EspañolFirst were the two letters published on social media after the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman. Now Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner has appeared on television to give her two cents on the case, with a speech transmitted nationwide through the state channel on Monday, January 26.
The first image viewers received told them all they needed to know. Dressed in pristine white — the color of innocence — and sat in a wheelchair positioned for the view of everyone, Kirchner launched into a self-referential discourse, waxing lyrical about the supposed achievements of her term in office. The not-so-subliminal message was clear: she’s the wronged party in search of compassion.
In contrast with her previous televised speeches, on this occasion the president chose to come out from behind her desk. A domestic accident that caused her to fracture her ankle a month ago gave her the excuse to sit in a wheelchair. The image didn’t allow for uncharitable interpretations. Instead, it seemed to say, Kirchner doesn’t stand accused of covering up for the Iranian officials who committed the 1994 bombing against the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires. She’s not the one who should offer her condolences to the victims’ families. Instead, Kirchner’s version of events presents her as the victim in the whole sorry affair.
See No Evil
Kirchner’s principal objective throughout her address was to exonerate herself from any blame. She began by doing the same for her husband, the late former President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), arguing that claims that he had unconstitutionally appointed Nisman to the AMIA case were “ignorant” or “malevolent.”
The choice of Nisman, the president argued, was made by the attorney-general at the time, Esteban Righi. But it’s not hard to see the figure of Néstor Kirchner at work, who from his first moment in office embarked on the wholesale politicization of the judiciary.
It was also Néstor Kirchner who in 2004 assigned Nisman the task of working with shadowy intelligence agent Jaime Stiusso, now pointed to in the official version as the man behind the prosecutor’s death. But Kirchner denied any knowledge of this too. She also didn’t know for 11 years that the Intelligence Secretariat (SI) was under the control of two of the most trusted confidantes of her husband, Sergio Acevedo and Héctor Icazuriaga.
Both received Kirchner’s blessing to govern the province of his birth, Santa Cruz; Icazuriaga temporarily succeeded Kirchner to the position when he became president, while Acevedo took up the position (to which he had initially been elected) a few months later when Icazuriaga became Secretary of Intelligence.
“I have taken the decision to dissolve the Secretariat and create the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI),” said Kirchner. The dissolution of the SI is in line with the president’s own public theory, which holds that the death of the prosecutor after accusing her was part of an “operation against the government.” As if she had only just come to office, Kirchner claimed surprise at the presence of anti-democratic elements within the SI. However, she offered no evidence to support her dramatic claims.
A change in lettering doesn’t represent a genuine reform. Instead, minor changes in the structure of Argentina’s intelligence services will only serve to add to the arbitrary political power of top officials. Among the new agency’s powers — which is yet to be approved by Congress — is the investigation of “crimes against the economic and financial order.” In other words, the new intelligence-gathering body will be able to investigate banks and currency exchangers, regularly singled out by Kirchner, in the best tradition of Nicolás Maduro, as spearheading a destabilizing economic conspiracy against her government.
Still more preoccupying are new powers for the attorney general’s office, which will now be the body to to approve judicial requests to intercept telephone communications. The current occupant of the post is Alejandra Gils Carbó, who has headed up the executive’s long-running battle to control unruly prosecutors and judges who bravely refused to turn a blind eye to impunity and corruption.
What will Gils Carbó’s attitude be when asked to approve eavesdropping on government officials and allies? Will it be the same as she adopted when she removed a judge from his post for investigating corrupt goings-on linked to the president? Will the content of monitored phone calls also be open to the attorney general? Of this last point there was no mention.
Prosecutors, judges, ministers, or any other public official will be prohibited from communicating with AFI agents. According to the reform, which will be sent to Congress for approval next week, those looking to access intelligence agents will have to go through the director and sub-director of the organization, another maneuver to preserve its impunity from opposition and investigation. Meanwhile, the government will continue to support the parallel intelligence structure that army chief César Milani has been building up and arming since 2013.
Nisman: The Usual Suspects
In the concluding part of her speech, Kirchner insinuated that behind Diego Lagomarsino, the employee of Nisman who allegedly handed the prosecutor the gun with which he was killed, is the media company Clarín, the government’s enemy of choice to which it attributes every problem in the country. Lagomarsino, in theory, is the material author of Nisman’s death. “He’s the brother of an important executive of the Saenz Valiente studio, a partner in the Clarín Group,” asserted the president.
However, on the studio’s website, Lagomarsino’s brother appears as the IT manager, hardly an important executive position. The firm itself has stated that it “offers temporary services to the study in the area of systems, without any ownership role.” The multimedia group has similarly denied the president’s version.
Without a single word of condolences for the prosecutor or his family, Kirchner instead embarked on an exercise of self-aggrandizement. The president, apparently, has nothing to do with the activities of the country’s intelligence services over the past 11 years, despite her and her husband being in charge of the country for the entire period. Instead, she’s a great reformer, the only one who knows the real truth behind the death of the prosecutor.
Theories abound, as do political maneuvers. What we know for certain is that a prosecutor, in charge of investigating the worst terrorist attack to take place on Argentinean soil, was found dead a day before giving evidence to Congress that would further implicate the president in a cover-up.
It’s likely that this will continue to be the only certainty. The death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, meanwhile, will just become one more statistic in Argentina’s long history of political impunity.