Argentina Loses Its Intelligence
Not the best person to reform the intelligence services.
No one familiar with the ugly history of Argentina’s intelligence services would argue against its reform. Yet few would have chosen President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to lead the charge -- and her dissolution of it is yet another effort to warp Argentina’s government to suit her interests and allies.
In a speech to the nation earlier this week, Fernandez blamed the agency for failing to solve the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires and subverting prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s investigation into it. (Nisman was found dead in his apartment the night before he was to testify about his findings.) She has good reason to obfuscate: Days before his death, Nisman announced his conclusion that Fernandez and members of her administration had conspired with Iran to cover up Iranian culpability in the 1994 bombing in return for expanded trade ties.
The mysteries behind Nisman’s death have compounded the anger and frustration of Argentinians seeking an answer for who was behind the 1994 attack, which killed 85 people and wounded 300 more. Despite strong evidence implicating Iran, other theories abound; former president Carlos Menem faces charges that he obstructed an investigation into Syria’s possible role.
But keep your eye on the wildly bouncing ball that is Fernandez’s behavior: The day after Nisman’s death, she pronounced it a suicide; three days later, she was sure it was murder (“I have no proof," she said, "but I also have no doubts” that he was killed to frame her). When the Argentine journalist who broke the news of Nisman’s death fled the country fearing for his life, Fernandez’s office tweeted out details of his itinerary. The prosecutor she has sought to discredit is the very one she and her predecessor (and husband) hired.
That’s not exactly the behavior of a seeker of truth. It is, however, consistent with the opportunism, cronyism and conspiracy-mongering that have led her administration to fudge its economic data (and sue those who dare to question it), shred its legal obligations to creditors, use the apparatus of the state to silence its media critics, and manipulate the judiciary to blunt investigations into its behavior.
Fernandez’s plan to “reform” Argentina’s intelligence agency must be seen in that light. Among other things, it will grant oversight of wiretapping to the prosecutor general she appointed for an indefinite term -- and who can only be removed from office by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress.
The credit Fernandez and her husband, the late Nestor Kirchner, rightfully earned for ending impunity for the generals who prosecuted Argentina’s Dirty War is fast diminishing. Certainly her credibility with Argentina’s Jewish community is all but gone.
At this point, Argentina has little choice but to follow the example of Guatemala, where in the late 1990s a United Nations commission investigated severe human-rights abuses. Countries with credible intelligence on the 1994 Buenos Aires bombing should make it available to objective international investigators. Given the penumbra of scandal and crime that hangs over Argentina -- which corrupt officials have also turned into a hub for drug trafficking -- its neighbors also have a strong incentive to be more vigilant about the government’s behavior.
A candid discussion about the hemisphere’s anti-democratic tendencies at the upcoming Summit of the Americas wouldn’t hurt, either. President Barack Obama’s smart decision to normalize ties with Cuba makes such candor both more likely and more necessary. As the example of Argentina shows, what the lingering U.S. embargo is doing to Cuba is less harmful than what some Latin American leaders are doing to their own people.
To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org.