BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — In 1994, the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires was bombed. The Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina, or AMIA, in Buenos Aires was the community center for the largest Jewish population in South America. The attack killed 85 and was the worst act of terrorism in Argentina’s history, as well as one of the deadliest anti-Semitic attacks since World War II.
Despite the fact that Hezbollah and Iran were linked to—and even formally charged for—the bombing, no one was ever brought to justice.
“Until now, there’s not been any progress in clarifying who was behind the attack,” said Dr. Luis Roniger, professor of comparative political sociology and Latin American Studies at Wake Forest University. “The usual view is that Hezbollah, with support from Iran, was behind the attack … but the case remains open.”
There have been several previous attempts to solve the case, but none have been successful. Then, 10 years ago, Alberto Nisman was assigned to get to the bottom of it.
On January 19, 2015, Alberto Nisman was scheduled to publicly testify to lawmakers regarding his investigation into the 1994 case. Nisman was a federal prosecutor for the Argentine government and he had long maintained that Iran and Hezbollah were to blame for the AMIA attack.
Nisman was supposedly ready to deliver proof that the Argentine government had tried to negotiate a deal to safeguard Iranian officials from prosecution in the AMIA attack in exchange for access to Iran’s energy market.
Argentina has an annual $7 billion energy deficit; Nisman believed Kirchner’s government was working to normalize relations with Iran in order to close a grain-for-oil deal.
Hours before Nisman was set to testify, on January 18, he was found shot in the head in his Buenos Aires apartment.
Almost immediately, Nisman’s death was declared a suicide. There was no suicide note, nor was there an exit wound for the bullet, suggesting Nisman was shot from a distance. Nonetheless, “All signs point to suicide,” Sergio Berni, the Argentine Security Secretary, said the day after Nisman’s death.
But, “almost nobody bought that [explanation], and even the justice was forced to declare that it seemed to be an assassination,” Dr. Roniger said in an interview.
Four days after Nisman’s death, Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner posted a letter on her website containing the subtitle, “The suicide (that I am convinced) was not suicide.” The government is still not providing any hints as to who might be behind the assassination.
The scandal has resulted in large protests in Buenos Aires, demanding a full and transparent investigation into Nisman’s death.
However, the death of Nisman comes at a time when there is high distrust between President Kirchner and the Argentine people. “Nisman’s death is another building block in a very polarized political sphere,” Roniger said. There is no telling whether or not an investigation into Nisman’s assassination will be full and transparent.
While Argentina has been making progress recently in protecting human rights, the country has a history of abuses. From 1976 to 1983, Argentina’s military dictatorship waged what has come to be called the “Dirty War.”
Between 10,000 and 30,000 citizens were killed for being suspected left-wing political opponents. Many of them were “disappeared,” or seized by the military and never heard from again.
Democracy was restored in 1983, when Raul Alfonsin was elected president, and moves were made to prosecute those responsible for the massacres. However, progress was halted during the 1990s, and it wasn’t until 2012, under President Kirchner, that several of the big players in the Dirty War were finally sentenced.
It will remain to be seen how Argentina will deal with Nisman’s death and the need for increased accountability of illicit government activities.
– Claire Karban