food security, to meet demand and to seek new alternative food suppliers,” while advocating for “a definitive end to the war using all diplomatic channels” and the organisation of “necessary corridors and humanitarian” to protect the civilian population.
In a joint declaration, the co-chairs called for the “strengthening bi-regional cooperation to jointly face the challenges of the uncertain international context and ensure that the post-pandemic economic and social recovery is comprehensive.”
They also advocated the need “to promote equality and the rights of women and girls, following the increase in cases of gender-based violence during the pandemic.”