Yup, that was real.
For the first time in God knows how long, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner agreed to a sit down interview with a journalist that doesn’t belong to her fan club. A few hours before 3 PM yesterday, Infobae shocked the country by saying that Cristina was about to appear live in its Palermo Hollywood studios for a 90 minute interview with Luis Novaresio. The entire country immediately became paralyzed and everyone stopped doing what they were doing to watch her engage in a historic mano-a-mano with him.
The announcement was completely unexpected since the interview was organized in complete secrecy. During the last few weeks, several media outlets and TV shows had speculated about the possibility of an interview and Novaresio himself had tweeted that he was working hard in order to get it. But there was practically no warning: a few hours before it began, Infobae suddenly made the astonishing announcement and everyone went nuts.
At 3 PM yesterday, the historic (television?) event kicked off.
It was surreal.
Most major networks, along with cable news channels, interrupted their regular programming to tap right into the Infobae live feed and broadcast it live on their shows too. No matter what TV show you were watching then, the split screen just showed anchors, hosts and panelists all staring at some screen in their studios, listening to her. Nobody wanted to miss this. If you ever looked up the definition of FOMO, this was it. Cristina Kirchner, a former President who dislikes the media and systematically avoided interviews – especially if there were conducted by an antagonistic figure – was suddenly sitting comfortably (and live!) in the belly of the Infobae beast. An online news site that, she claims, “stands against every she stands for.” How could anyone miss this?
The entire interview was plagued with moments of tension. The former President isn’t a fan of being confronted with stinging, uncomfortable questions and it showed. In fact, I believe the last time she saw herself in such a situation was back in 2012, when she gave a talk at Harvard University and… well, we all remember how that went. The unfortunate yet memorable phrase “Kids, this is Harvard, not the University of La Matanza,” which she uttered after the audience booed at her, is probably in the hall of fame of Argentine politics (and will haunt her for the rest of her days.)
However, despite her well-known disdain for media outlets that don’t glorify her awesomeness every day, it’s likely she will concede more interviews of the kind in the nearby future until the October midterm elections. This sudden change of heart responds to the certain possibility of losing the senatorial run to the Cambiemos coalition’s candidate in the Buenos Aires Province, Esteban Bullrich.
Considering that her strategy of only addressing her base might not get her two Senate seats in October after all, we can expect her to start talking to those voters who she refused to talk to for almost a decade, even if she doesn’t feel like it. Losing the election — and with it the possibility to successfully run for President again in 2019 — would hurt more than some uncomfortable interviews.
According to Página 12, “at 9 PM yesterday Fernández’s campaign team informed that two million people watched at least a part of the interview, or came across it on social media, and expected that number to double today.” If the intention was to give her campaign more visibility, it definitely worked.
But let’s get to the interview. She had a lot to say, so let’s focus on the major issues discussed and analyze her responses.
ON THE DEATH OF LATE PROSECUTOR ALBERTO NISMAN AND ACCUSATIONS AGAINST HER
“When I was President and the Nisman thing happened [that “thing” being he was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his apartment hours before appearing before Congress to officially accuse her of being part of an international conspiracy], I addressed the nation on the Cadena Nacional (national broadcast). It’s unthinkable that a president stays silent when society is in shock,” she said, in what could be a reference to the fact that President Mauricio Macri hasn’t said much about the disappearance of 28-year-old Santiago Maldonado. “I offered my theory about what happened to Nisman back then. I did it when I had to do it because I was President. We cooperated with the investigation,” she said.
In January 2015, Prosecutor Nisman accused the then-President and high ranking officials within her administration of covering up Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center – in which 85 people died and hundreds were injured — in exchange for trade deals. Four days later, Nisman he was found dead in his apartment.
Immediately after, Fernández de Kirchner addressed the country, raising questions about the circumstances of his death and suggesting “he could have been used by people who wanted to harm her administration.”
In a letter that she wrote a week after Nisman’s death, Cristina attempted to understand what was happening while the country was still in shock: “Nisman returns [he cut a trip to Europe short to present his accusation] only to make an accusation that they [we don’t know who] knew was unfounded and couldn’t last. When journalist Sandra Russo analyzed the case in Página 12 under the headline ‘The Trick of Confusion” she said: ‘They wanted to use Nisman alive and will now use him dead.’ She was wrong. He was used alive and then they needed him dead. It’s that sad and terrible.”
In yesterday’s interview, she once again argued this was the case: “Back then, the opposition used [his death] to cast a shadow of a doubt over me and my government,” she said.
The investigation about his death will probably keep moving forward in the near future, considering that yesterday Border Patrol analysts apparently concluded that Nisman was indeed murdered. The report is not out yet, but once Federal Prosecutor Eduardo Taiano has it with him, he will determine how to proceed. However, regardless of what he does, we know how it will probably go: one side will support Fernández de Kirchner’s theory; the other won’t hesitate to believe that her administration had him killed.
ON THE ONGOING CRISIS IN VENEZUELA
The crisis in Venezuela continues to unfold at a frenetic pace. Nicolás Maduro’s regime moves forward with its efforts to govern through the newly-formed and all-powerful Constitutional Assembly, as the opposition continues taking the streets — like they have been doing since April — clashing with forces loyal to Maduro.
Political leaders who identify themselves with the former President’s political agenda have been reluctant to condemn the actions of Maduro’s regime, in contrast with the officials from the Macri administration and a great part of the international community.
When asked about this, Cristina immediately tried to dodge the question and move away from talking about the Caribbean country: “Democracy is at risk in all of Latin America,” she said. “44 journalists were murdered in Mexico this year alone. There’s institutional and physical violence. There have been thousands of deaths. Venezuela, with all of the problems that a divided country has to deal with… Choosing only one country and attacking it for something that happens in so many other countries where people disappear…” she said, finishing mid sentence.
