When Fernando Sabag Montiel, 35, aimed two shots at the head of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the vice-president of Argentina, outside her home on September 1, his girlfriend Brenda Uliarte was standing nearby. After witnessing the failed attack - the trigger clicked twice but there were no bullets - and watching her partner get caught, she made her getaway, hiding out in the home of a former sentimental partner.
Days later Uliarte, 23, was arrested and accused of being an accomplice in the assassination attempt. But messages that she exchanged with a close friend before and after the attack suggest that she was in fact the organizer of the plot.
“I sent a guy to kill Cristi,” she wrote to Agustina Díaz, a friend that Uliarte had down in her phone contacts as “the love of my life.” Diaz herself was arrested on Monday, accused of knowing all the details of the attack.
The message arrived on Díaz’s phone on August 27, soon after Sabag Montiel and Uliarte had aborted an earlier assassination attempt. The exchange was published in full by the Argentine daily La Nación. “I ordered Vice Cristina killed. It didn’t work out because she went indoors. What a bummer, I swear, I had her right there. I sent a guy to kill Cristi.”
Díaz assumed that the attacker was a hired hit man. “Good idea anyway. How much did he charge you?” she asked. “He didn’t charge me. He did it because he is also pissed off at what’s happening. I swear I’m going to take her down. I’m fed up with her stealing going unpunished”, answered Uliarte, alluding to a ongoing corruption trial against the vice-president.
Díaz celebrated the plan, but warned her friend of the danger. “You realize the mess you’re going to get into, don’t you? They are going to look for you everywhere if they find out that you are an accomplice in the death of the vice-president.” “That’s why I’m sending someone to do it,” Uliarte replied.
On the evening of September 1, Sabag Montiel and Uliarte finally found the right moment to shoot the former president. A crowd of around 300 people was milling in front of Fernández de Kirchner’s home in the upscale Buenos Aires neighborhood of Recoleta. This was a ritual that had begun on August 22, right after a prosecutor requested 12 years in prison against the former president for alleged corruption. Kirchnerists - supporters of Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband Néstor, who served as president from 2003 to 2007 - took to the streets to defend their leader, turning the vice-president’s home into a place of pilgrimage.
On the night of the attack, the crowd was back outside her door. When the vice-president was about to greet her followers, a hand emerged from behind the crowd, aimed at her head and pulled the trigger twice. No bullet came out. Sabag Montiel tried to flee but was caught by members of the public.
Uliarte fled the scene. The exchange of messages with Díaz resumed the next day, when Uliarte said she was thinking of fleeing Argentina. “Do you know how much dough you need for that? It’s not just ‘I’m giving orders to kill and then skipping the country,’? wrote Díaz to Uliarte about the difficulties of escaping after the failed attack. The friend then wondered what went wrong. “Why did he miss the shot? Didn’t he practice before, or did the adrenaline fail him?” Díaz also advised her friend to get rid of her phone and delete all her social media accounts.
All the information on Sabag Montiel’s own phone was lost after the Federal Police repeatedly attempted to unlock it and instead deleted the contents. The court then transferred responsibility for the technical investigation to the Airport Security Police, who found a gold mine in Uliarte’s device. In addition to hundreds of WhatsApp messages, there were photos of the couple posing with the weapon that was used in the attack, and messages encouraging violent action. “We have to generate facts, not protests” or “We must not keep bitching around, we must take action. Let’s plant a Molotov cocktail in the Casa Rosada [president’s office]”, were some of the messages that the couple exchanged.
Investigators are now wondering whether these individuals acted on their own initiative or whether they were egged on by a third party wishing to create a serious political crisis in Argentina.