Argentine President Fuels Conspiracy Culture

Here’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s theory on the life and death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman: He was manipulated by powerful people who fed him false information, then killed him and made it look like suicide, with just enough doubt for blame to fall on the government.

Fernandez is helping fuel conspiracy theories around the death of Nisman, who was found with a bullet to the head days after accusing the government of covering up for the alleged perpetrators of the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history.

The president has posted two letters on her personal website theorizing about how and why Nisman died in his locked apartment hours before he was scheduled to present evidence for his claims at a Congressional hearing. Who ordered him home from holiday, she asks? Why was he given a gun when he was already under police protection? Six times she asks why someone in his situation would kill themselves.

“The president is talking more as if she were a crime fiction novelist than a head of state,” said Jorge Asis, a novelist and former culture secretary under ex-President Carlos Menem.

Nisman’s death is the latest mystery to grip a country which is still arguing over how many people were killed after disappearing during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Dark Forces

Suspicions of dark forces at work behind the government or against the government stem from Argentina’s violent past, said Federico Finchelstein, chair of the history department at the New School for Social Research in New York. During the dictatorship between 9,000 and 30,000 people disappeared, according to different estimates.

“There’s a history of deep distrust for the state going back to the military dictatorship that went outside the law and started killing its citizens,” Finchelstein said by phone.

Speculation and confusion has even surrounded the corpse of Argentina’s most famous leader, former First Lady Eva Peron. From her death in 1952 until 1971 when the body was finally returned to her husband, her embalmed corpse may have spent time in a van parked on the streets of Buenos Aires, behind a cinema screen, in the city’s waterworks, at the offices of Military Intelligence in the garden of the Argentine ambassador’s residence in Bonn, Germany and in a grave with a false name in Milan, Italy, according to press reports.

The body was seized in 1955 by military officers who had taken part in a coup that drove President Juan Peron into exile and feared the power Evita had over the country’s poor, even in death.

Suspicious Suicides

Fernandez, who Nisman accused of plotting to absolve former Iranian officials allegedly involved in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center that killed 85 people, makes no effort to reassure people that the authorities will get to the bottom of the case. Instead, she cites other suspicious suicides in Argentina that were never resolved.

Former customs chief Rodolfo Echegoyen, who was accused of drugs trafficking, disappeared on the day of his son’s wedding in December 1990 and was discovered shot dead in his office the following day. His death was declared a suicide in spite of his family’s belief that he was murdered.

Marcelo Cattaneo, a suspect in a corruption case involving International Business Machines Corp., or IBM, was found hanged. His family said that the clothes in which he was discovered didn’t belong to him and a clipping from the corruption case was discovered lodged in his mouth.

Arms Trading

In 2003, Lourdes Di Natale, the secretary of former President Carlos Menem’s brother-in-law, threw herself from the 10th floor of her apartment dressed in her underwear and clutching a knife after accusing her boss of illegal arms trading with Croatia and Ecuador. While a reconstruction of her death found the body could only have fallen as it did if pushed by two people, the case was never solved.

Nisman’s accusations against Fernandez themselves amount to a conspiracy theory. The prosecutor had alleged that Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman -- who is Jewish -- conspired with Iranian agents to absolve the Islamic Republic of the murder of Argentine Jews, in exchange for a trade accord.

The facts surrounding Nisman’s death haven’t helped damp the speculation around his death.

Forensic Test

While a preliminary autopsy report found no evidence that anyone else had been involved in his death, forensic tests for gunpowder on his hand, which would show if he had pulled the trigger, came back negative, Prosecutor Viviana Fein said Jan. 20.

A locksmith called to the scene of Nisman’s death said that a back door to the apartment could have been “opened by anyone” using a wire to slip the latch. The locksmith, named simply as Walter, was interviewed by local media after making declarations before the prosecutor Jan. 21.

Later, a third entrance into the house was discovered through a passage way with air conditioning units. Police are now examining a footprint and fingerprint found in the passage, news wire Noticias Argentinas said, citing court officials it didn’t identify.

Today, Fein’s office said in a statement they couldn’t locate Diego Lagomarsino, the aide to Nisman whose gun was found next to the body and who was allegedly the last person to see him alive. Half an hour later, local media reported that Lagomarsino had phoned authorities to say he was staying at a friend’s house and was willing to testify.

Censored Statistics

The reliability of Fernandez’s theory is called into question by the lack of credibility of her own government. In 2013, Argentina became the first country to be censured by the International Monetary Fund for misreporting inflation and gross domestic product statistics. After unveiling a new consumer price index and changing the methodology for GDP last year, official figures have continued to diverge from private estimates.

The government says consumer prices rose 23.9 percent in 2014 while the statistics agency of the city of Buenos Aires estimates that they climbed 38 percent.

“In Argentina, there is such a lack of credibility that if they reach a conclusion, half of the people won’t believe it,” said Asis.

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