She went on to say that “in Brazil, I see [former President] Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment trial. There are political prisoners in Venezuela. There are political prisoners here too. Milagro Sala is a political prisoner. There’s persecution and political prisoners here. The President considers that those who don’t think like him are mobsters.”
When pressured for a clearer answer, she admitted that “possibly, the rule of law is questioned in Venezuela,” but charged back by saying that “there’s no rule of law in Argentina either.” However, she clarified that that “she doesn’t believe” we are living in a dictatorship under the Macri administration, like many of her supporters do. “But she immediately returned to the attack mode. “We don’t have an impartial or reliable judiciary here, either. The rule of law is severely questioned in Argentina,” she added.
ON THE UNITY OF THE PERONIST MOVEMENT AND HER PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRATIONS IN 2019
The Peronist movement is divided. On the one hand, we have the former President and her base. On the other one, politicians who broke with the Victory Front (FpV) when Daniel Scioli lost the 2015’s presidential election against Mauricio Macri, with the intention of being a more dialogue-prone opposition than the Kirchnerite hardliners.
This fracture has been visible in Congress since early 2016, but was made even clearer in the recent primary elections, when Fernández created her own political party to avoid running against her former Minister of Interior and Transportation, Florencio Randazzo, in an election for the nomination of the Justicialist (Peronist) party.
Should things continue down this path — and they probably will — it’s likely that Cambiemos will win the midterms in the Buenos Aires Province, arguably the big prize in every election. That’s why both Peronist camps are asking each other to tone down their aspirations and rally behind them. In fact, Fernández published a letter this week requesting exactly this. She argued that since she was the candidate who got the most votes in the primaries, she’s got the better chance of beating the government’s candidate.
Regarding this, the former President said that she doesn’t feel like “an obstacle to the unity of Peronism.”
“We won the elections. It’s hard to be an obstacle by winning the elections. And especially, being told that by those who didn’t get the results they expected,” she argued.
“If I’m an obstacle to achieve the unity of Peronism in 2019 and win the [presidential] elections, I will step aside. I will do all whatever is necessary so the Peronist movement can offer people something better than what this government does,” she added, in what was one of her most surprising statements.
ON THE MANY (MANY) CORRUPTION CHARGES AGAINST HER AND HIGH-RANKING OFFICIALS IN HER ADMINISTRATION
Cristina herself, along with some of her high-ranking officials — former Vice President Amado Boudou and Planning Minister Julio De Vido, for example — have been charged with corruption so many times you need more than two hands to keep count. Cristina alone has been indicted in three different cases.
When confronted with this, she resorted to the same strategy she uses when called to testify before a judge. She said it’s all part of a political persecution against her, orchestrated by the government and implemented by the Judicial branch.
“To have an administration be compared to an illegal organization is an attack against democracy. It’s nonsense. The Judiciary has lost a lot of its prestige with this. It’s all part of a plan to persecute me,” she assured about the numerous cases that argue she laundered previously embezzled money by having businessmen with close ties to her hire the services of her different companies.
Regarding the increase of her personal wealth since she took office, she said that “that was evaluated in court and there was a ruling clearing me.”
“It’s all in our tax returns,” she said. OK then.
ON THE JOSE LOPEZ SCANDAL
Oh, you don’t remember this one? In June last year, former Public Works Secretary José López was caught red handed throwing bags filled with roughly US$ 9 million over the wall of a convent, which later turned out to not be a convent (I’m serious). His detention and the incredible scene in which he was caught served the opposition to put a face to the corruption accusations against Kirchnerite officials that for years they had been rejecting.
“It was very hard for me. I was in Calafate [in the Santa Cruz Province, where she lives]. When I was told what had happened, I couldn’t really understand the scene. It seemed brutal. I had a great deal of indignation and anger. I was also deeply saddened. More than in our political project and the perception of our government, I thought of the thousands of kids who had gotten involved in politics because of me and Néstor [Kirchner]. How that scene may have made them feel,” she said.
However, she sought to distance herself from the case — “Do you think I am capable of knowing what all my government officials are doing at all times? It’s impossible.” — and shifted the conversation. “To this day I want to know when and who gave him that money,” she said.
“I hated José López like few things I have hated in my life. If I have to say, I will: I hated him,” she said.
ON THE DISAPPEARANCE OF SANTIAGO MALDONADO
The 28-year-old tattoo artist was last allegedly seen on August 1, after Border Patrol officers cleared a roadblock staged by members of the Mapuche indigenous community on Route 40. Ever since, the case has completely dominated the news cycles and the updates in the investigation are the only things the country talks about — until Fernández gave this interview, actually. (You can read the last roundup with the case’s latest updates here.)
“Néstor [Kirchner] talked to the country about Julio López’s disappearance [which took place in 2006]. It’s been 43 days [now 44] since Santiago’s vanishing and we haven’t heard anything from the President, except a comment when he entered an elevator, about the disappearance of a kid after an operation conducted by the Border Patrol,” she said.
ON THE MACRI ADMINISTRATION
“I believe that this government lacks political mediation. They need to understand [government officials] can’t do or say whatever they want. I think this is key. I’m really scared that if the economic situation worsens, this government will enter an authoritarian stage,” she said.
Fernández finished the interview with another call for unity (it’s now up to you to believe her or not).
“[This call] is to everyone – and especially to the President – because I think he’s the one who’s got the biggest responsibility” to united people, she said.
This statement doesn’t really go in line with her rhetoric during the past 10 years, but if it helps bridge the political divide, hey. We’ll take it.