By Simon Romero
Feb. 5, 2015
BUENOS AIRES — The lead investigator in the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who accused Argentina’s president of trying to shield Iranians from responsibility over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center here, summoned an ousted spy chief to testify in the case on Thursday.
But Antonio Stiusso, a former spymaster at Argentina’s premier intelligence agency, appeared to be resisting the summons. Mr. Stiusso’s lawyer said he was looking into whether his client could testify about matters that might be covered by secrecy laws.
“Stiusso was an excellent civil servant,” the lawyer, Santiago Blanco Bermúdez, said in comments broadcast on local radio, referring to his client’s four-decade career at the Intelligence Secretariat as one of the country’s most powerful spies. He said he did not expect Mr. Stiusso to testify on Thursday.
Testimony by Mr. Stiusso could shed light on the circumstances around the death of Mr. Nisman, 51, who was found at his Buenos Aires apartment on Jan. 18 with a gunshot wound to his head, a day before he had been scheduled to speak to Congress about his accusations against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. She and her top aides have accused Mr. Stiusso of having a hand in the events surrounding the prosecutor’s death.
Viviana Fein, the lead investigator in Mr. Nisman’s death, told the newspaper La Nación on Wednesday night that she had asked Mr. Stiusso to testify on Thursday. According to telephone records, a phone thought to belong to Mr. Stiusso was used to call Mr. Nisman hours before his death, the newspaper reported.
Appearing to respond to Mr. Blanco Bermúdez’s concerns, Oscar Parrilli, the head of the Intelligence Secretariat, said on Thursday that the president had lifted the secrecy restrictions that would have prevented Mr. Stiusso from testifying. Mr. Blanco Bermúdez could not be reached immediately for comment on the developments.
Mr. Nisman had been investigating the 1994 attack on the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, run by the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, which left 85 people dead.
Days before his death, Mr. Nisman had accused Mrs. Kirchner of seeking to forge a secret deal to shield Iranians charged in the attack from responsibility. No one has been charged with responsibility for his death, and investigators have not yet determined if it was a suicide or a homicide. However, an information technology consultant for Mr. Nisman’s investigative unit was charged with lending him the gun that was found on the floor near his body.
The president and her top aides have angrily rejected Mr. Nisman’s accusations, which were laid out in a 289-page criminal complaint, and have pointed to statements by the former head of Interpol saying that Argentine officials had never sought to lift the arrest warrants for Iranians sought in connection with the bombing.
Mr. Nisman had acknowledged receiving ample assistance for his investigations from Mr. Stiusso, who was removed from his post by the president in December. The core of his complaint against Mrs. Kirchner was based on intercepts of telephone calls believed to have been obtained by Mr. Stiusso’s operatives at the intelligence agency.
In the radio interview, Mr. Blanco Bermúdez, said Mr. Stiusso had “a fleet of telephones in his name which were used by various people.” The lawyer said he could not dismiss the possibility that one of those phones was used by someone with access to them in the hours before Mr. Nisman was found dead.
In the uproar over Mr. Nisman’s death, Mrs. Kirchner moved last month to dissolve the Intelligence Secretariat in a sweeping overhaul of Argentina’s intelligence services, which she contended “have not served the interests of the country.” Her government wants new legislation to create an agency with reduced surveillance powers.
In another twist, Ms. Fein on Wednesday canceled plans to go on vacation on Feb. 18, a move that had driven suspicions that she was being pressured by the government. Ms. Fein has denied that she is under any pressure.
Aníbal Fernández, the president’s chief of staff, said the government was not trying to displace Ms. Fein. Mr. Fernández had even urged Ms. Fein to postpone her vacation, criticizing her for “leaving here to put on her swimsuit.” A judge, Daniel Rafecas, was also appointed on Wednesday to take up the case put forward by Mr. Nisman before his death, easing concerns that it would languish in Argentina’s legal system.
Ms. Fein confirmed that Mr. Nisman had drafted a request for arrest warrants for Mrs. Kirchner and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, in connection with his accusations. The draft of the document, which was not included in his complaint, was found in the garbage at Mr. Nisman’s home, Ms. Fein said this week.
Charles Newbery and Jonathan Gilbert contributed reporting.
By John Paul Rathbone
February 5, 2015
No Argentine believes this conspiracy will be solved, writes John Paul Rathbone
Truth can be stranger than fiction. Ever since Alberto Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment, Argentina — or, more precisely, the government of Cristina Fernández — has proved the wisdom of the proverb. You could not make this story up.
Three weeks ago, Nisman was preparing for the defining moment of his career. On January 19, the 51-year old prosecutor was set to accuse the president of covering up Iran’s alleged role in Argentina’s worst terrorist attack: a 1994 bombing that killed 85 people. A few hours before the congressional hearing, Nisman’s mother found her son lying in a pool of blood.
At first, Ms Fernández suggested Nisman’s death was suicide. Then, in a rambling Facebook post, she suggested it was a murder, at the hand of rogue spies wanting to discredit her.
“In Argentina . . . every day you have to explain the obvious and the simple,” she wrote wearily, adding: “in Argentina, like everywhere, not everything is what it seems”. Few leaders can match such sarcasm.
Conspiracy theories are thickening. Officials blame “dark interests”. Yet most of the conspiracy theories are fed by the state itself.
On Sunday, Clarín, a newspaper that has clashed repeatedly with the president, reported that Nisman had also drafted a warrant for her arrest. The government rubbished the report and, on television, the cabinet chief ripped it up. The next day, it transpired the article was true: a draft of the warrant was found in Nisman’s garbage.
Argentines remain understandably suspicious of their intelligence services, which are little changed since the military dictatorship ended in 1983. That means Ms Fernández’s idea that rogue spies planned Nisman’s death is not entirely implausible. Yet that does not make Ms Fernández a credible reformer of Argentina’s spy services, the mantle she claimed in an hour-long television broadcast on January 26.
After all, long experience has also made Argentines wary of government lies — over almost everything, but particularly corruption and inflation. The government, acting as if it is holier than Mother Teresa, has always batted away such allegations.
“No Argentine believes this conspiracy will be solved, because of the complicity of so many sectors”
But now, trapped by its own mistakes, it can no longer disguise reality with words. Nobody suggests Ms Fernández orchestrated Nisman’s death. But her government’s actions suggest that it is scared and perhaps hiding something too. Ms Fernández’s behaviour has not helped. She is yet to offer condolences to Nisman’s family. On Wednesday, on a trip to China, she also mocked her hosts’ accents by swapping l’s for r’s, remarking that humour was the best reaction to slurs.
Now the spotlight is on Argentina’s judiciary. It is slow, inefficient, perhaps corrupt, but still enjoys silos of competence and legal expertise. Indeed, its independence is one reason why Argentina is not as messed up as Venezuela, despite Ms Fernández’s best efforts to control it (she is a lawyer).
Two years ago, for example, Ms Fernández proposed a reform that would have seen the panel that chooses Argentine judges selected by popular vote. This would supposedly “democratise” the legal system. In reality, it would have put it in thrall to ruling politicians. In the end, the courts threw out the initiative, as they did a government-sponsored accord with Tehran over the 1994 terrorist attack.
One does not have to look far for reasons why Ms Fernández might want to stack the judiciary in her favour. Her personal wealth has grown exponentially since she and her deceased husband came to power in 2003. In 2013, according to the latest filing, her wealth grew 15 per cent to $6.6m. But her presidency ends this year, she cannot seek re-election and, stripped of immunity, that could leave her legally exposed. Ms Fernández’s actions give critics further cause for suspicion.
One solution now might be to bring in a credible team of independent experts to investigate Nisman’s death — and the 1994 bombing too. Mexico brought in Argentine forensic experts to investigate the death of 43 students this year. Similarly, a UN-backed commission investigated the mysterious death of a Guatemalan judge in 2009. Buenos Aires has not made a similar move.
The result is a murder conspiracy that nobody believes will ever be properly solved because of the complicity of so many sectors: the state, the presidency, the judiciary, Congress and the intelligence services. The story exemplifies that notion that Argentina, 32 years after the demise of the military junta, remains at best a flawed democracy and at worst a rogue state.
By Aaron Rutkoff
February 5, 2015
The president of Argentina apparently forgot that it’s not smart to make fun of the people who are bailing out your country.
Next time, Christina Fernández de Kirchner might want to listen to her doctors.
The Argentine president, already mired in a furor at home over the mysterious death of a prosecutor who had accused her of graft, posted a message on Twitter during her visit to Beijing that mimicked a stereotypical Chinese accent, asking about “lice” instead of “rice” and “petloleum” rather than petroleum. It tuns out that Fernandez went to China even though her physicians had told her not to travel because of her bum ankle, according to the official China Daily newspaper. She told her hosts she could barely walk before her visit.
