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ARGENTINA | 09-11-2023 20:05

Vice-presidential candidates Rossi and Villarruel clash over poverty and human rights

Exchanges over crime, state terrorism and economy and accusations of lying dominate high-voltage debate between Agustín Rossi and Victoria Villarruel.

Poverty, economic turmoil and human rights dominated an ill-tempered debate between Agustín Rossi and Victoria Villarruel on Wednesday as the vice-presidential candidates clashed ahead of the November 19 run-off.

Rossi, from the centre-left Peronist Unión por la Patria coalition, and Villarruel, far-right lawmaker and La Libertad Avanza hopeful, were at odds on almost every issue, from the financial struggles of citizens across Argentina to the omens for the country’s democracy in its 40th year.

The backbiting left little room for proposals as crossfire predominated over issues dividing public opinion like crime and the economy with a special mention for state terrorism, an issue which has acquired protagonism in this year’s election campaign.

Villarruel in particular repeatedly spoke over Rossi, hurling allegations at him and describing his coalition’s control of Argentina as shameful.

"People today care most about their economic situation, about being able to buy food and pay the rent, not what happened in the 1970s," said Villarruel in reference to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, kicking off the debate and setting the pace throughout.

After presenting herself as a lawyer and a common Argentine citizen in a calm and measured opening statement, Villarruel quickly changed her tune, accusing Rossi of "lying" while highlighting his role in the current government as defence minister and AFI (Agencia Federal de Inteligencia) intelligence chief, two core areas of the debate on several occasions.

"You’re a serial official, a joker in public office," fired off the libertarian.

 

Rossi relaxed

The Peronist Rossi retained a more moderate tone and a calmer attitude for the most part, emulating Economy Minister Sergio Massa in the latter stages of the campaign. But he did not remain silent in the face of the constant interruptions of his rival, accusing her of being "violent" and a "symbiosis" of her political boss, especially in her reactions to Rossi bringing up Milei’s statements about "breaking relations with China and Brazil," Argentina’s two most important trading partners.

"The people have voted against Milei’s chainsaw," he declared at the start as the rivals argued about who represented the largest bloc of voters.

Cabinet chief in the President Alberto Fernández administration and Massa’s running-mate, Rossi reproached Villarruel for what he considered to be her close proximity to military officers convicted of crimes against humanity during the era of state terrorism.

"It was she who brought up the discussion of the past. Argentina had a democratic pact as to what human rights mean," pointed out Rossi.

As Javier Milei’s running-mate, Villarruel insisted on denying the figure of 30,000 desaparecidos under the dictatorship, as claimed by human rights organisations.

"They were not 30,000 and your own government says so. At the Parque de la Memoria [monument] there are 8,751 names, where are the rest? Stop lying, stop using the disappeared and tell the truth," blasted Villarruel, a lawyer who heads the Centro de Estudios Legales sobre el Terrorismo y sus Víctimas, a group which defends human rights violators before the courts.

Without offering any concrete reply, the deputy then spoke about Juan Daniel Amelong, an Army lieutenant-colonel and Rosario intelligence officer who the same day of the debate was sent back to Campo de Mayo confinement after a court withdrew the benefit of house arrest. 

Earlier that day Villarruel clashed with the Rosario legislator Eduardo Toniolli, whose father was a victim of Amelong and remains missing.

"It seems to me important to recognise that there were victims of terrorism without human rights, such as, for example, Amelong, whose father, an engineer, was murdered by the Montonero guerrillas in Rosario in 1974. His son is now detained for crimes against humanity," said the La Libertad Avanza leader when pushed by Rossi.

The former military officer is serving three life sentences, another 10-year term and a fifth sentence for baby-snatching twins.

Amelong, known as "Lieutenant Daniel," was sentenced for four cases of crimes against humanity, as well as providing a family property to be used as a clandestine detention centre known as “La Intermedia” where 14 political militants were murdered in 1978

 

Economic woes

Villarruel scored points however as she attacked Rossi by claiming that under his government "we have 100,000 new poor every month" and defended her party from accusations that it planned to kill off public health and education in Argentina, asserting that "public education is not education but indoctrination."

She pleaded with Argentines to vote for “change” and said amazing things could be achieved “together” – nods to her boss Milei’s recent deal with opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition leaders Mauricio Macri and Patricia Bullrich, who have come out publicly in support of the controversial libertarian.

Rossi criticised her for "not believing in the gender salary gap" in rejecting the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development of the United Nations.

Argentina, submerged in a grave economic crisis with an annual inflation of 140 percent and 40 percent below the poverty line, will elect its next president between Massa and Milei in next Sunday’s run-off with the winner taking office on December 10.

 

– TIMES/AFP/NA

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