In My Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer: Argentina-Iran deal makes a mockery of justice

Argentina has crossed a line by making a sweet deal with Iran to jointly investigate a 1994 terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which according to Argentine prosecutors and Interpol was masterminded by top Iranian officials.

The deal seems to put Argentina fully within the Venezuelan-led club of Latin American countries that support some of the world’s worst human rights offenders.

Until now, many of us had hesitated to put Argentina in that category, mainly because Argentina remains a democracy and differed with Venezuela on Iran. Despite pleas by Venezuela to put the AMIA case on the backburner, the late President Néstor Kirchner had supported Argentine court requests for the extradition of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, current Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi and others in connection with the car bombing that left 85 people dead and about 300 wounded 19 years ago.

But now, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner seems to have changed course, breaking the biggest foreign policy stand that set Argentina apart from the Venezuela and Cuba.

Her agreement with Iran to create a joint “truth commission” to investigate the terrorist attack amounts to making a deal with a suspected killer to jointly investigate a murder, side-stepping the ongoing Argentine court investigation into the case, critics say.

“The idea of establishing a ‘truth’ commission on the AMIA tragedy that involves the Iranian regime would be like asking Nazi Germany to help establish the facts of Kristallnacht,” says American Jewish Committee head David Harris.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has voiced its “astonishment and disappointment” at the deal. The U.S. State Department’s top official in charge of Latin American affairs, Roberta Jacobson, told me in an interview that she is “skeptical that a just solution can be found” through the so- called Argentine-Iran “truth-commission.”

Asked whether she now sees Argentina as fully aligned with Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, Jacobson told me: “I wouldn’t make that leap yet. I certainly hope not. I hope that we will continue to work with the Argentines on lots of global issues, including counter-terrorism efforts.”

Why is Argentina doing this? One theory is that it’s a pre-emptive break with Western democracies in anticipation of a possible New York judge ruling next month that — if Argentina loses the case — could force Argentina to pay up to $10 billion to bond holders and drive the country into default.

Facing that prospect, Fernández may have decided to cast her lot with Iran, Venezuela and their allies. Argentina’s exports to Iran have tripled from $319 billion to $1.10 billion over the past five years, and Argentina may need to import more oil from Iran.

But most economists I talked to are skeptical about this motivation, saying that Iran wouldn’t make a big difference in Argentina’s economy.

A second theory is that Fernández is acting under the influence of her close friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, whose narcissist-Leninist ruling style she seems to be increasingly copying. In recent months, she has, among other things, stepped up efforts to control the media and has nationalized Spain’s Repsol oil company.

A third theory is that Fernández sincerely believes she can untangle the AMIA investigation with Iran’s cooperation. But critics point out that the Argentina-Iran “truth commission” is exactly what Iran has been demanding for years — a bi-national commission that over time will grab the headlines and supersede the Argentine courts’ investigation.

At a meeting with Argentina’s Jewish leaders, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said Argentina’s deal with Iran, which must be ratified by the two countries’ parliaments, will not supersede the ongoing Argentine court investigation.

But critics counter that Timerman is the same official who in 2011 called Argentine journalist Jose Eliaschev a “liar” and “pseudo-journalist” for disclosing that Argentina was holding secret talks with Iran about the AMIA case — which is precisely what Argentina and Iran later confirmed.

My opinion: Argentina has crossed a line by making a deal with the prime suspect in the 1994 terrorist attack.

I hope I’m wrong about this, but the end result of this so-called Argentina-Iran “truth commission” will be a finding saying that a handful of low-level Iranian officials were involved in the case, which allows Iran’s regime to claim it didn’t have anything to do with it, and Argentina to claim it has solved the case.

That would amount to a big blow to justice, and an insult to the memory of the 85 Jews and non-Jews who died in the terrorist attack.

Read more Andres Oppenheimer stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: Latin America’s other big Internet problem

    While I was watching Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff inaugurate a world summit to discuss the future of the Internet and prevent new instances of U.S. electronic spying, I couldn’t help thinking: that’s all very nice, but she should also be spending time trying to stop her country’s relative decline in Internet technology.

  • In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: Costa Rica’s new leader says he’s a “moderate” leftist

    Seeking to calm anxiety in business circles about his election as his country's first left-of-center leader in recent history, Costa Rica's President-elect Luis Guillermo Solis says he won't join the Venezuelan-led ALBA bloc of radical leftist countries, and that he sees himself as a “moderate” who is “not unlike many recent European and U.S. leaders.”

  • In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: Maduro’s first year, and what’s next

    Now that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has finished his first year in power, it’s time to take a dispassionate look at what has happened in oil-rich Venezuela since he took office on April 19, 2013, and what lies ahead. Let’s start with the facts.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category