Still, there was no stopping her China travel plans—and that’s due in no small part to China’s huge role in Argentina’s economy. “I came out of my desire to be here with you,” Fernández said in Beijing, “with our partners who are coming to sign agreements.” China’s official news agency decided the best strategy was to avoid the embarrassing story in its coverage. Fernández met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said afterwards he was “even more confident of the outlook for China-Argentine relations,” according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency.
Making fun of the Chinese is especially dangerous for Fernández, given the Chinese appetite for one of Argentina’s most important exports—soybeans. China is the one overseas buyer for soybeans that really matters, accounting for 73 percent of the market among major importers. China’s imports surged 17.5 percent last year, to 70 million metric tons, and are likely to increase another 5.2 percent in 2015.
Argentina, the world’s third-biggest grower of soybeans, exported just under 8 million metric tons worldwide last year.
Argentina’s farmers can’t afford a spat with the Chinese government, which has already shown a readiness to use them as a pawn in a trade war. In 2010, China banned imports of Argentine soybean oil over worries about solvent residues. It didn’t help matters that the two countries also were squabbling about other industries, such as textiles and kitchen products. China eventually relented, and the country is now Argentina’s second-largest trading partner, after Brazil.
Another dispute would be costly, given Argentina’s current weakness. Exports of Argentine soybean oil dropped 3.5 percent last year, although the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects them to rebound in 2015. Total exports of soybeans gained only 1.3 percent last year, and the forecast for this year doesn’t look much better.
China is also helping to keep Argentina’s precarious finances in order. When Xi visited Buenos Aires last July, just before the latest default by Argentina, the Chinese leader signed a deal to establish an $11 billion swap agreement. The Argentines have been taking advantage of that generosity, drawing close to $3 billion since then. An official from the Argentine central bank told Bloomberg last month that the country would turn again to China, increasing its foreign exchange reserves by $400 million. The deal “helped to reduce the perception that the country may be heading to yet another currency run,” Goldman Sachs economic Mauro Roca wrote in December.
Argentina isn’t the only country in South America benefiting from Chinese generosity. Hurt because of the falling price of commodities—a plunge driven in part by the slowdown in the Chinese economy—both Venezuela and Ecuador have also received funds from China to prop up their foreign-exchange reserves. China has provided them a combined $27.5 billion in funding and investment, Bloomberg reported last month.
Given that sort of money from China, it’s easy to see why the same day Fernández posted her accent-mocking message on Twitter, she also told Xi of Argentina’s interest in increasing the amount of its currency swap with China, according to Xinhua. All joking aside, Argentina’s leader understands how much her country needs China’s help.
By Charlie Devereux
February 5, 2015
(Bloomberg) — Argentine authorities can’t locate the former spy chief at the center of an investigation into the death of a prosecutor who accused President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of an attempted cover up.
Prosecutors accompanied by intelligence agents weren’t able to find Antonio Stiuso at three addresses registered to his name, Intelligence Secretary Oscar Parrilli said. Stiuso, who worked his way up through the intelligence agency over four decades before his departure last month, was summoned to testify on Thursday by the prosecutor investigating the death of Alberto Nisman from a shot to the head Jan. 18.
Even Stiuso’s lawyer says he doesn’t know where his client is.
“I think he’s in the country but I’m not certain,” Santiago Blanco Bermudez said in an interview on Argentine television channel TN.
Fernandez accused Stiuso of feeding Nisman false information after the prosecutor prepared a 300-page report saying the president sought to cover up the alleged involvement of Iranian officials in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. The government has lifted a confidentiality gag on Stiuso if he’s questioned by investigators, Parrilli said Thursday.
‘Tell Everything’
“The president wants the whole truth to be known and for Stiuso to tell everything,” Parrilli told reporters in Buenos Aires.
Blanco Bermudez said he has met with Stiuso since Nisman’s death and that his client is willing to testify. Talking to his client can be problematic though as Stiuso has almost 100 telephone numbers to his name and he often communicates through third parties, Blanco Bermudez said.
Nisman was found dead in his apartment a day before he was due to present his evidence against President Fernandez to lawmakers. A draft document calling for the detention of Fernandez and members of her government was found in Nisman’s apartment following his death, prosecutor Viviana Fein said this week.
Under a memorandum of understanding in 2013, Fernandez and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman would push for Interpol to remove “red notices” against some former Iranian officials charged for their involvement in the terrorist attack in exchange for greater trade, Nisman said in his report. A red notice is a request to authorities abroad for help arresting and extraditing wanted persons.
In a letter published on her website Jan. 22, Fernandez said she had no doubt that Nisman was fed false information and then murdered to tarnish her government.
“They used him while alive and then needed him dead. It’s that sad and terrible,” she wrote in a statement on her website. “The real operation against the government was the death of the prosecutor.”
By Sarah Marsh and Richard Lough
Feb 5, 2015
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 5 (Reuters) – Argentine investigators summoned a former spy chief for questioning over the death of a state prosecutor who alleged the country’s president had tried to cover up his investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center, Argentine media reported.
Alberto Nisman was found dead in his flat on Jan. 18, a day before he was due to testify about his claim that President Cristina Fernandez tried to whitewash his findings that Iran was behind the attack in order to win economic favours from Tehran.
Iran vigorously denied involvement in the bombing and Fernandez branded Nisman’s findings absurd. She said Nisman was duped by rogue agents involved in a power struggle at the Argentine spy agency, and killed when he was no longer of value to them.
One of those spies was Antonio Stiusso, Fernandez has said.
Stiusso, fired during a December shake-up of the Intelligence Secretariat, or SI, had helped Nisman with his investigation of the bombing which killed 85 people.
Anibal Fernandez, the president’s chief of staff, declined to confirm Thursday if Stiusso had been called for questioning. Asked if he thought Stiusso would appear before investigators, Fernandez told reporters: “I suppose he has to otherwise he will find himself in an uncomfortable position.”
A spokesman in the office of the lead investigator, Viviana Fein, said he had received no official confirmation from Fein of a summons for Stiusso.
It remains unclear whether Nisman killed himself or was murdered. Conspiracy theories abound, with some pointing directly at the president.
No arrests have been made since President Fernandez’s remark two weeks ago that renegade spies were behind the prosecutor’s death.
Stiusso’s whereabouts were unknown.
“Legally he is in Argentina,” Anibal Fernandez said. “But I don’t know if he has left the country illegally.”
Citing sources close to the investigation into Nisman’s death, Argentine news agency DyN and the daily La Nacion said Stiusso had been called to testify at 11:00 a.m. (1400 GMT) in Buenos Aires.
Fein called upon him to testify after checking calls received and made on Nisman’s telephone before his death, both media outlets reported.
For years, Stiusso had been one of the most powerful and feared men in the SI. The agency played an important role in the military government’s “dirty war” against suspected Marxist rebels, union leaders and other leftists in the 1970s.
Since democracy was restored in 1983, successive governments are widely believed to have continued to use the agency to snoop on opponents.
By Ed Adamczyk 
Feb 5, 2015
She referred to “rice and petroleum” as “lice and petloleum.”
BEIJING, Feb. 5 (UPI) — Argentine President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, after mocking Chinese accents on social media, was the subject of ridicule herself from angry social media users.
Fernandez, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping Wednesday in Beijing to boost economic ties between the two countries. She later attended a trade event and wrote, in Spanish on her Twitter account, “More than 1,000 participants at the event…Are they all from the Campola and in it only for the lice and petloleum?”
She referred to her political party’s youth group and its reputation for attending events only for the drinks and food, but her light-hearted mention of the perceived inability of the Chinese to pronounce the letters “r” and “l” sparked a torrent of complaints by Chinese and Argentine social media users.
“Cristina Fernandez’s lack of judgment and respect is incredible. She goes to China looking for (business) agreements and she makes fun of their accents,” wrote one. “If you want to be funny, do it in an intelligent way,” wrote another.
In an attempt to calm the storm, Argentine Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich said in Buenos Aires her comment was a “sign of affection that recognizes the ties that have been built with China.”
Although her trip was overshadowed by the Twitter controversy, Fernandez and Xi signed 15 agreements, on issues including nuclear energy and enhanced cooperation in a number of economic sectors, during her four-day state visit.
The Chinese government offered no comment on what one Twitter user called Fernandez’s “stupid mistake.”
