A bullet in the head ended the life of Argentine Prosecutor Alberto Nisman. No matter if the shot was deliberate or induced, it shocked the country and it is still causing international commotion and indignation. Nisman was in charge of the investigation on the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), which caused the death of 85 persons. He recently accused Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner and her entourage of covering up the investigation in order to benefit Iranian officials, who have been in the past accused of perpetrating the attack.
Nisman’s death, beside fueling all types of conspiracy theories and causing political and social polarization in Argentina, caught the attention of international media, public figures and politicians, especially in the US. Several US lawmakers asked for an independent investigation either on Nisman’s death and the AMIA case, and they openly accused the Argentinian government to partner with Iran in thwarting Nisman’s investigation and to have a hand in his suspicious death.
US interest in Argentinian affairs has instead much to do with the long-standing call for the Iranian threat in US backyard and with Obama’s internal opposition toward his recent decisions in foreign policy. The still unsolved prosecutors’s death allowed Obama’s opponents to move back the focus on Iran’s supposed terrorist activities in Latin America, especially in a time when US administration is approaching Teheran for a nuclear deal. And it also allowed Obama’s opposition to undermine his overture toward Cuba by the attempt to destabilize a government politically close to the leftist Latin American block.
Nisman: a fierce champion of Iran’s threat in US backyard
Nisman was found dead in his own apartment in Buenos Aires on Sunday 18th, the day before he was going to debate in the Chamber of Deputies the results of his own investigation. Few days earlier, Nisman presented in a television program the evidences he recollected of the attempt, mainly by Kirchner and her Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, to cover up Iranian role in the AMIA bombing through an informal deal as part of the Memorandum of National Understanding signed in 2013 between Argentina and Iran.
When Nestor Kirchner, the late Cristinas’ husband, appointed Nisman for the investigation in 2004, the prosecutor directed his own efforts toward the incrimination of Iran and Hezbollah operatives as direct perpetrators of the bombing. Nisman’s accusations led in 2007 to an Interpol red notice against several high-ranking Iranian officials. The measure did not help much the AMIA investigation, and since 2009 Interpol too asked the parts to consider a bilateral agreement in order to move on with the investigation.
In the aftermath of the Iranian-Argentinian agreement in 2013, Nisman released a 500-page indictment, in which he aimed to expose Iranian infiltration in the hemisphere and its terrorist activities. The report, filled with information retrieved from an Iranian opposition party and US agencies, was widely criticized for the lack of reliable sources, shedding instead light again on the controversial figure of Alberto Nisman. Indeed, Wikileaks cables, published in 2010, exposed Nisman ties with US embassy representatives in Buenos Aires, with whom the prosecutor was regularly sharing information on the investigation.
Cristina Kirchner government, who blamed the US of conspiracy in other circumstances, accused the opposition and media conglomerates to stage a soft coup against her government, but without clarifying the position of the people addressed in the documents, and who were dealing as supposed intermediaries between Argentina and Iran. The Iranian government too dismissed the accusations and played a low profile in the case, denying the existence of any parallel diplomacy. Iran has developed strategic political and economic relations in Latin America, mainly due to late Hugo Chavez, who “introduced” Iranians to other Latin American governments, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Argentina, among others.
Despite the evidences presented by Nisman were dismissed as almost inconsistent, and Interpol former director denied Argentinian request to lift the red notice against Iranian officials, the ingredients of the Argentinian drama took the attention of US media, public figures and politicians, who used the blurring case for internal political interests.
US media, public indignation and Obama’s foreign policy
While the investigation is proceeding cautiously and new information surges every day, international and US media mainly oversimplified the case, preemptively assuming Argentinian government involvement in Nisman’s death, and most of the time ignoring rectifications of the events during the progress of the investigation. Conservative US dailies advocated for sanctioning and isolating the Argentinean government, while others media hinted straight after the events at an independent international investigation. Nisman’s accusation toward Iran pushed back in US media the focus on Iran as a terrorist state and alerted over the danger of its presence in US backyard. With lack of solid journalist coverage of the investigation on the prosecutor’s death, even public figures like Mia Farrow and Martina Navratilova, lashed out in social media their public indignation against the Argentinian government.
In line with the public opinion representation of the events, US State Department asked too for an independent inquiry on Nisman’s death, but excluding to comment on the possible Iranian involvement. Most of the internal attention on the case came from several US politicians who used Nisman’s case as bridgehead to oppose Obama’s recent foreign policy decisions. Republican senator Jeff Duncan was probably the first in condemning Nisman’s death and accusing the Argentinian government. Florida Senator, and possible Republican presidential candidate for 2016 elections, Marco Rubio, wrote a letter to John Kerry asking the Secretary of State to support the establishment of an independent investigation into Nisman’s death. But main goal of Rubio’s letter was to alert the public on the danger of Iran “infiltration” in the region. Rubio, the new Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, aimed to use Nisman‘s case to thwart the possible nuclear deal which Iran. The stance of Rubio, a strong critic too of Obama’s overture toward Cuba, prompted a vehement response from Argentinian officials who accused the senator of “imperialist behavior”. Preconceived accusations toward the Argentinian government came also from the Democratic Bob Menendez, who has always been against Obama’s Cuba rapprochement and the Iranian nuclear deal.
For the time being, Argentina remains politically polarized, and no clear evidences on the killing or the suicide of Nisman will in any way stop the culture of conspiracy and speculations from all sides. Iranian nuclear deal, Kirchner closeness to leftist Latin American governments and Obama’s Cuba overture are the glue of the Argentinian-US connection. A perfect recipe in order to build an internal fight on US foreign policy in one single case.
Massimo Di Ricco is Lecturer at the Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla (Colombia) and is currently a research fellow at the University of Tarragona (Spain). He is contributing to several publications on the Middle East, Latin America, global politics and media.