[Sent April 20, 2015]
Argentina has been in the news lately, and for all the lovely familiar Argentine reasons. Bankruptcy fury, labor strikes, inflation denial, Falkland Islands muscle-flexing, and of course Nazi hideouts are all making headlines, along with a demand for the arrest of Justin Bieber. It all seems like interesting timing to me. Why would President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner suddenly provoke a diplomatic crisis with the United Kingdom? And sue one of the biggest banks on the planet?
Well, maybe because the biggest criminal investigation in Argentine history is going down right now, and President de Kirchner is right in the middle of it.
On July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber drove a van loaded with a six-hundred pound fertilizer bomb into a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The explosion killed eighty-five people and injured more than three hundred. No organization claimed responsibility for the attack, but Israeli and American intelligence laid the blame on Iran, acting through Lebanese Shi’a militia group Hizbollah; along with a great deal of other evidence, two years earlier, Hizbollah had bombed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. However, Argentina’s investigation into the bombing was a farce from the beginning. This BBC article notes the “repeated incompetence and deception” in the government case, writing “No proper autopsies or DNA tests were done on human remains at the site. In one of the most shocking incidents, police simply dumped in a bin a head found near the scene thought to have been that of the bomber.” Other incidents are almost comical. A federal judge presiding over the investigation was caught on tape offering a witness $400,000 in return for evidence. Argentine officials seized a suspect in Britain, but couldn’t even meet the evidentiary requirements to have him extradited. An investigator was kidnapped and tortured, allegedly by fearful Argentine intelligence agents. Why the screw-ups? Reports emerged that then-Argentine President Carlos Menem had intentionally obstructed the investigation in return for a $10 million bribe from Iran.
After ten years of embarrassing failures and under domestic pressure, in 2005 President Nestor Kirchner (Cristina’s husband), apologized to the world and to the Jewish community of the country, calling the government’s response a “national disgrace” and accepting a share of the blame. A new chief prosecutor was named: a Jewish Argentine named Alberto Nisman. Nisman plodded along in the mostly lip-service investigation for nine years, with the most exciting development probably being in 2013 when Nestor’s successor/wife Cristina announced her intention to set up a “truth commission” with Iran to look into the bombing, which is a little like teaming up with Osama bin Laden to find out what happened on 9/11. It became clear that Argentina had no intention of revealing what was certainly incriminating information. Besides, Iran was expanding its influence with left-wing leaders in Latin America, and under Cristina exports to Iran had ballooned to more than a billion dollars annually.
But then Alberto Nisman went rogue.
On January 14, 2015, Nisman delivered a 300-page presentation to a federal court accusing Cristina of covering up Iran’s involvement in the bombing, alleging with “irrefutable proof” that the president had “conducted secret negotiations with Iran through non-diplomatic channels in 2013, and offered to cover up the involvement of Iranian officials in return for oil to ease Argentina’s chronic energy deficit.” Under the proposed deal, which was never finalized due to the inability of Argentine officials to get Iranian suspects removed from Interpol’s arrest list, Argentine grain was to be exchanged for desperately-needed Iranian oil. Four days later, just hours before he was due to present his findings to parliament, Nisman was found in his apartment with a bullet in his head.
Amid the national uproar that followed, the government claimed it was a suicide. Cristina declared the allegations baseless, dissolved the country’s security service, and began to lash out against any enemies she could find. Her government took out a full-page ad in national newspapers accusing Nisman of attempting to destabilize the country. In a four-hour speech in March she made vague allegations against Israel, claiming “the country had shown tremendous interest in getting justice for the community centre bombing but not in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires” and trying to link Nisman’s death to the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran in some kind of vast Middle Eastern conspiracy. The President has also announced plans to revive the “truth commission” with Iran that Nisman had singled out as a specific result of the secret negotiations.
To call Cristina embattled is something of an understatement. Hundreds of thousands of protesters are yelling “Yo soy Nisman!” in Buenos Aires. They found Nisman’s own gun in a storage area, prompting the question of why he would kill himself with someone else’s. Yesterday Argentina’s former intelligence chief fled the country. Things are coming to a head, and so I am not surprised in the least that the government is making waves about the Falkland Islands and Citibank and Justin goddamn Bieber.
In other news, it’s Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, a public holiday dedicated to civic pride, historical remembrance, and drunk teenagers heckling exhausted marathon runners. Besides that, a Florida man flies a gyrocopter onto the Capitol lawn in an attempt to raise awareness for alligator rights, Aaron Hernandez prepares to just dominate prison, Elon Musk’s rocket blew up, and the Surgeon General is denying reports of Elmo’s autism.
1. Jack Thayer, “Jumping Ship: Getting Off the Titanic” for Lapham’s Quarterly.
Jack’s story of surviving the Titanic. This is an absolutely wild story.
2. Yaroslav Trofimov, “Would New Borders Mean Less Conflict in the Middle East?” for the Wall Street Journal.
Hint: No. There’s a lot of good analysis here about the future of the Middle East.
3. Graham E. Fuller, “Hidden Agendas in Yemen” on his blog.
Nice, short rundown of the different actors affecting the issues in Yemen. Interesting bits for every state.
4. Bill Jensen, “The Insane Story of the Guy Who Killed the Guy Who Killed Lincoln” for the Washingtonian.
Despite the Buzzfeed headline, this is a fascinating story about the self-castrating religious madman who killed John Wilkes Booth and fled West.
5. John Antonioni, “Game of Thrones: why hasn’t Westeros had an industrial revolution?” for The Conversation.
Deal with it.
1. Hiss Golden Messenger, “Lucia” at WFUV in New York.
2. Parker Millsap, “Truck Stop Gospel” for Blackwatch Studios.
3. Steve Earle, “Tom Ames’ Prayer” live at the Factory Theatre in Sydney.