In Buenos Aires, on January 18, Alberto Nisman, a government prosecutor, was found dead in his apartment, shot with a 22. The death, either a suicide or a murder, has rocked Argentine politics. One’s opinion on what the killing means depends on one’s opinion of the country’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Nisman, who had spent years investigating the 1994 bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association, which killed eighty-five and wounded hundreds, had accused Kirchner and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman (son of Jacobo Timerman, one of Argentina’s most famous victims of the dirty war, author of Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number) of conspiring to protect Iran (and Hezbollah) from being held accountable for the bombing. Kirchner and Timerman made this deal, according to Nisman, in exchange for cheap oil. Nisman’s accusations are contained in a nearly 300-page report, released just before his death. He was about to give testimony before Congress, but died the night before his scheduled appearance.
Nisman’s death is classic black-bag baroque. It involves spies, Cold War intelligence agencies, Israel, Syria, Iran, oil politics and, of course, the CIA and Mossad. But before going in to the deals, I want to point out its eerie similarity to another bizarre political death, in Guatemala, of Rodrigo Rosenberg in 2009.
Rosenberg, just before he was killed, made a video in which he accused the country’s then-left-of-center president, Álvaro Colom, of having murdered him because he had evidence of corruption. Where Nisman reportedly predicted his own death (“I might get out of this dead”), Rosenberg, in his video, said “if you are hearing or seeing this message it means that I’ve been murdered by President Álvaro Colom.”
Rosenberg then paid assassins to kill him. It was all part of an intricate right-wing conspiracy to destroy Colom’s mildly reformist presidency. I realize that sounds crazy. But that was the irrefutable conclusion of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, the result of an extraordinary investigation described in compelling detail by David Grann in The New Yorker. And just as many of Kirchner’s opponents have seized on Nisman’s death to take to the streets and declare “Yo soy Nisman” (“I am Nisman”), protests broke out in Guatemala after the appearance of the Rosenberg video that nearly toppled Colom. One of Colom’s key constituencies were mobilized peasants, demanding policy solutions to the country’s chronic land crisis; the protesters that denounced Colom as an asesino were largely from the urban middle class. That is, they were the same social composition mobilized against other left or reformist leaders, in Thailand, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. That year, 2009, in Honduras, similar protests brought down Manuel Zelaya.