By Michael Roderick
While politicians across Argentina prepare for presidential elections, embattled President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has a new set of problems to deal with. Kirchner, who will not be running for reelection because of the country’s term limits for the office, has come under questioning recently in the mysterious death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman.
Nisman was found dead in his apartment on January 18 with what was originally thought to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. At the time of his death Nisman had been tirelessly working on the continued investigation of a 1994 bombing at a Jewish community center, which killed 85 individuals and injured hundreds more. Shortly after his death details began to surface, turning what originally seemed like an open and shut suicide case into a political nightmare.
As the lead prosecutor in the AMIA Jewish center bombing, Nisman had worked with Interpol in an attempt to seek out Iranian suspects in the attack. Nisman was also vocal in his accusations that Kirchner and her regime had been protecting officials in Iran who he believed were responsible for this unsolved disaster. Since his death, it has been unearthed that Nisman was on the verge of publicly testifying in front of Congress against Kirchner and that he had drafted a warrant for her arrest and detention in relation to the accusations of attempts to cover up Iran’s role in the bombing.
Kirchner’s Ties to Iran
In documents recently made public by an Argentine judge, Nisman showed intercepted telephone calls between members of Kirchner’s administration and members of the Iranian government, discussing plans for Argentina to secure oil from Iran in return for help with covering up Iran’s involvement in the AMIA bombing twenty years ago. Kirchner’s administration has been struggling to fight “nagging power cuts” as well as political trouble and many other economic shortcomings throughout her time in office; the prolonged conversations between Iranian and Argentine officials were seen by Nisman as a deliberate attempt by Kirchner to use her high position to protect members of a government that could give her country access to important markets and help with energy shortages.
The intercepted phone calls also contend that high ranking Argentine officials had discussed sending food and weapons to the Iranians in return for oil. There were also discussions of attempting to find a scapegoat for the Jewish community center massacre.
Conspiracy on Top of Conspiracy
In the wake of Alberto Nisman’s death, President Kirchner implied that the prosecutor had committed suicide, yet she promptly changed her tune when ballistic reports concluded that there was no gunpowder on Nisman’s hands and there was a hidden entrance that could have allowed access to his apartment. Once Kirchner admitted that she believed that the death of Mr. Nisman was not of his own doing, the spin machine was set in motion. Kirchner’s current position is that the murder and all of the accusations of corruption aimed at her administration are actually the work of individuals within the Argentine Intelligence Secretariat in an attempt to discredit her presidency. The President claimed that “they used him alive, and then they needed him dead, as sad and as terrible as that is.”
The blame, in the President’s eyes, has falls on intelligence agent, Antonio Stiuso, who was instrumental to Nisman over the course of his investigation into the AMIA attack and has been a communications expert specifically in the field of wiretapping for the intelligence agency. Kirchner has used this accusation as a means to ask Congress to help her disband the Intelligence Secretariat entirely. As this situation continues to play out like a script from a Hollywood movie, Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso, who was fired by Kirchner prior to the murder of Nisman, has disappeared and is apparently being sought by the Kirchner government for questioning.
The Tangled Web
As Argentina tries to move forward and deal with the murder of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, they are scrambling for information that will help make sense of a situation that has more twists and turns than a spy novel. If the President is to be believed, and the Intelligence Secretariat used Nisman as a pawn to attack Ms. Kirchner and her presidency, we must ask why they would silence him mere hours before he was going to testify in front of Congress.
Why kill the man before a testimony where he planned to prove the President of actively working to hinder the investigation and obstruct justice in one of the deadliest single attacks in Argentine history? Would it not make more sense to allow Nisman the ability to persuade more people of the guilt of the President? Does the fact that the President immediately ruled the death a suicide seem a strange thing to do before the reports were even filed? Then to accuse the remaining living individuals who had also worked to expose the cover-up may also strike some people as an extremely convenient political tactic.
If we look to popular opinion, Argentine polls in the weeks following the death of Alberto Nisman showed that 82 percent of Argentines surveyed believed that Nisman’s claims against Kirchner were credible. There clearly needs to be a true investigation into the AMIA Jewish community center bombing, as well as into the way that the investigation was handled by current and previous Argentine administrations and the murder of Alberto Nisman. These investigations must be carried out by impartial organizations outside of the control of the Argentine government, as there can be no confidence in a thorough investigation if it is done by the Kirchner administration or her allies in the judiciary. Furthermore, as Argentina prepares to elect a new President this coming fall, something must be done to ensure the citizens they can trust the electoral process and those in the most powerful offices in the country.
Image by jmalievi