By Peter Prengaman
February 5, 2015
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The spy novel-like drama that has gripped Argentina since the mysterious death of President Cristina Fernandez’s nemesis took a critical new twist Thursday when investigators called one of the country’s most enigmatic spy chiefs to testify before them.
The testimony by Antonio Stiuso, who was dismissed in December and whose whereabouts were unknown, could be key to determining whether Fernandez is able to survive the storm in the waning months of her presidency, or whether the deepening scandal will swamp her administration.
Stiuso, a shadowy intelligence agent known by the name “Jaime,” had assisted prosecutor Alberto Nisman in his investigation of the unsolved bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center in 1994. A report Nisman submitted to a federal judge in January accused Fernandez of agreeing to shield the alleged masterminds of the attack, former Iranian officials, in exchange for oil and other trade benefits.
But Nisman was found shot dead Jan. 18, hours before he was to appear in Congress to detail his allegations.
Without naming Stiuso specifically, Fernandez has suggested rogue intelligence agents played a role in the death and, last week, she urged Congress to disband the agency.
“The government is trying to regain control of the narrative and this is part of it,” said Maria Victoria Murillo, an expert in Latin American politics at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “The whole thing is like a spy novel and he’s a spy, so it makes sense for the government to put him at the center of the story.”
Fernandez, who on Thursday wrapped up an official visit in China, has come under increasing heat since Nisman’s death, with conspiracy theories flourishing around the case. Although the prosecutor was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in the bathroom of his apartment, even she has rejected the initial finding that he committed suicide.
Nisman had feared for his safety and 10 federal police officers were assigned to protect him
Stiuso, who press reports say ran a vast wire-tapping operation, is said to have been one of the most powerful people in the country, a figure similar to the controversial former head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover.
Most Argentines, however, would be unable to recognize him. He keeps a very low profile and the only image circulated of him is a once-classified black and white photo of a young-looking man released a decade ago by one of his foes.
Now in his 60s, Stiuso joined the agency, formerly known as the Secretary of State Information, in 1972, working through the “Dirty War” years of the military junta dictatorship in the 1970s and then alongside every administration since the return of democracy in 1983.
People who have crossed him have not fared well.
In 2004, then Justice Minister Gustavo Beliz said during a television interview that Stiuso was a “dangerous” man who frequently broke the law. Soon after that, Beliz was forced to resign.
“Stiuso is an excellent professional,” Miguel Angel Toma, the former head of the Secretary of Intelligence, told The Associated Press. “I never gave him an order to do anything illegal and he never made me presume that he did these kind of (illegal) activities on his own.”
Stiuso had collaborated with Nisman during the 10-year investigation of the bombing, which killed 85 people. The spy chief was removed from his post by Fernandez in December.
The president has suggested Stiuso fed false information to Nisman that implicated her and her top officials in a cover-up of the bombing. Fernandez has denied any wrongdoing.
Viviana Fein, the lead investigator into Nisman’s death, called Thursday for Stiuso to appear to testify, said Oscar Parrilli, the secretary of intelligence.
Officials, however, have not located Stiuso. His lawyer, Santiago Blanco Bermudez, told Radio Vorterix on Thursday that Stiuso had yet to receive a summons, but would appear when he is formally called.
“It’s his obligation as a citizen and former public official,” Blanco Bermudez said.
By law, intelligence officials are prohibited from disclosing state secrets. But, Parrilli said, Fernandez would present an order exempting Stiuso from the restriction, clearing the way for him to speak about anything.
“The president wants all the truth to be known, and wants Stiuso to tell us everything, from 1972 until now,” Parrilli told reporters outside Congress.
While Fernandez has cast aspersions on Stiuso and his intelligence colleagues, bringing him to testify could potentially backfire on the president and her supporters as her party tries to position itself for October elections. Fernandez is prohibited from running for a third term.
The case Nisman built against Fernandez is proceeding despite his death. On Wednesday, it was assigned to federal Judge Daniel Rafecas, who was expected to review it later this month. Rafecas was appointed to the bench by President Nestor Kirchner, Fernandez’s late husband.
“The case doesn’t need to be strong,” said Martin Bohmer, a legal expert and former dean of the law school at the University of San Andres. “It just needs to be strong enough to start an investigation, and can become stronger from there.”
By Dovid Margolin
9 February 2015
Buenos Aires
The sudden death on January 18 of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, shot in the head at close range just hours before he was to have offered damning testimony against President Christina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, is the latest twist in a long-running mass-murder mystery. The saga began on July 18, 1994, when a white Renault van loaded with explosives slammed into the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building on Pasteur Street in the center of the city. The blast leveled the seven-story building, killing 85 and injuring more than 300. It came just two years after the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed, with 29 killed. Immediate suspicion fell on Iran, accused of working through Hezbollah with local contacts. But in the decades since, presidents have come and gone, investigation after investigation has taken place, yet nobody has ever been convicted. Justice has never been served.
Argentina’s Jewish community, centered in Buenos Aires, numbers around 250,000 people. It is mostly made up of the children and grandchildren of Jews who fled the pogroms and economic hardships of Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century, or those who came two generations later, as the Nazis rose to and fell from power in Europe. Argentina, in the minds of those early Jewish immigrants, was a faraway land, a place so exotic and distant from the ones they were leaving that they could begin their lives anew. Even today Buenos Aires feels isolated; it is an 11-hour plane ride to New York, even further to Europe and Israel. World events always seemed to happen elsewhere.
Until the AMIA bombing.
“It was a shock for all of us here,” explains Karina Falkon, a psychologist who lives in Buenos Aires. “It showed us how connected we were to the rest of the Jewish world. They showed everyone that when they want to hurt us, they can do it here, too.”
Falkon had lived in Israel in the early 1990s, so she recognized the sound she heard on that July morning as an explosion. She and friends ran to the site to see how they could help. “At night we tried to save the books from the building—the police officially didn’t let us, but we were collecting them so that they could somehow get preserved.”
AMIA is the umbrella for all Jewish organizations in Argentina, and the blast brought devastation to nearly every segment of the Jewish community, from secular to religious. All who were old enough remember where they were that day.
Rabbi Tzvi Grunblatt has headed Chabad-Lubavitch of Argentina since 1978. Chabad, a Hasidic Jewish outreach organization with over 4,000 representatives all over the world, is one of the largest Jewish groups in Argentina, with more than 52 centers, including schools, synagogues, and social service organizations spread throughout the country. Its headquarters on Aguero Street is less than two kilometers from the AMIA building.
“I was here in my house,” Grunblatt recalls of that day. “I had just arrived back from New York. I went to pray in the morning and then I got back home and I went to lie down because I was exhausted after traveling. I woke up when I heard the bomb.”
With memories of the Israeli embassy attack still fresh, Grunblatt called his office at Chabad headquarters to find out what happened. “They told me, ‘The building of AMIA does not exist anymore. There was an explosion and the building just disappeared.’
“Everyone was affected. A member of my community’s mother was killed. Another member was passing through the building to pay for his father’s gravestone—his father passed away earlier that month—he was paying for the gravestone and got killed. We have a young man whose father worked as security there, he was also killed. It was a great hit for the entire community.”
“We were all there digging for days,” adds Grunblatt’s wife, Shterna. “It was just devastating.”
Today, concrete security barriers guard every Jewish center in Buenos Aires. They all have security guards as well, with the higher-profile centers employing Israeli-trained professionals.
The rebuilt AMIA building—which also houses the offices of DAIA, Argentine Jewry’s political umbrella organization—is an impregnable fortress, a monument to the precautions the Jewish community has been forced to take since the attack. Set far back from the bustling street, the front entrance to the compound is a single, nondescript steel door in a protective wall. Peering through dark sunglasses, two Israeli security guards monitor and question each person going in or out.
When I arrived in mid-December to interview an AMIA official, I handed over my ID to the guards, then was instructed to stand behind two lines of yellow tape on the sidewalk, under a large black metal sign bearing the names of all of the bombing’s victims. Fifteen minutes later I was allowed in. After going through a metal detector and a number of enormous security doors with red and green lights signaling me to stay put or move forward, I was finally in the building’s courtyard, which is dominated by a memorial to the victims designed by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam.
My purpose was to ask about Argentina’s continuing negotiations with Iran. These talks were agreed to in January 2013, when, on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, the foreign ministers of Argentina and Iran signed a Memorandum of Understanding that called for a joint “truth” commission to investigate the AMIA bombing. At the time, the move was condemned by AMIA’s leadership, Israel’s foreign ministry, and major American Jewish organizations.
To be sure, the Argentine investigation into the attack had been mishandled for years; a new start was needed. But Argentina’s decision to invite Iran—which had been formally charged by Nisman, together with Hezbollah, in 2006—to participate in an investigation of its own alleged actions seemed positively sinister.
