Exactly one year ago, Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was outside her Recoleta home, surrounded by hundreds of enthusiastic supporters. Fernando Sabag Montiel, a 35-year-old man tattooed with neonazi symbols, made his way through the crowd, took out a gun, pointed it at Kirchner’s forehead and pulled the trigger. The gun didn’t go off, and he was detained on the spot.
Chaos ensued. President Alberto Fernández declared the next day a national holiday. Marches in support of Kirchner were held all over the country, and most politicians condemned the attack — with some exceptions, like current Presidential candidates Javier Milei and Patricia Bullrich, who accused the government of using the attack for political gain.
Exactly one year later, the investigation conducted by Judge María Eugenia Capuchetti and prosecutor Carlos Rívolo has left the general population with more doubts than certainties.
In some Argentine jurisdictions, judges are tasked not only with judging cases, but with investigating crimes, in a capacity similar to a prosecutor.
Capuchetti and Rívolo decided that in the present investigation, they would only bring charges against Sabag Montiel and two others, a trio dubbed the “Cotton Candy Gang” because they used to work selling cotton candy on the streets. Their investigation suggests they may have used the cotton candy cart to blend in with the crowds and get closer to Kirchner.
They are charged with attempted murder and are being held in pre-trial detention. In June, Capuchetti announced that the three suspects would be sent to trial, meaning that the investigation has been closed.
However, Kirchner’s legal team alleges that Capuchetti failed to fully investigate possible intellectual authors, arguing that the material authors’ associates had ties with major figures of the opposition.
The Cotton Candy Gang
“It was loaded, I pulled the trigger and the shot didn’t come out,” Sabag Montiel told C5N news channel last March. When asked if he regretted it, he said he did not. Sabag Montiel had a “black sun” symbol tattooed on his elbow — a symbol used in Nazi Germany and by far-right movements today.
Users of Rouzed — a 4-chan-like forum full of far-right conspiracy theories — said Sabag Montiel was a member of the site, and it closed down after these allegations.
Sabag Montiel’s girlfriend, Brenda Uliarte, 23, first acted surprised and said she was not involved in the attack. But the investigators demonstrated that she had participated in planning the attack and was present when it happened. She was arrested four days later.
“Today I will become [Argentine hero José] San Martín,” Uliarte texted a friend of hers before the attack. “I’m having Cristina killed.”
After the attack, Uliarte sent a text to the other member of the gang, its self-proclaimed leader Nicolás Carrizo, saying: “Next time I’ll go and shoot. Nando missed. I know how to shoot well, my hand doesn’t tremble”.
Kirchner and her lawyers José Ubeira and Marcos Aldazábal have consistently argued that the Cotton Candy Gang did not act alone, and called for the judiciary to seek out who they believe are the intellectual authors of the attack.
They have also questioned several aspects of the investigation.
Sabag Montiel’s cell phone was wiped clean when a specialist from the Federal Police (PFA, by its Spanish acronym) tried to access it and caused a factory reset. The device was not analyzed by the PFA’s Telephone Forensics Division, which is formally responsible for technical expert analysis of cell phones. The reason the device was not handed to them has not been made public. The specialist division has the latest version of powerful software created by the Israeli company Cellebrite, designed to access any phone.
Uliarte had been involved with the far-right group Revolución Federal (Federal Revolution), which was founded by Jonathan Morel and Leonardo Sosa. On August 18, 2022, she participated in the “March of the Torches”, a Revolución Federal protest in which they threw flaming torches and fireworks over the fence of the Casa Rosada.
Revolución Federal have been charged with inciting violence in a separate case for their actions and violent discourse, which included calling for Kirchner’s assassination. Kirchner and her lawyers have asked for the group to be included in the investigation into the attack against her, but the judiciary has refused. Their direct involvement with the case has not been demonstrated.
Days after he was arrested, Sabag Montiel asked Hernán Carrol, a former councilor candidate for libertarian economist José Luis Espert’s party, to coordinate his defense. Espert and his Avanza Libertad party joined opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio earlier this year. Carrol also participated in the March of the Torches, and even did an Instagram live with Uliarte immediately after the march. He was the last person she spoke to before her arrest.
Carrol, who was reportedly in charge of security for Javier Milei’s events, is one of the founders of the right-wing group Nueva Centro Derecha. In 2022, the organization called a rally in which body bags with pictures of different members of the ruling party were hung on the railings of the Casa Rosada, and in which Milei was the main speaker.
According to an investigation by Revista Crisis, Carrol and an ally of his, Marcelo Peretta, arranged the first formal meetings between the libertarian candidate and Bullrich.
In an interview with Radio con Vos, Carrol said he did not know Sabag Montiel nor his girlfriend Brenda Uliarte, but admitted to doing the Instagram live with her.
“I am from Nuevo Centro Derecha, a non-partisan organization in which there are many followers of Milei, Bullrich and Juntos por el Cambio“, he said.
Milman’s alleged comments
On 23 September, an advisor to the ruling party in the Chamber of Deputies, Jorge Abello, testified that days before the attack, he overheard Bullrich’s then-campaign head, Gerardo Milman, telling two assistants: “When they kill her I’ll be on my way to the coast.” He has denied making the comments. In May, his former secretary Ivana Bohdziewicz gave testimony alleging that the contents of her phone had been wiped clean at offices belonging to Bullrich’s think tank.
Bullrich responded that the government had fabricated the accusations. “They can’t stop making things up in the face of the total and absolute failure of their pathetic co-government,” she said about the President and Vice-President on Twitter.
Milman left his role as Bullrich’s campaign advisor amid the controversy over his alleged comments.
On August 23, the Chamber of Deputies approved a judicial resolution enabling police to seize Milman’s cell phone.
In May, Kirchner complained that the investigation had failed to follow any of these lines, and only focused on the “Cotton Candy Gang.”
“From day one until today, the judicial authorities have put one obstacle after another to prevent the truth of what happened on September 1, 2022, from coming to light,” she wrote in a letter.
In June, Capuchetti stressed that she had discarded the Revolución Federal and the other connections and hypotheses.
“Even substantiating numerous measures, some that encroach particularly into the private sphere (raids, seizures, and confiscations), there has not been a gathering of robust objective [evidence] that would reach beyond the terrain of mere conjecture regarding the hypothesis that is sustained so emphatically here,” said Capuchetti’s ruling.
On the anniversary of the attack, Kirchner remained silent, save for some retweets with the hashtag “One year of impunity.” She continues to wait for the trial of Sabag Montiel, Uliarte, and Carrizo. So far, no start date has been announced.