Monday, November 30, 2015

Argentina’s new President seeks to dissolve agreement with Iran

Argentina has elected a new President, Mauricio Macri, and one of his first acts has been to announce that he will request Congress to dissolve the 2013 agreement signed between Argentina and Iran to jointly investigate the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish centre in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured hundreds...

Macri won 51.4% of the vote in the runoff between the two leading candidates, defeating Daniel Scioli who received only 48.6% of votes.  Scioli was considered to be outgoing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's chosen successor.

The win by Macri and his centre-right party brings an end to 12 years of Kirchner rule by President Christina Kirchner and her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner...

This change is likely to be welcomed by many in Argentina, including most of the  large Jewish community of some 200,000 to 250,000, especially following suspicions that Kirchner's government may have been involved in orchestrating the death in January of Jewish prosecutor Alberto Nisman, to cover up allegations Nisman had made about government officials.  While President, Kirchner also made concerning inferences about Jews.  For example in June she compared investment funds contributing to Argentina's national debt to William Shakespeare's villain Shylock, in a perceived antisemitic reference.

Before his tragic death, Nisman had alleged Iranian officials ordered the bombing of the AMIA centre via Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, and said he believed that the deal between Argentina and Iran for the suspects to be investigated by a joint commission was a conspiracy designed to ensure they would never be brought to justice.

On January 14, Nisman filed a report that accused President Kirchner, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and others close to the government of protecting high-ranking Iranian officials, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in exchange for oil and trade benefits. 

On January 18, Nisman was found dead in his bathroom with a bullet-wound in his head in suspicious circumstances.  It was the day before Nisman was due to appear in Congress and allege that President Kirchner was covering up alleged Iranian involvement in the AMIA bombing because she wanted a trade deal with Iran.

The death of Nisman in mysterious circumstances led to massive street demonstrations in Argentina.  At first, President Kirchner claimed that Nisman's death was a suicide, and then later admitted he was most likely murdered.  She suggested that Nisman was manipulated by disgruntled former intelligence agents who then killed him to smear her.

Then in April, Kirchner claimed on her official website that she was the target of a conspiracy among American "vulture funds," Jewish community groups and Nisman to undermine her efforts to improve relations with Iran.

However, the legal case against President Kirchner suffered a massive blow in April, when prosecutor Javier De Luca dismissed claims that she helped shield Iranian officials allegedly behind the AMIA bombing, citing insufficient evidence to warrant further investigation.  The case had earlier been rejected by both a federal judge and an appeals court.  According to the Guardian, opinion polls show that around 70% of Argentineans believe Nisman was murdered and that his death will never be solved.

In contrast to Kirchner, Argentina's new President Macri is known for having good relations with Argentina's Jewish community and Israel.

For example, Macri has chosen 
Rabbi Sergio Bergman to serve as Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development in his new government.  Bergman, is believed to be the only rabbi serving as a government minister outside of Israel.
Moreover, as mayor of Buenos Aires City, Macri implemented a plan to support incubators and start-ups inspired by the Israeli "Start-Up Nation" scene, and local entrepreneurs also visited Israel to learn how to market themselves internationally.

In June 2014, Macri went to Israel to participate in a mayors' conference, where he offered his support to Israel against terrorism.  He told journalists:

"Israeli suffering has to be understood. From afar, it is easy to give advice, but you have to be in Israel to really understand the situation."

    ... Macri's decision to cancel the agreement with Iran has been welcomed by Israel and Jewish organisations including the American Jewish Committee, Latin American Jewish Congress, the Argentinean Jewish political umbrella DAIA, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called Macri to congratulate him on the election victory, and Netanyahu wrote in a post on Facebook "Macri told me that relations between Argentina and Israel will now change for the better."

However, despite Macri's good will there may be some difficulties in dissolving the agreement with Iran, as the outgoing government will retain its majority in the Senate after the December 12 inauguration. 

...Macri's new government will certainly bring changes to Argentina, yet some remain sceptical whether the government will be able to bring about justice for Nisman and the victims of the AMIA bombing.  As Eamonn MacDonagh wrote in the Tower:
"It is also unlikely that there will be any significant progress in the investigation into the AMIA massacre itself for similar reasons. Again, there are no political gains to be had for Macri in putting any energy into pursuing this case. As with Nisman's death, any effort so expended might stir up trouble from the amalgam of intelligence officials, police, judges, prosecutors, ‘businessmen,' and common criminals that make up Argentina's ‘deep state.' The new president will have enough on his plate dealing with the disastrous economic situation in Argentina. And even if Macri was filled with desire to bring the AMIA killers to justice and find out what really happened to Nisman, it's hard to imagine that he would get much in the way of encouragement from the Obama administration in Washington.

"Macri's election thus marks a step back for Iran's interests in the region and is a warning sign for the Venezuelan regime, which is facing parliamentary elections in December. However, it would be unwise to hope that it will lead to progress on the AMIA massacre investigation, the worst single anti-Semitic atrocity since World War II, or the investigation into the death of Alberto Nisman, who appears to have paid the ultimate price for seeking to prosecute both its perpetrators and those engaged in the most recent attempt to cover it up."

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