If I had expected the official I interviewed (who asked not to be named) to express disapproval and anger about the Memorandum of Understanding—as Argentine Jews do regularly in private—I was wrong. The years without justice, but full of bungled court proceedings, cover-ups, and misdirection, complicated by ever-present local corruption, whispers of government intimidation, and charges of obstruction of justice against various political figures, in addition to the negotiations with Iran, have left the Argentine Jewish community in a state of fear.
“The relationship between the government and the Jewish community is a respectful one,” the official began, measuring his words. “Whatever we decide to work on together we work on together. We understand very well that there is interest on the part of the Argentine government to reach the truth and to come to the results of who is responsible. One of the tools to be used is the Memorandum, and the Jewish community of Argentina does not feel the proper way to reach the solution is through collaborating with the potential perpetrators.”
As he spoke it became increasingly clear that this was not a disingenuous bureaucrat, but a Jewish community official who, knowing full well what his government was capable of, was protecting himself and his community. Now, in the light of Nisman’s death as he was about to accuse the president and foreign minister of conspiring to cover up Iran’s involvement in the bombing in exchange for positive trade relations, the official’s caution appears abundantly justified.
“I believe that the Argentine government and the world really do want to know the truth,” the official continued. “But it’s not the job of the Jewish community to find the answer, it’s the obligation of the government that’s responsible to run this country. The Jewish community can help, can support, think together with them, but we can’t lead this investigation. The Argentine government is the only one that can do it.”
Because of the Argentine government’s entanglement in the cover-up of Iran’s suspected crimes, the circumstances in Argentina are darker and more dangerous than anything we face in the United States. But there is still a lesson to be taken from Argentina’s negotiations with Iran. The Jewish community, victim of an atrocity, has been reduced to self-censorship and mumbled platitudes to express its displeasure at Argentina’s friendly dealings with its attacker.
In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama said: “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies—including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.”
Does Obama’s call for further negotiations with Iran, like the Argentine-Iranian Memorandum of Understanding, place Israel in a position of danger? Does it undermine America’s own security by showing softness and creating new targets?
“It’s always dangerous not to know the truth,” were the AMIA official’s parting words. “When the people who made the worst attack ever [on Argentine soil] aren’t brought to justice, that leaves Argentina scared of more attacks. There is a sense that, because nothing was done about the previous attack, there won’t be peace.”
When a government assigned to protect its people by investigating crimes and bringing the perpetrators to justice switches roles and becomes a friendly negotiator with the likely criminal, the victims are vulnerable and frightened. Contemplating events in Argentina, it is impossible not to wonder whether Obama is leading the United States and its allies down a similar path.
Dovid Margolin writes on international affairs for and is the director of Hebrew literacy at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute in New York.
By J. Robinson
5 Feb 2015
Argentine LNG imports in December and January marked the lowest monthly volumes on record going back to 2010, data from Platts unit Bentek Energy showed Thursday.
In December, Argentina imported 244,880 cubic meters of LNG. In January, import volume totaled just 228,706 cu m. While the summer months of December and January are traditionally a time of low gas demand in Argentina, imports of LNG this season were down 55.7% and 59.4% respectively, from the year-ago period.
Gas sendout rates in early January at Argentina’s two import terminals in Escobar and Bahia Blanca were at zero, according to one South America-based market observer.
“In the midst of summer gas demand for heating is nil,” the source said. “A mild summer has also kept residential electricity demand for air conditioning low, keeping power generation demand in check.”
Beyond the seasonal impact on gas demand, a weakening economy combined with high inflation has also reduced demand for natural gas from the industrial sector where consumption is on the decline, the South American source said.
Argentina’s ability to pay for LNG imports has also been crippled by the nation’s default on an estimated $20 billion in debt obligations in late July.
Dwindling foreign currency reserves contributed to the delayed the import of at least eight LNG carriers from September to October last year. Those delays, some of which lasted as long as four weeks, increased market-perceived risk of selling LNG supplies to Argentina.
Even in the current bearish-market environment, Argentina would likely be required to pay a price premium for LNG imports, according to various market sources.
By Frida Ghitis
Feb. 5, 2015
On Jan. 8, Chinese President Xi Jinping strode into a meeting room in Beijing for an unprecedented gathering. The audience was filled with Latin American dignitaries, including three presidents, one prime minister and countless Cabinet members from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
It was the first official high-level gathering of the China-CELAC Forum, and Xi expressed his appreciation. “Your presence,” he told his audience, “has brought warmth to Beijing in the depth of winter.”
Xi vowed to double Chinese trade with Latin America to half a trillion dollars and raise direct Chinese investment in the region to $250 billion within 10 years.
The magnitude of the investments under discussion at that event, as in other bilateral encounters, is staggering. Billion-dollar numbers are thrown around as if they amounted to run-of-the-mill investments.
One might be tempted to dismiss Xi’s figure as hyperbole, considering that just a decade ago Chinese investments in the area totaled a mere $231 million, or one one-thousandth of the goal for a decade from now. But China is dead serious, and it is well on its path to achieving that goal, with all the political and strategic benefits it would entail.
Beijing, which lies some 10,000 miles away from Latin America, has made a move into the region with intensity and determination, a process that serves to highlight, among other things, Washington’s perennial tendency to become distracted from its own hemisphere.
Whether U.S. officials are occupied with the Middle East, planning for a pivot to Asia or focused on Western European allies, Latin America—which for the most part is chugging along on its way to becoming a major economic power—tends to receive little attention from Washington.
Beijing, on the other hand, could not be more attentive.
Top officials regularly visit Latin capitals and host their counterparts. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is in Beijing this week. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro made the tour last week. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was there the week before that.
China has become a source of massive alternative financing, particularly for countries that have defaulted on their loans to Western creditors and have been shut out of traditional credit markets. While Chinese banks make huge loans and help finance infrastructure programs, Chinese firms, many owned by the state, are buying up production and even the means of production.
In Ecuador, for example, Correa defaulted on the country’s sovereign debt in 2008. Since then, he has borrowed heavily from China. As the billions have rolled in over the years, Ecuador, an OPEC member, has promised an ever-growing portion of its future oil output to Beijing.
Last November, the head of the national oil company, PetroEcuador, traveled to Beijing to negotiate yet another multibillion-dollar loan. With the crash in oil prices, Correa rushed to Beijing this month to secure an additional $5.3 billion.
In exchange for the funds, Ecuador has committed to selling most of its oil output to China until the year 2020.
One of China’s most controversial—and mysterious—investments is the transoceanic canal in Nicaragua, whose price tag, at $50 billion, is four times larger than Nicaragua’s entire economy.
There has even been talk of another canal in Colombia, this one a “dry canal” linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans by rail.
Less spectacular but also enormously ambitious projects financed or engineered by China can be found throughout the region. Chinese companies are partnering with Argentina in the construction of hydroelectric plants and a national railway network, even as they extend credit lines to the government. Chinese firms are mining lithium in Bolivia, helping develop new mining complexes in Peru and, rather awkwardly, standing at the center of a massive corruption scandal in Mexico.
A consortium led by the China Railways Construction firm was set to start building a $3.7 billion high-speed rail between Mexico City and the center of the country. But then it was revealed that the bid, which was financed almost entirely by the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China, was rife with irregularities. Mexico’s leading opposition party says that the bidding process was a sham and that individuals close to President Enrique Pena Nieto stood to rake in vast profits. The contract was subsequently canceled and a new tender relaunched last month, before the Mexican government finally decided to scrap the project over the weekend.
It’s not the first time that deals with Chinese firms have included questionable stipulations. An umbrella agreement with Argentina gives China exclusive rights to lead a number of projects without any public bidding.
By some estimates, China has loaned more than $100 billion to Latin American countries. Its trade totals with the region are about to overtake Europe’s, which stand at roughly $250 billion per year.
Despite the halting interest in Washington, the U.S. remains by far Latin America’s primary trading partner, with more than $1.8 trillion in annual trade. With or without participation by Washington, the free market is keeping the relationship strong. Latin America is a pivotal economic partner for the U.S., and that is not about to change any time soon.
The question is whether China’s keen interest in Latin America comprises anything more than a lively mercantile matter.
China’s most immediate goal is to secure the raw materials it needs for continued economic growth. To be sure, there are many who see China’s highly assertive foray into the Western Hemisphere as a win-win—with no losers.
Others, however, worry that the expanding ties are not a natural product of business development but a national policy, spearheaded by the top echelon of China’s Communist Party.
