President Alberto Fernández called for unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, lashing out at “serial haters” on Argentina’s Independence Day.
The traditional 9 de Julio celebration, normally held in the northern city of Tucumán, where independence was declared on July 9, 1816, was instead held virtually, with a remote session from the Olivos presidential residence on the outskirts of the capital.
All 24 provincial governors, from all political stripes, joined the broadcast. Fernández, after a week rife with political division and an opposition demonstration taking place in downtown Buenos Aires, used the event to ask leaders to put aside their differences to tackle Covid-19.
"No society realises its destiny amid [a climate of] insults and divisions, and with hatred as a common denominator. I came here to end with the serial haters and open our arms, so that we all unite in search of a common destiny," declared the leader.
"I do not come to install a unique discourse. I know that there is diversity of all kinds, gender and ideological, and I celebrate it. What I need is that this diversity is carried with responsibility. The first responsibility is not to lie, to tell the truth and respect us," he fired off.
The hardline sector of the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition, led by former president Mauricio Macri, has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of the lockdown imposed to tackle the global pandemic of late. Some have endorsed protests and criticised the government of using the crisis to “attack individual liberties.”
On Wednesday, Macri added his voice to the criticism. "Unfortunately, we have seen a government that has tried to diminish freedoms – freedom of expression, the functioning of justice, the independence of powers and private property,” he said, praising the “strong, active” reaction from his supporters.
Earlier this week, tensions also rose after the killing of a former private secretary of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, with the government calling for the investigation into the alleged murder to be placed under federal jurisdiction.
During his Independence Day speech, Fernández defended the period of mandatory social isolation he decreed on March 20 and insisted that his decision was backed by those leaders in power.
"Everyone agreed that the life and health of the people had to be preserved before anything else. There was no dilemma or choice," he said. "We were able to be in solidarity, and to take solidarity as a supreme value."
Fernández has repeatedly said that it is "the pandemic and not the quarantine" that has dealt a severe blow to Argentina’s economy, which is expected to contract by more than 10 percent this year as a result of the lockdown and drop in activity. When the Peronist leader took office last December, Argentina was already gripped by a recession lasting almost two years and had a debt burden that equated to around 90 percent of GDP.
The International Monetary Fund predicts the economy will contract by 9.9 percent this year, though Central Bank estimates from private economists put the figure closer to 12 percent. To date, Argentina has recorded more than 87,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with more than 1,700 fatalities.