The Alberto Nisman affair shakes Argentina

Margot Bauche. Translated by Kendall Maxwell
14 Avril 2015

On the night of the 18th and 19th January, Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in his Puerto Madero apartment in Buenos Aires. For nearly a month since, his death has been the cause of a people’s uprising in the capital, demanding justice and transparency. Back to the drama that always shakes Argentina.

Alberto Nisman. Credit Radio Uchile
Alberto Nisman. Credit Radio Uchile
Previously ruled a suicide, the death of Alberto Nisman raises some real questions. The prosecutor was investigating the AMIA case and appeared to have made some compromising revelations on the implications surrounding President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and senior Argentine officials in the attacks that hit Argentine almost twenty years ago.

The death of the prosecutor

On 18th January, the body of prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found lifeless in his home, killed by a bullet to the head. The day after his death, Nisman was to present a 289-page file to Congress, a result of his investigation of the AMIA case. Still today, the unsolved attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA, Asocciación Mutual Isrealita Argentina) on 18 July 1994 is considered one of the most significant terrorist attacks in the country, resulting in 85 killed and 230 injured.

In his report, Nisman accused the President as well as multiple senior officials, notably the Minister of Foreign Affairs Héctor Timerman, of having protected Iran in the investigation following the attack on AMIA. On 14 January, four days before his death, the prosecutor said in the newspaper Todo Noticias that there exists a “[governmental] alliance with terrorists.” He claimed to be able to present proof of a “pact of immunity, negotiated and organized with the Iranians,” along with commercial exchanges, namely gas, accrued with Iran. The same day, Nisman announced that he had received numerous threats. He also called to attention his preoccupation with his safety, as well as that of his two daughters, affirming that this affair had radically changed his life.

Alberto Nisman at his final televised interview, 14 January 2015. Credit Youtube
Alberto Nisman at his final televised interview, 14 January 2015. Credit Youtube
Jaime Stiuso, former chief of the Argentine intelligence agency and Nisman’s foremost informer, has meanwhile fled the country. Nowhere to be found as of late, he would have been the last person to have spoken with the prosecutor before his death. He met Alberto Nisman in 2004, and since then had been collaborating with him in the investigation of the attack on AMIA.

Dissolution of the intelligence agency

Since 22 January, President Kirchner has retracted her initial statement affirming on social networks: “I am convinced that this ‘suicide’ was not a suicide.”

Eight days after the death of Nisman, the President spoke during what was nearly an hour-long interview transcribed by the media in order to respond to different accusations concerning the implication of the government in the death of Nisman: “I’m not afraid. Let them say what they want, let them make whatever accusations they wish, let the judges cite me […] but they will not make me move even a centimeter from the report that I have always given.” The same day, the President announced the dissolution of the Argentine Intelligence agency (la Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado), which will shortly be replaced by a federal intelligence agency. Numerous rumors have circulated since, affirming that this dissolution was caused by their implication in the constitution of the case against the government which depended on Nisman.

Argentine “18-F” and Kirchner’s riposte

Christina Fernández de Kirchner addressing the nation, 26 January 2015. Credit Youtube
Christina Fernández de Kirchner addressing the nation, 26 January 2015. Credit Youtube
On 18 February (“18-F”), a silent march organized by different prosecutors in honor of their departed colleague gathered nearly 400,000 Argentines in the streets of Buenos Aires. The assembly was made to demand that justice was done for Alberto Nisman. Another goal of the rally was to claim the independence of the judiciary and to denounce the political impunity that has been rife in Argentina for decades. On this occasion, numerous placards assumed the slogan “Yo soy Nisman” (“I am Nisman”), directly accusing the government and the secret services of having ordered the prosecutor’s murder.

Since the announcement regarding the organization of this rally, the government has refused to call it an “homage to Nisman”, likening it instead to a veritable “political manipulation” in opposition to the President, “a march in opposition gathered by prosecutors, supported by judges and the entire opposition.” In response to the President’s statements, the Association of Judges and Officials of National Justice have said “Judiciary power is not a part, but one of the powers of the State. Independent from the others, it must be one of the three [powers]”.

Rallies on the “Plaza de Mayo”, 18 February 2015. Credit BBC
Rallies on the “Plaza de Mayo”, 18 February 2015. Credit BBC
Currently, the Nisman affair is subject to significant political manipulation. It is at the center of a huge governmental propaganda effort. While multiple Argentine judges and prosecutors accuse the president of exerting pressure on the judiciary, statements and counterstatements made by different political actors supply an undeniably dangerous climate of tension in the country.

And Tomorrow?

For almost a month, the investigation was stalled in Argentina. Prosecutor Viviana Fein is currently charged with investigating the death of Alberto Nisman. Prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita meanwhile resumed Nisman’s investigation into the attack on AMIA.

Against a background of anti-Semitism and state conspiracy, the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman is profoundly intriguing, in Argentina as well as on an international level. While almost 70% of Argentines do not believe the current suicide theory, the Nisman affair deeply taints the image of the president as well as that of her government some months before the next presidential election in October 2015. The significant mobilization of Argentines marks the unanimous will of the people to obtain more transparency, as well as a legitimate separation of powers, notably judiciary and executive. An affair a long way away from being elucidated.