Economic ties inescapably affect political ties. There is much talk of military and strategic links between China and its new Latin American friends. The United Kingdom, for example, may note that Buenos Aires could have a new powerful ally on the issue of the Falkland Islands, claimed by Argentina as the Malvinas.
And the Nicaragua canal, if brought to completion, would give China a pivotal strategic, not just commercial, position in the Western Hemisphere.
For now, China has kept the visible focus sharply on commerce. But the speed of its ascent in Latin America is one more reason for U.S. policymakers to remember what the often seem to forget: Latin America matters much more than its place on Washington’s priority list seems to suggest.
By Dimitra DeFotis
Feb 5, 2015
Two decades have passed since 80 people at a Buenos Aires Jewish center died in a bomb attack linked to terrorists from the Middle East.
Yet there has been no justice. And after an attorney was found dead in mid-January, hours before he was to present evidence about the case, one journalist covering the case fled to Israel. In a gripping exclusive, English-language video interview with Israeli publication Haaretz, journalist Damian Pachter explains why his Tweet about the murder scene may have revealed too much, and why he fled Argentina without a suitcase.
For markets, the story is not entirely tangential.  President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the highest levels of government, preoccupied in more recent years with sovereign bond payments, were implicated in an alleged coverup. Argentina will hold presidential elections this fall, Kirchner’s successors are lining up, and at the heart of the case are allegations of an oil-for-silence trade between the governments of Argentina and Iran. Oil prices are on the rebound today, up 6%, with the international Brent price near $57.47 per barrel.
Argentina’s oil-and-gas producer YPF (YPF) is up 1.4% today in U.S. trading, while the Global X MSCI Argentina ETF (ARGT) is up nearly a point. The Argentina ETF is up nearly 13% over the past 12 months, nearly twice the performance of the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM). Argentina debt was one of the better emerging market bond investments of 2014.
By Bill Chappell
February 5, 2015
Responding to criticism over a scandal involving a bombing cover-up and a prosecutor’s death, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will write letters to Mia Farrow and Martina Navratilova, who tweeted about the case this week.
In recent days, both Farrow and Navratilova have tweeted about the scandal revolving around the unexpected death of the prosecutor who had been preparing charges over how Argentina handled the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center.
Interest in the story spiked again this week, when it emerged that prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had been investigating the bombing case for 10 years, had prepared an arrest warrant naming the president before he was found dead in his apartment.
That led Farrow to retweet a post by Human Rights Watch leader Kenneth Roth, who wrote that Nisman’s “death keeps getting fishier.”
It also seems that Farrow used stronger language in a tweet that’s since been deleted. Posting a link to a news story about the arrest warrant, it stated, “Looks like Argentina’s Prez not only covered up 1994 bombing of a Jewish center, but also killed the prosecutor.”
Farrow’s tweet set off a flurry of responses from Secretary General of the Presidency Aníbal Fernandez, who wrote that he believes Farrrow’s statement is a “consequence of either misinformation .. or lack of it.”
The newspaper La Nacion has an image of Farrow’s tweet in its story today (and we’ve seen it separately online). In the newspaper, Fernandez’s Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich announced that the Argentine government and the president had sent two letters of clarification about the case, referring to Farrow and Navratilova.
It’s not clear how Navratilova’s tweets about the case drew the ire of Argentina’s leadership. On Jan. 25, she wrote, “terrible what is going on in Argentina.” Days earlier, she had tweeted, “this all stinks.”
As has happened at many steps in this story, the government’s statements have only stoked more interest. On Thursday, “Mia Farrow” became a trending topic on Twitter in Argentina.
By Tim Fernholz
February 5, 2015
In 2009, David Cohen, then the US Treasury Department’s top financial cop, was in Buenos Aires, where he met an Argentine prosecutor named Alberto Nisman. The prosecutor requested Cohen’s assistance in persuading France and Germany to freeze $48 million sitting in bank accounts belonging to suspects in a terrorist attack, including former Iranian president Ali Rafsanjani. Cohen offered to approach European officials on Nisman’s behalf, according to leaked US diplomatic cables.
Six years later, Nisman is dead in mysterious circumstances, and Argentina is in the grip of a geopolitical scandal that promises to get worse before it gets better. (Cohen, meanwhile, is transitioning into the role of deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.)
Thanks to the surfacing several years ago of a trove of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, we have something of an inside view into the story, which also appears to involve a scandal-ridden president, Hezbollah bombers, and secret oil deals with Iran. The case is mentioned in 40 diplomatic cables sent between the US embassy in Argentina and the State Department from 2006 to 2009. Nisman flew to the US and briefed officials there, and also met in Buenos Aires with the assistant director of the FBI, as well as Cohen.
The US has a long history meddling in South American politics. But why were American officials so interested in an Argentine prosecutor, and why was he so eager to share the details of his investigation with them?
Axis of Evil
The answer brings us to the Middle East and the war on terror, but the story begins years earlier, in 1994, when a car bomb destroyed the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association, a community center serving the large Jewish community in Buenos Aires. The bombing—which came two years after an attack by Islamic terrorists had destroyed Israel’s embassy to Argentina—killed 85 people and prompted international outrage. Some argued that a controversy between Iran and Argentina over nuclear technology sparked the attack; the culprits were never caught.
The initial investigations were rife with corruption and bad practices. The first prosecutor investigating the case was impeached in 2005 after failing to convict any local suspects and offering bribes for evidence. That’s when Nisman comes in—he’s appointed in 2004 by Argentina’s then-president Nestor Kirchner to dig into the case. He immediately focuses on the Iranian connection, and the idea that the bombing was perpetrated by operatives from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist militia long supported by Tehran.
The US was interested in the re-opening the case, too. In 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran and the country restarted its nuclear program; the first round of UN sanctions would come in 2006. At the time, the top lawmaker on foreign affairs in the House was holocaust survivor Tom Lantos. He sent a delegation of staffers down to Buenos Aires to meet Nisman’s co-prosecutor, telling him that “while Congress understands the difficult circumstances facing investigators, there is frustration among members regarding the long time this case has taken to come to conclusion.”
In 2006, Nisman brought indictments to Interpol, the global law enforcement organization, seeking red notices—essentially, international arrest warrants—but his case was unconvincing; one embassy cable referred to it as a debacle. Nisman went back to the drawing board, and with the help of US officials, redid his briefs. In 2007, Interpol granted eight red notices, including one for Rafsanjani. It was a big step forward in Argentina’s search for justice, as well as a coup for US efforts to link senior Iranian officials with terrorism. But arrest and extradition were easily avoided by the targets of the investigation, who accused US and Israeli intelligence of smearing them and denied the charges.
The first cover-up?
Now things really get interesting: The case against Iran stagnates as the country is isolated from the global community. But a different case suddenly develops: In 2008, Nisman surprises embassy officials by announcing charges against Carlos Menem, a former president of Argentina, charging him with covering up a “local connection” who worked with Iran on the bombing. (Apparently, they had family ties that began three generations earlier in an obscure Syrian village.)
Per the cables, US officials were miffed that the focus of the investigation was shifting from Iran to domestic politics. When the deputy chief of the US mission called the prosecutor to ask what was going on, he apologized to Nisman for the lack of warning and said that the families of the bombing victims had urged him to act.
But some observers saw political motives. Cristina Kirchner, the wife of the previous president, had just been elected to the presidency herself, and was facing a farm strike. An embassy official speculated that Nisman acted to curry favor with Kirchner in an attempt to someday gain a judicial appointment. One contact in the Ministry of Foreign affairs said that Nisman “‘is completely beholden to Alberto Fernandez’ [Kirchner’s Chief of Cabinet] and obeys Fernandez’s orders without question, and he did not discount that the timing of the announcement was ‘a political operation ordered by Alberto Fernandez.’”
But an earlier corruption investigation took precedence, and Menem was ultimately convicted in 2013, at the age of 83, for his role in an arms smuggling scheme involving Croatia and Ecuador. No trial was ever held to investigate Nisman’s allegations about Menem.
A second cover-up?
At this point, we’re out of diplomatic cables and on to other sources; the Wikileaks trove ends in 2010. Nisman’s case doesn’t progress much further in the meantime, but lots of other stuff is going on in Argentina: In the ensuing years, the country’s economy starts to tank, and litigation with US hedge funds over the country’s debt ends with Argentina going into default in the summer of 2013. By that time, Kirchner’s embattled government already had started to shift its foreign policy outlook away from the US. Her administration announced plans for a joint “truth commission” with Iran to discover the story behind the bombing, a move which outraged the Jewish community, the US, and Israel.
