Sparking outrage and controversy, ex-president Eduardo Duhalde has suggested that there will be no midterm elections next year, anticipating a coup d’état since "Argentina is the world champion of military dictatorships."
The former president, who served in office from 2002 to 2003, also predicted that the country is heading towards "a scenario worse than 2001."
"Nobody can ignore that militarism is making a comeback throughout Latin America," Duhalde told the Animales Sueltos television programme, calling it "ridiculous" to expect elections in such a context.
"I’m not saying that the coup will come from [President] Alberto Fernández, let’s not personalise this,” he said. “Argentina runs that risk because this is such a great disaster … this is the most complex presidency we’ve ever had and could generate a worse climate than ‘begone with them all’ (a reference to the 2001-2002)."
In the same Monday night interview, the Peronist ex-president suggested that the pandemic was costing President Fernández sleep when he had already told him that he had to take at least three hours a day off from politics if he wished to escape the fate of other presidents, including Duhalde himself.
"I’m convinced that the winners should govern and the losers as well. One party cannot govern alone. The president should not permit himself to talk about the past because the past cannot be changed – discussing the past is the task of journalists while leaders should not talk about the past but govern," Duhalde concluded.
Duhalde’s statements were promptly rejected by politicians across the spectrum. Defence Minister Agustín Rossi dismissed as "an impossible scenario," asserting: "There is a strong commitment to democracy and the Constitution; I don’t see any disaster on the horizon."
Rossi ruled out any coup d’état due to the depth of the socio-economic crisis caused by the coronavirus crisis, including the cancellation of next year’s midterm elections, saying "the Armed Forces are absolutely integrated into the democratic system, perhaps more than any force on the continent."
Speaking to Radio Rivadavia last Tuesday, Rossi said: "I’m in touch with military reality every day and I would say that scenario is impossible in Argentina today," going on to explain: "We have a political system with certain tensions but it’s a strong system. There were elections last year where one candidate won and the other accepted the result, transferring power, and Congress is functioning despite the pandemic, as is the judiciary."
"We all respect Duhalde for his political history and for having been president at a difficult moment for the country," commented the minister when interviewed by FM Delta radio.
"Of everything he said, what is true is that every couple of years in other Latin American countries the armed forces take on greater relevance – [President Jair] Bolsonaro in Brazil, the coup in Bolivia, the decision to close down Congress in Peru but it seems to me that transferring all this to Argentina is a very serious error," Rossi concluded.
Human rights leaders also criticised the remarks. The President of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto, was among them, describing the comments as "extremely serious" and “disastrous.”
“I am outraged by what this man said," said Carlotto, declaring in a radio interview that “never again is never again.”
"It is very important to condemn the sayings of Duhalde," she added. "Duhalde tried to explain today, but the truth is that I didn't understand anything he said.”
Later on Tuesday, Duhalde reiterated his comments though he said maybe the length of the coronavirus lockdown had lowered “the tone” of his analysis.
He stressed again, however, that political leaders are not aware of "what is happening with society's poor and the crumbling middle class."
"I say what I think and I believe I have grounds to do so,” he added. “In 2001, society did not collapse not because I governed, but because I formed a co-government. We must govern together.”
"If we continue fighting, we are going towards an anarchic process in Argentina," said the former president.
President Fernández, who has met with Duhalde on multiple occasions since taking office, remained silent on the issue, though he did retweet a post on Twitter from Vilma Ibarra, Legal and Technical Secretary to the Presidency.
“The government , together with the Argentine men and women, is firm and attentive to prevent them from shrinking our democracy, " read the message.