Saturday, February 7, 2015

In the assassination of Alberto Nisman, echoes of the region's past

Violence linked to the narcotics trade and gang activity has remained a consistent challenge throughout Latin America but the kind of politically-motivated clashes and coups which occurred across much of the region throughout the 1960's, 70's and 80's has largely faded from today’s headlines. To examine the final days of President Salvador Allende in September of 1973, for example, as he faced an all out state-sponsored military assault led by his own air force (and sanctioned by his fellow countrymen in the Chilean Senate) seems a somewhat surreal scene to imagine now. The nightmarish regime of GeneralAugusto Pinochet, which followed, is perhaps even more so.

With the recent apparent assassination of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, I can't help but hear an echo of the region's past, reminiscent of a time when revolutionaries and central governments alike turned easily to murder, torture and kidnapping to further their own political and ideological agendas. Efforts by all elements of society throughout the region to counter this culture of impunity have made strides in recent years, and yet less than a month ago the world saw that murder as a political tool remains an attractive option to some in Argentina.

Based on the excellent reporting that media outlets have done on this story, it certainly appears that Nisman had done a thorough job investigating the July 18, 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, and was about to present compelling evidence that Iran had played a key role in the attack. The fact that he also apparently had uncovered evidence of efforts by high-level officials within the Argentine government (including potentially the current president) to conceal the hand of Tehran in this horrific act, has only fueled speculation around his untimely death.

As I have written before, the murder of Alberto Nisman is a tragedy on multiple levels - a profound personal loss for his family, friends and colleagues, as well as a denial of justice for the victims of the AMIA bombing - but as I listened to an NPR report earlier this week from Argentina, it struck me that his death has also created a trust deficit within Argentine civil society. It's not hard to see how a situation in which high-level government officials are involved with a cover-up of a state-sponsored act of terror, and this results in the murder of a prominent prosecutor whose death itself is highly suspicious, presents a recipe for a serious erosion of trust by the people.

In time, the crimes of those involved with the AMIA bombing and the Nisman murder may only continue to multiply, denying justice to the victims directly impacted, and casting a grim shadow over the leaders and institutions of this Latin American nation. How groups and individuals from all sectors of Argentine civil society respond will likely play a significant role in determining how this terrible series of events will impact the state of civil society in the weeks and months to come. 

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2015.

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