That’s when Nisman really goes to work: In May, he releases an investigation into deep cover Islamist terror networks throughout South America, particularly blaming the Iranian cultural attache at the time of the bombing, Mohsen Rabbani. At the time, two other suspects in the AIMA bombing were running for president of Iran.
Kirchner, meanwhile, starts cleaning up her country’s counter-intelligence apparatus, booting Antonio Stiusso out of government. Stiusso is a powerful and feared figure whose agency, SIDE, provided significant information to Nisman during his investigation. But SIDE also was accused, by Nisman, of being part of Menem’s alleged cover-up, and of even kidnapping and torturing a judicial investigator. Stiusso, whereabouts unknown, is a pivotal figure in this investigation; many see him as the conduit through which foreign intelligence agencies passed information to Nisman and even as a suspect in his murder, although evidence remains murky.
In January of this year, Nisman went public with allegations that Kirchner had made a deal to trade Argentine grain for Iranian oil—a convenient deal for two countries locked out of international markets, and which, Nisman argued, amounted to both an attempt to normalize relations and an agreement to make the 1994 bombing allegations go away.
Kirchner’s defenders say the case has plenty of holes. Whatever the quality of the case, the night before he was called to testify about these allegations, Nisman died from a gunshot wound to his head, apparently from a pistol he had borrowed from a friend because he felt his life was in danger. While initially thought a suicide, the case is now widely seen as a probable murder. Arrest warrants for Kirchner and her foreign minister were found at Nisman’s side.
Kirchner’s erratic response to Nisman’s death—she is currently in China, blundering her way through a mission intended to rustle up economic aid for Argentina—has ended with her concluding, in a Facebook post, that the death was a murder. By whom, she did not say, but she acknowledged that Nisman’s death brought further legal and political scandal to the country.
Kirchner’s government—already implicated in numerous corruption investigations—ends in October, when new elections will be held; the term-limited Kirchner, who has lost power in her party as the economy withered, is not expected to play a major role.
As for Nisman, was he the victim of a power struggle in Argentine politics, and a pawn in a struggle between nations during 
his decade-long investigation? As with the 1994 bombing, we may never know.
February 5, 2015
Kirchner Signs Cooperation Agreements in Beijing, Creates Stir on Social Media
On Wednesday, February 4, Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner and her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping signed 15 separate cooperation agreements, touching on the economy, infrastructure, and energy, after a bilateral meeting in Beijing.
The deals include the construction of nuclear power stations in Argentina with Chinese technology, the financing of the Néstor Kirchner and Jorge Cepernic hydroelectric plants, and the building of a new commercial railway, as well as telecommunications and cultural agreements.
Particularly striking is the announcement that Chinese military authorities are to take full control of a lunar space station currently under construction in the municipality of Bajada del Agrio, Neuquén Province.
Chinese military contractor CLTC is to be tasked with “carrying out monitoring tasks, and the taking and recording of data under the Chinese program of lunar and space exploration missions,” according to a press release by the Argentinean ministry of planning.
“With this new relationship we’re leaving behind the old vision of Argentina as a producer of primary materials and China as a manufacturer, giving way to a genuinely strategic relationship,” Kirchner told press after signing the agreements.
The Chinese premier meanwhile highlighted his “deep and fruitful relationship” with the South American leader, whom he described as “an old friend of the Chinese people,” having met with her three times in less than a year.
Joining the two presidents at the Argentinean-Chinese Business Forum in Beijing’s Shangri-La Hotel were over 100 Argentinean business figures and 400 representatives from Chinese industry and commerce.
Kirchner flirted with controversy during the summit when she used her personal Twitter account to publish a tweet mocking the supposed tendency of Chinese people to pronounce the letter “r” as an “l.”
“Over 1,000 attendees at the event. Will they all join the Cámpora, and did they only come for the rice [arroz] and petroleum [petróleo]?”
The Cámpora is the Kirchnerista youth wing led by Máximo Kirchner, the president’s son, whose members occupy important positions in state firms and are usually present at official acts.
Kirchner subsequently responded to allegations of racism:
“Sorry. But you know what? It’s that the ridiculousness and absurdity is so much, you can only digest it with humor, otherwise it would be very, very toxic.”
The hashtag #LaCampola was soon trending on social media in Argentina following widespread criticism and jokes concerning the Argentinean president’s ill-advised tweet.
By Adam Dubove
February 5, 2015
Nisman’s Not the Only Blood on Authorities’ Hands
On Saturday, January 24, Ismael Sosa traveled 750 kilometers from Buenos Aires to Córdoba with his girlfriend to attend a show by La Renga, a local rock group with a cult following. However, Ismael, 24, never returned from the Villa Rumipal aerodrome where the band played to a crowd of between 47,000 and 70,000 people. Instead, his body was found floating in an artificial lake in Argentina’s Córdoba province on the following Monday.
His girlfriend Victoria had been looking for him since that Saturday night, when she’d lost all trace of him while entering the concert. During a checkpoint prior to entry, police had led him away by the throat. “I tried to stop them from hitting him,” she told Infojus Noticias.
Ten minutes later, she saw them beating someone up: “They threw him to the ground between them. One was kicking him in the head, so hard you could hear it.”
Although she couldn’t identify the victim “because his head was jammed into the ground,” she stated that his clothing and physical appearance were the same as her boyfriend.
“He said: ‘Stop, don’t hit me anymore.’ ‘You still want to throw bottles?’ one asked him, and he kicked him in the stomach. They kept hitting him while they were carrying him away. Five minutes later they returned, saying: ‘That’s it, we’ve dealt with him.”
Along with Victoria, Ismael’s family believe that the police killed him. “They were hitting him, they went overboard, and they threw him in the lake,” Facundo said, Ismael’s brother.
The following Thursday, Facundo and his mother Nancy Sosa traveled the same 750-kilometer journey. She had just received a phone call telling her that the body found earlier that week in the lake belonged to her son. However, the judge in charge of the case, Andrea Heredia Hidalgo, had failed to inform her due to a simple reason: Hidalgo didn’t receive confirmation until a day after Sosa’s mother.
Impunity in Argentina
When he arrived to Villa Rumipal, Facundo attested to having received a phone call from a person claiming to be a prosecutor Rodríguez. But when he came to the police station, he was told that the caller wasn’t a prosecutor but a police officer. “This attracted my suspicion,” he said.
While an autopsy is scheduled to take place this Friday and supply further information about the circumstances of Ismael’s death, new elements are emerging daily. We learnt On Wednesday, February 4, that a married couple fishing on the coast of the lake saw Sosa alive on the Sunday after the concert.
According to police reports, Ismael approached the couple and asked them for water, saying he was lost, but they didn’t help him.
The conduct of the 1,500 police officers on duty over the weekend is not only under scrutiny over the death of Sosa. An investigation launched before his body was found has discovered that 14 arrests were made during the event, none of which were reported to judicial authorities. In the meantime, investigating authorities have ordered the closure of the police department and have confiscated documentation.
“We must break the official silence over the horrible death of Ismael, probably caused by police brutality,” local legislator and member of the Socialist Workers’ Party Laura Vilches demanded on Wednesday.
“The governor, through his officials, and the police chief must give evidence on the operation carried out on the day that this young man disappeared and was killed,” she added.
The complaints against the police department of Villa Rumipal, with scarcely 2,500 inhabitants, aren’t the first. Earlier in January, the parents of two young people — one of them underage — complained that four police officers had hit them, verbally abused them, and threatened them with their regulation firearms. A motorist had previously made a phone call to the authorities describing suspicious activity by a group of people near the lake, causing the police to investigate.
Between Rock and a Hard Place
Argentinean rock music and police brutality have clashed before. On April 19, 1991, 17-year-old Water Bulacio died after being arrested during a razzia, the name given to the mass arrests made by federal police against gatherings of young people. Bulacio was attending a concert by another big name in local rock music, Los Redonditas de Ricota.
A day after his arrest, he was transferred to a hospital where he was registered with “cranial trauma.” Six days later, he died as a result of his wounds, with the autopsy finding that he had been subject to blows with heavy objects.
His death remains unresolved. In October 2003, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the Argentinean state for its failure to find the culprits. The IACHR ordered officials to reopen the investigation, improve legal human rights protections, and compensate Bulacio’s family with US$335,000.
In 2013, the Argentinean judiciary condemned former police officer Miguel Ángel Espósito to a suspended sentence of three years in jail for the illegitimate privation of Bulacio’s liberty, but not for his killing.
