Among the news items of the past week or so, the biggest impact has come from an attempt on the life of one woman at the start of this month and the end of the long life of another woman last Tuesday (taking a more global perspective, we could also throw in a third woman, Britain’s new prime minister Liz Truss, but all politics is local, as they say).
Those two items are, of course, the bizarre attack on Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the death of iconic journalist Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazú.
Not in the same order of magnitude but precisely because so much has been written about the former in the past 10 days that this column has little to add – especially from its special standpoint of comparing past and present, quite simply because there is no precedent to serve as a reminder (nor in the years preceding my personal memory either). This is the first such attack in this century. There were several attempts at magnicide in the 19th and 20th centuries (especially during the peak of anarchist activity in the last quarter of the former century and the first quarter of the latter) but all of them misfired, usually literally – thus Victorino de la Plaza (attacked on the centenary of Independence Day in 1916) commented that his assailant deserved his prison sentence for being such a bad shot. Justo José Urquiza was assassinated in his palatial Entre Ríos home in 1870 (at the instigation of the ferocious Ricardo López Jordán who also tried to kill Domingo Faustino Sarmiento) but he was already an ex-president by then.
Ditto for Raúl Alfonsín in 1991, the only comparable episode in my 34 years of Buenos Aires Herald newsroom experience between 1983 and 2017. At a political rally in the Delta city of San Nicolás a former Border Guard named Ismael Abdalá fired his service weapon at Alfonsín from the crowd but on that occasion the bodyguard reflexes were exemplary – one threw Alfonsín to the ground, covering him, while another disarmed the assailant almost immediately. Strangely enough, Abdalá was not kept out of harm’s way but was in and out of custody before committing suicide in 1994.
But the most important comparison arising out of this episode is the zero self-victimisation of Alfonsín, who made no attempt to squeeze political capital out of his trauma. What a contrast with Alberto Fernández, whose petty opportunism has blown a splendid chance to become the president he always wanted to be and was supposed to be (and was during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic in the second quarter of 2020). When Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was under an entirely different spotlight with the presentation of the charges in the highways corruption trial, comparisons were rife between that trial and the 1985 juntas trial raising the hope that the former could match the latter as a milestone breaking with a negative past. Today the same comparison could be made with a different spin – just as the trial of the junta dictators served as a catalyst to unify a newly democratic society (as reflected by the film Argentina, 1985 now bidding for a Golden Lion in Venice), so the shock of the assassination attempt could have been a golden opportunity to consign grieta polarisation to the past. Peace is so much more than the absence of war, calling for some real statesmanship instead of petty political opportunism.
Among other things, that opportunism has taken the form of a determined bid to pin a “hate speech” tag on the opposition as the origin of the attack. The legislation of other countries is cited in an obtuse confusion of any criticism with the incitement to violence, neo-Nazism and other extremes which these laws seek to control. The government is also wrong to blame the media alongside the opposition – the social networks are the domain of hate speech, not the mainstream media. But at the risk of being a devil’s advocate (an exceptionally diabolical one in many eyes), this columnist would like to ask if we can live without hate. Not that it is a good thing but just as there is no day without night, there is no love without hate. At a more concrete level, these hateful expressions often ventilate negative feelings which can lead to real damage if bottled up.
Not much space left for Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazú but some tribute is in order for that exemplary journalist. The two women belong to different generations – while there was female suffrage when Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was born nearly seven decades ago, Magdalena was inordinately proud of having voted in every election in which a woman could vote. But that was not the only difference. Other virtues have been highlighted by her colleagues but this columnist is especially impressed by how she overcame the disadvantages of her upbringing to shine in her profession. When her father was foreign minister (1941-1943) and her mother from the Ortiz Basualdo family owning that splendid Mar del Plata mansion, how can she be in line for praise normally reserved for the likes of Nicolás Monzón (the mathematically gifted slum kid who grew up scavenging and has been picked one of the world’s top 10 students)? But privilege can also be a barrier – it takes character to turn aside a soft life for a demanding profession (including a daily 6am radio show) and Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazú had that character.