For Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the hits keep on coming. Less than a month after special prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused her of trying to scuttle his investigation into a 1994 terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires — and wound up dead on his bathroom floor — the same charges have come back to haunt her.
On Feb. 13, substitute prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita asked a federal judge to revive Nisman’s original complaint, which blamed Kirchner and foreign minister Hector Timerman for trying to kill the probe into the attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association and then for protecting several Iranian suspects, allegedly to smooth an oil-for-grain deal with Tehran. The AMIA bombing, the worst terrorist attack in South America, took 85 lives and injured 300.
The reaction from the Casa Rosada was as swift as it was predictable. Fernandez’s cabinet chief, Jorge Capitanich, dismissed the renewed charges as a judicial coup d’etat, while presidential general secretary Anibal Fernandez called it a “maneuver to destabilize democracy.”
It’s only natural that loyal Kirchneristas circle the wagons. But if the Argentine leader means to convince her compatriots that she’s earnest about getting to the bottom of the AMIA bombing, had no part in Nisman’s mysterious death and is still capable of stewarding the country through the worst economic downturn in a decade, this is not the way to go.
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Fernandez’s advisers have sought to publicly disqualify Viviana Fein, the criminal investigator investigating Nisman’s death. Last week, ruling Justicialista Party lawmaker Jorge Landau warned that federal prosecutors who join a protest “march of silence” on Feb. 18, a month after Nisman’s death, risk being disqualified from future criminal cases.
And on Feb. 9, presidential undersecretary Gustavo Lopez suggested that the commotion surrounding Nisman’s death was a plot by a rightwing cabal aimed at overthrowing Fernandez and replacing her people-friendly social policies with “neoliberal social forces that governed for decides to reap their own benefits,” Lopez said.
The accusation segues neatly from Fernandez’s drawn-out row with foreign bondholders, the so-called vulture funds, whom she accuses of trying to bankrupt her country with a wink and a nod from the U.S. courts.
And this was just the latest of Fernandez’s confabulations over Nisman’s death, which she first called a suicide, then a murder, engineered by spies conspiring with dark forces or foreign clients — your pick.
Even those strained claims might have sounded more forceful had Fernandez issued them from her seat in the Casa Rosada, before Congress or at a national press conference. Instead, she repaired to her home in El Calafate, at the tip of Patagonia, for a bit of downtime and to celebrate the birthday of her son Maximo.
Coup plotters and neoliberals may lurk, but Kirchner is expected to sit tight at the bottom of the world, at least until the prosecutors have marched in Buenos Aires.
Mac Margolis is a Bloomberg View contributor based in Rio de Janeiro.
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