The death in 2009 of Rubén Carballo, 17, at a concert for Argentinean rock giants Viejas Locas confirmed that police brutality remained untouchable. Carbello died as a result of a beating he took from federal police agents. In 2013, the officers involved were discharged, small comfort for Carbello’s relations, who still hope that the agonizingly slow Argentinean judicial system will bring them justice.
While Argentina and the world remain in the dark over the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman on January 19, many other victims of the same authoritarian system remain in the background.
These deaths, without names or faces, are yet to generate the same commotion as the case of Nisman, found with a gunshot wound to the head a day before he was due to level grave charges before Congress against President Cristina Kirchner. But the same thuggish spirit ended the lives of Carbello and Bulacio, and most likely the life of Ismael, all for wanting to listen to some music.
By Guest Post
February 5, 2015
Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced Jan. 26 that she would reform her country’s civilian intelligence organization, the Intelligence Secretariat (SI). Soon after, the office of the president said it would submit a draft law to reform the SI to the Senate on Feb. 3. In addition to changing the organization’s name to the Federal Intelligence Agency, the reform is expected to significantly weaken the SI by limiting its ability to gather signals intelligence, revealing a wider political dispute.
Fernandez’s motivations for reforming the SI are not completely clear, but concerns that criminal charges could be brought against her and other members of the government once they leave office might have been a factor. Moreover, though the reform appears to be immediately motivated by concerns over the SI’s loyalty to Fernandez, it may significantly affect how the Argentine security apparatus functions long after her term in office ends.
Although the Fernandez government has not released the details, the reforms would drastically alter the way the SI functions. Previously, the organization could engage in domestic intelligence collection after obtaining a federal judge’s approval, but the new reform will likely require more steps and more oversight. A federal judge would have to request a warrant to conduct intelligence gathering from the prosecutor general’s office, and the actual collection process would be either conducted or overseen by that office. The president appoints the prosecutor general, and approval of the reform would grant this post, currently filled by Gils Carbo, significant intelligence collection abilities for the remainder of Fernandez’s presidency and likely into the next presidency.
The planned reform follows a mass reshuffling of the SI’s top leadership. On Dec. 16, Fernandez ordered the removal of Secretary of Intelligence Hector Icazuriaga and Deputy Director Fernando Larcher, both longtime ruling-party allies. Icazuriaga and Larcher had been appointed to the positions more than a decade earlier, and according to unconfirmed reports, had worked closely with former President Nestor Kirchner, the late husband of Fernandez. Under the direction of Icazuriaga and Larcher, the SI provided the government with intelligence on political opponents, including labor organizations and members of rival political parties. The reshuffle also claimed Director of Operations Jaime Stiusso, who had served in the organization since 1974.
The Argentine government filled the leadership positions with individuals closely tied to the ruling party. ?Oscar Parrilli, Fernandez’s former chief of staff, was named the new director of the organization, and Juan Martin Mena, a legal official closely linked to current Justice Minister Julio Alak, was named deputy director. Moreover, unconfirmed reports indicate that Fernando Basanta, an official loyal to Fernandez’s son Maximo Kirchner, is now in direct control of the SI’s finances. Basanta is part of La Campora, a political patronage network crucial to securing political support within the government for the ruling Front for Victory party. Kirchner has direct control over the network that has significantly increased its presence in state ministries and companies over the past several years.
Argentina Intelligence Service
Lasting Consequences
It appears that Fernandez is reforming the intelligence apparatus in response to a behind-the-scenes political dispute to minimize challenges from political rivals from the SI and from the broader government. If certain aspects of the intelligence reform pass, the SI will lose most of its intelligence gathering capabilities, and individuals loyal to the current government could carry control of the SI into another administration. The intelligence reform allows Fernandez not only to disrupt a potential threat to herself and her followers once they leave office, but it also creates a legal reform that weakens the intelligence agency — one a successor organization would have to undo through a legislative vote. Given the ruling party’s control of Congress, reversing any changes to the intelligence organization would likely be difficult for the next government.
The SI has reportedly been split into factions for the past two years. Some are loyal to the ruling party and others are more difficult to control. For example, SI interior protocol chief Fernando Pocino was allied with the government (allegedly through his close connections with former Defense Minister Nilda Garre), but Stiusso and Larcher were more confrontational. Nestor Kirchner reportedly used the SI’s loyalist faction, which at the time included Stiusso, as a key tool to collect domestic intelligence and manage political allies and enemies. The information that SI accrued made it a politically powerful organization, albeit one with no strict loyalty to Fernandez. This sense of a lack of loyalty was likely amplified by Stiusso’s close cooperation with prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who, before being found shot to death in his apartment Jan. 18, was reportedly set to reveal information he claimed implicated Fernandez and other officials in a cover-up of Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that Fernandez saw the SI as a potential threat because its dissident wing allegedly provided federal judges with information to pursue criminal cases against the president and other high-ranking officials. A report from July 2013 also claimed that both Larcher and Stiusso had met with Sergio Massa, a defector from the ruling party who will be a principal challenger to the ruling party as the Renewal Front party’s nominee in the October presidential elections.
The SI’s lack of loyalty threatens Fernandez in several key ways that are particularly consequential in an election year and as she prepares to leave the presidency. An unconfirmed report claims that the SI failed to inform Fernandez that Massa would run in the October 2013 legislative elections. Moreover, once Fernandez leaves office, the outgoing government will lose immunity from prosecution. Fernandez is currently being investigated because a hotel firm she owns was allegedly involved in money laundering. Four government officials, including the vice president and the justice minister, are also facing criminal investigations. These open cases provide a strong incentive for the government to populate the SI with loyalists. In addition, a report from November indicated that Fernandez was negotiating the appointments of four of the five justices on the National Criminal Court of Cassation, the highest judicial body that hears corruption cases. Taken together, the shakeup at the SI and possible judicial appointments indicate that Fernandez is trying to secure judicial immunity for herself and her loyalists for when they leave office.
The fate of the SI and its potential to pose problems for future governments depend on how deep Fernandez’s intelligence reform will go. Passing the legal draft of the reform will likely require only minimal negotiations because such draft laws need no more than an absolute majority for passage. Because the Front for Victory party controls 39 of the 72 seats in the Senate and 130 of the 257 seats in the lower house, it is probable the changes will be passed quickly. If the reform extends only to the agency heads, then it is possible an incoming administration will be able to simply undo many of Fernandez’s efforts by replacing the organization’s leaders. However, if Fernandez positions members of La Campora deep into the organization, it could keep it loyal to the Front for Victory well into another presidential administration. Even if the government manages to remove members of La Campora from the SI in the coming years, it will still need to reverse the reform’s institutional changes, a process that will likely take some time.
By Larry Rohter
6 February 2015
Emerging from a bakery with a birthday cake for his daughter, a man discovers that his car has been towed. At her wedding reception, a bride realizes that her new husband has been cheating on her. Each of the six episodes in ”Wild Tales,” Argentina’s Oscar hopeful, begins with a disagreeable incident drawn from daily life, but escalates into an almost baroque tale of revenge. Damian Szifron, the 39-year-old director and writer of ”Wild Tales,” admitted to a kind of vicarious catharsis while writing the script.
Q. Do any episodes come from real life?
A. All of them have some element arising from people I know or situations I went through. I’ve been at weddings where many of us knew something the bride didn’t, and it seemed as if something could happen at any moment. And I understood how the bureaucracy is structured, so that your complaints go nowhere. What I have done is transport these situations to the terrain of the imagination.
Q. What are your Oscar aspirations?
A. I am very thankful and fascinated by everything that is happening with the movie, and don’t expect anything more. Thanks to ”Wild Tales,” many doors have opened.
Q. So if you don’t win, you’re not going to explode like one of your characters?
By Jack Chang
February 5, 2015
BEIJING  — As soon as she landed in Beijing this week, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner began lauding new deals with what she called the world’s “No. 1 economy,” ranging from two proposed nuclear power plants to joint space exploration.
With her country’s economy contracting and its supply of dollars dwindling, the South American president had arrived Monday looking for help from China, which has already lent Argentina $14 billion since 2007. By the end of her trip Thursday, she announced a raft of new business deals, including selling more Argentine beef.
“Long day, but very fruitful,” her Twitter account read Tuesday night. “Argentina confirms its presence and importance in the No. 1 economy of the world. The reception couldn’t be better.”
The trip — and Fernandez’s enthusiasm — highlights China’s growing role as a kind of lender of last resort for Latin America. Beijing has become a frequent destination for the region’s presidents, especially populist ones who have spent freely over the past decade but are now grappling with a collapse in the prices of oil and other commodities that their economies produce and export.
