Argentina: Fernández Gov’t in Turmoil After Suspicious Death of Prosecutor

President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner at the UN
AP Photo

The saga of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s death has been taking some bizarre twists and turns over the past week, culminating in President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner dissolving her intelligence service, because she thinks they used Nisman in a bid to discredit her government and might have had something to do with his demise.

Nisman, to recap the story from last week, was found dead of a supposedly self-inflicted gunshot wound in his apartment, which was said to be under so much security protection that foul play was out of the question. As it turns out, a good deal of that security was nominal—he was not being watched like a hawk around the clock by a swarm of security agents.

Nisman had been working for years to prepare a massive report alleging his country’s government colluded with Iran to cover up Iran’s involvement in the horrific 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which resulted in 85 deaths. Nisman’s theory was that Argentina was interested in cultivating better relations with Tehran, to gain access to Iranian oil. At the time of his death, it was speculated that he might have killed himself out of embarrassment that his report couldn’t prove the cover-up he was so determined to expose.

As the Associated Press reports, a week of confusing statements from President Fernández de Kirchner has “deepened a political crisis with wide implications for the last year of her presidency, and perhaps even for the future of the country beyond that. For the first time in her presidency, Fernández appears to have lost control.” National elections are coming up in October.

Her public response to the growing crisis was delivered via two posts on social media websites:

In her first letter on Monday, Fernández at first suggested that Nisman had killed himself, but later raised the possibility some shadowy figure had manipulated him to make the allegations

Three days later, she said she no longer believed it was suicide. Instead, she suggested he had been killed — she did not say by whom — and that Nisman had been fed false information by the former head of the intelligence services.

“They used him while alive and then they needed him dead. It’s that sad and terrible,” she wrote.

The UK Guardian elaborates on Fernández’s allegations, in which she claims “two key witnesses in Nisman’s case against her had been falsely presented to him as Argentinian state intelligence agents in order to smear her name.” Although she says she no longer believes Nisman killed himself, she has not yet specified who she believes was responsible for his death.

The official story of Nisman’s death changed significantly when it was revealed that the killing shot was fired at point-blank range into his forehead, not the temple as earlier stated. Diego Lagomarsino, a computer expert and colleague of Nisman’s who said he had provided the prosecutor with a handgun, was barred from leaving Argentina while the inquiry proceeded. “Investigators, who initially said Nisman appeared to have committed suicide, have not ruled out homicide or ‘induced suicide,'” reported AFP.

Argentines are described as deeply divided on the Nisman tragedy, with members of the Jewish community more forlorn than ever about the prospects of a satisfying resolution for the 1994 bombing case. Most acutely dismayed was reporter Damian Pachter, who broke the story of Nisman’s death and was in such fear of his own life that he fled Argentina for Israel. “I will return when my sources tell me that the conditions have changed,” said Pachter. “I don’t think that will happen under this administration.”

As he explains in a full account of his departure published at The Jewish Daily Forward, Pachter believed he was under surveillance by Argentine spies, and his phone had been tapped. “I then had to consider the best thing to do, because when an Argentine intelligence agent is on your tail, it’s never good news,” he writes. “He didn’t just want to have a coffee with me, that’s for sure.” Adding to the atmosphere of paranoia, the Twitter account of the Argentine presidential palace posted the details of his flight to Tel Aviv, apparently in an effort to prove he wasn’t so much fleeing the country as taking a brief vacation to Israel. Pachter says the ticket details posted by the Argentinian government are incorrect.

The Buenos Aires Herald says Fernández has announced legislation that would dissolve the Intelligence Secretariat, replacing it with a new Federal Intelligence Agency where “both the director and deputy director would have to be designated and passed by the Senate.” The bill would also “transfer responsibility for wiretaps and other communications monitoring away from the intelligence agency, to the Attorney General’s office.” The television broadcast where she announced this proposal was the first public appearance Fernández has made since Nisman’s death, ostensibly due to “suffering a fractured ankle over the holiday season.”


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