While American and European lenders have stayed away from such risky countries, or demand economic and political reforms in exchange for loans, the more than $100 billion China has lent Latin America come with fewer human rights or good governance strings. They do, however, often require countries work with Chinese companies on housing, rail and other infrastructure projects, or pay the loans back with millions of barrels of oil for years to come.
China has helped sustain Latin America by buying hundreds of billions of dollars of soybeans, iron ore, oil and other commodities, in the process lifting millions in the region into the middle class and helping shield governments from economic woes in the United States and Europe. Now, as China’s economy slows, and sends commodity prices to record lows, the Asian giant is moving even closer to its partner countries, especially in Latin America.
In early January, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro joined other regional heads of state in Beijing for a meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a bloc designed in part to weaken U.S.-led organizations in the Americas.
Correa left Beijing with $7.5 billion in new financing, adding to the $10 billion China is estimated to have already lent Ecuador, according to a report by the U.S.-based think tank, the Inter-American Dialogue. Maduro touted what he said were Chinese pledges to invest another $20 billion in his country, a figure analysts said may include formerly announced deals. China had already loaned Venezuela $50 billion since 2007, the report found.
Cui Shoujun, an international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said the financial support is designed to build long-term allies around the world as China seeks to remake a global order long dominated by U.S.- and European-based institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. China has already helped launch a $100 billion development bank with Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa, which President Xi Jinping signed off on during a visit to Brazil last year.
“We are not calculating the gains and losses in the short period but building a long-term relationship,” Cui said. “It’s a kind of partnership, not just Latin America relying on China and China wanting resources.”
Kevin Gallagher, an expert in China-Latin America relations at Boston University, said that even with currently low commodity prices, Chinese leaders also want to secure energy and resource supplies around the globe, as the country’s economy prepares to overtake the United States’ as the world’s biggest, possibly by the next decade.
“China sees (Latin America) as very strategic because of natural resources,” Gallagher said. “They might not need it anymore but now they’re pushing their firms around the world and see it as an opportunity to get market share.”
The Chinese money comes as a relief for Venezuela, Ecuador and Argentina, which have become financial pariahs by either defaulting on billions of dollars in loans, nationalizing the assets of foreign companies or both. Venezuela and Argentina are also trying to tame runaway inflation and a collapse in their currencies.
The China Development Bank charges higher interest rates than the World Bank, but China also offers subsidized loans with lower rates, according to a study co-written by Gallagher. Venezuela pays back its loans by sending China tens of thousands of barrels of oil a day at market prices.
On Wednesday night, Fernandez continued the stream of ebullient messages although she did have to stop at one point to apologize for mocking her hosts’ supposed accents in Spanish in one Twitter message.
But even with nearly $4 trillion in reserves, China is showing signs that its generosity has its limits.
Although Maduro said before his China trip that he would “take on new projects” to rescue Venezuela’s economy, he finished his Chinese tour with only vaguely defined investments. That followed reports that the Chinese had grown impatient with Venezuela’s failure to deliver promised oil and with the government’s management of the Chinese aid.
Of all of China’s suitors, Maduro is the most vulnerable, even as he sits on the world’s biggest proven oil reserves. Over the past year, his government has been hit by social unrest, plummeting popularity ratings and a deteriorating economy. Now, the big question for China is whether it can keep Maduro’s government alive just so that it can pay its bills, said Margaret Myers, director of the China and Latin America program at the Inter-American Dialogue. So far, none of China’s debtors are known to have defaulted on their loans.
“In the case of Venezuela, it seems like China is at least more hesitant in terms of doling out large loans and considerable finance and rightly so,” Myers said. “It wouldn’t seem that additional infusions of cash would be beneficial at this point.”

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Soy el Dr. Gastón Alejandro Saint Martin (ARDMS. RVT. RPVI eligible, MD. CCPM). Medico patagónico; me gradué en la UNBA (Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires, en 1961) Recién graduado y casado fui a hacer mi entrenamiento en la Universidad de Louisville, (UdeL) Kentucky, USA, la mas antigua Universidad Municipal de La Unión; pobre, pero de excelente nivel académico; con una pequeña escuela de medicina. Louisville está en la margen izquierda del rio Ohio (afluente del Mississippi) Elegí a UdeL por estar entre los rio Ohio y Tennessee, que era la zona mas subdesarrollada de La Unión, (cuna de los "Hillbillies") montañeses pobres, poco ilustrados, casi analfabetos pero gente honrada, noble y muy trabajadora; donde era de esperar encontrar problemas de patología medica y socio económicos similares a los de la población rural patagónica indigente. Los médicos residentes de la Universidad de Louisville atendíamos al Louisville General Hospital y al Children’s Hospital of Louisville. Finalizado mi entrenamiento, y al tener yo visa de emigrante, me pude quedar en USA, donde los abogados jueces y los médicos con residencias de entrenamiento completas, teníamos un brillante futuro económico, estabilidad y brillo social. La tentación para quedarse fue muy grande, pero cumplimos mi plan regresando a casa; Argentina (No a Buenos. Aires.) sino a La Patagonia (Gral. Roca, Rio Negro), donde trabajé intensamente, no solo en medicina asistencial sino en política. Para el inicio, recluté un pequeño grupo de médicos argentinos jóvenes entrenados en USA y Canadá con quienes creamos al Instituto Medico del Comahue, el pequeño hospital austral privado pionero en medicina asistencial moderna. Construimos el edificio por esfuerzo propio, y por administración, con la dirección técnica de mi padre (Ingeniero Prospero Saint Martin). Tuvimos muchos éxitos y fracasos. Nos integramos al Colegio Medico de General Roca, donde fui el primer organizador de la primer biblioteca medica patagónica. De nuestros Colegas Veteranos aprendimos la Filosofía Ético Moral Medica Hipocrática) y a ser médicos humanistas, antes que corporativos." Allí, practicando, aprendimos las normas básicas de cortesía entre colegas y pacientes. No fue fácil la convivencia y el pasaje armonico de lo (clásico) antiguo a lo (bueno) moderno, pero ¡lo logramos ... y muy Bien! En el ano 2000/2002 La Anarquía establecida Argentina desde el 10 de Septiembre de 1930 estalló y ya “no pude tolerar al criminal anárquico mamarracho republicano Argentino" que culminó con el "Robo Legalizado" (Google "The Legalized Theft" by Steve Hanke - CATO Instituto and/or Johns Hopkins economist) Como muchos de los argentinos ordenados, responsables, con importante capital de trabajo sin deudas, con algunos ahorros PERDIMOS TODO! Yo no perdí mis edificios, mi casa, mi Consultorio Radiológico) ni mi costoso instrumental diagnostico pero al quedar fuera de corporaciones medicas-hospitalarias corruptas, y fuera de los canales de facturación y cobro ... me encontré despojado de uno de los derechos humanos mas importantes “EL DERECHO A TRABAJAR” , del que depende mi “DERECHO A LA PROPIEDAD” y derecho a de “VIVIR en LIBERTAD” como me de la gana y sin pedir nada a nadie (¡LIBRE ALBEDRIO!) Por ello decidimos volver (ya estando jubilados) por segunda vez a USA. Hoy tengo otra residencia legal en Chicago (Oak Park, 60301) Mi mentor (en USA y Argentina) ha sido el Dr. Rene Favaloro (pionero del bypass coronario), con quien (cada uno por su lado) hemos compartido los mismos dilemas, para decidir volver, y para adaptarnos a esta ANARQUÍA Argentina (ver ) – La ANARQUÍA en la que cayó La Republica Argentina el 10 de Septiembre de 1930, fue causado por errores garrafales del GOBIERNO DE LOS ESTADOS UNIDOS DE NORTEAMÉRICA. (Presidente Herbert Hoover (POTUS 31) ...MAS... errores garrafales en la "ACORDADA UNÁNIME de LA TOTALIDAD DE LOS JUECES DE LA CORTE DE JUSTICIA ARGENTINA" ...MAS... errores garrafales del Gobierno del Reino Unido de Gran Bretaña (UK) ...MAS... el error de un soldadito con grado de General y cáncer de estomago Gral. Félix Uriburo) que no se atrevio a desobedecer al Jefe de su jefe cuando le ordenaron "violar a La Constitucio ... "en nombre de ella??) y asi TODOS ELLOS JUNTOS, en un contubernio internacional, por primera vez en la historia de La Republica Argentina depusieron a un Presidente Constitucional, (Presidente Hipólito Yrigoyen) electo dos veces (en periodos NO consecutivos), por el voto popular, y depuesto con la absurda e ignorante excusa (si no fue mentirosa) de ser "ser viejo e inoperante..."



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