Archive for the ‘ARGENTINE UPDATE’ Category

ARGENTINE UPDATE – Mar 4, 2015

4 marzo, 2015

ARGENTINE UPDATE – Mar 3, 2015

3 marzo, 2015

ARGENTINE UPDATE – Feb 27, 2015

2 marzo, 2015

ARGENTINE UPDATE – Mar 2, 2015

2 marzo, 2015

Gabriela Pousa

19 febrero, 2015

http://www.perspectivaspoliticas.info/argentina-se-merece-a-cristina/

buenísima escritora y analista!!!

ARGENTINE UPDATE – Feb 13, 2013

13 febrero, 2015

 

ARGENTINE UPDATE – Feb 12, 2015

12 febrero, 2015

ARGENTINE UPDATE – Feb 11, 2015

11 febrero, 2015

ARGENTINE UPDATE – Feb 9, 2015

10 febrero, 2015

middleeasteye.net
The Nisman murder and the AMIA terror bombing: A tangled thread

The evidence already available about Argentine Prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s death from a gunshot to the head creates a strong presumption that he was murdered.  He was about to present publicly his accusation that President Christina Fernández de Kirchner and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman conspired to absolve Iran of the 1994 AMIA bombing and lift the Interpol red notices on the accused Iranians.

And it was Nisman’s 2006 request for the arrest of six former senior Iranian officials for the bombing that prompted his push for those red notices. In the context of Argentine political culture, with its long experience of impunity for crimes committed by the powerful, the circumstances of his death have led to a general conviction that the government must have been behind his murder.

But there is good reason to be cautious about that assumption. Nisman’s case against Kirchner was problematic. The central accusation in his affidavit, made 96 times, according to press accounts, was that Kirchner and Timerman had sought to revoke the Interpol arrest warrants against the former Iranian officials. But Ronald K. Noble, the secretary general of Interpol for fifteen years until last November, denied Nisman’s accusation.  Noble declared, “I can say with 100 percent certainty, not a scintilla of doubt, that Foreign Minister Timerman and the Argentine government have been steadfast, persistent and unwavering that the Interpol’s red notices be issued, remain in effect and not be suspend or removed.”

Noble’s denial raises an obvious question: Why would the Kirchner government, knowing that Nisman’s main claim could be easily refuted, have any reason to kill him on the eve of the presentation of his case?  Why give those seeking to discredit the government’s policy on the AMIA bombing the opportunity to shift the issue from the facts of the case to the presumption of officially sponsored assassination?

The Kirchner-Timerman negotiation of an agreement with Iran in January 2013 for an “international truth commission” on the AMIA bombing that would have sent five respected international judicial figures to Iran to question the accused Iranians.  That was a way of getting around the Iranian refusal to subject former high-ranking officials to Argentine justice. But Nisman was trying to prove that was an illicit cover-up for a cynical deal with Iran. He considered it “a betrayal of the country and his work”, according to his friend, Gustavo Perednik.

Nisman’s “criminal complaint” against Kirchner and Timerman claimed the government’s negotiations with Iran involved a “sophisticated criminal plan” to make a deal with one of the Iranians the prosecutor accused of the AMIA bombing, former cultural attaché Mohsen Rabbani. It asserted that Argentina promised Iran that it would lift the Interpol notices on the six Iranian in exchange for an “oil for grains” deal.

Nisman’s accusation was based on snippets of transcripts from 5,000 hours of wiretaps of conversations of allies of Kirchner government that have now been made public by a judge. One of the excerpts quotes Rabbani himself, in a conversation with an ally of Fernandez, as saying:
Iran was Argentina’s main buyer and now it’s buying almost nothing. That could change. Here [in Iran] there are some sectors of the government who’ve told me they are willing to sell oil to Argentina … and also to buy weapons.

The statement proves nothing, however, except that that Rabbani knew some Iranian officials who were interested in oil sales to Argentina. No evidence of Rabbani being involved in negotiating on behalf of Iran is suggested in the Nisman document, and the person at the other end of the line was not an Argentine official. So the conversation did not involve anyone who even had direct knowledge of the actual negotiations between the governments of Iran and Argentina.

The same thing applies to the other individuals who have been identified as speaking on the wiretaps in favour of such a deal.  Those individuals are friendly with officials of the Kirchner government and friendly with Iran, but the actual negotiations were carried out by senior officials of the foreign ministries of Iran and Argentina, not by private individuals. The distinction between knowledge and hearsay is a fundamental principle in judicial processes for a very good reason.
The presentation of facts or allegations as proof of guilt, even though they proved nothing of the sort, was also a pattern that permeated Nisman’s 2006 “Request for Arrests” in the 1994 AMIA bombing.  Contrary to the general reverence in the news media for his indictment of senior Iranian officials for their alleged responsibility for the bombing, his case was built on a massive accumulation of highly dubious and misleading claims, from the “irrefutable evidence” of Rabbani’s participation in planning to the identification of the alleged suicide car bomber. This writer’s investigation of the case over several months, which included interviews with US diplomats who had served in the Embassy in Buenos Aires in the years following the AMIA bombing as well as with the FBI official detailed to work on the case in 1996-97, concluded that the Argentine investigators never found any evidence of Iranian involvement.

Nisman asserted that the highest Iranian officials had decided to carry out the bombing at a meeting on 12 or 14 August, 1993, primarily on the testimony of four officials of the Mujahedeen E-Khalq (MEK), the Iranian exile terrorist group that was openly dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian regime. The four MEK officials claimed to know the precise place, date and time and the three-point agenda of the meeting.When US Ambassador, Anthony Wayne, meeting with Nisman in November 2006, asked him about Argentine press reports that had criticised the document for using the testimony of “unreliable witnesses,” Nisman responded, according to the Embassy reporting cable, that “several of the witnesses were “former senior Iraqi [sic] officials, e.g. Bani Sadr, with direct knowledge of events surrounding the conception of the attacks.”

Nisman’s suggestion that former Iranian president Abolhassen Banisadr had “direct knowledge” related to the AMIA bombings was a stunningly brazen falsehood. Banisadr had been impeached by the Iranian legislature in June 1981 and had fled to Paris the following month – thirteen years before the bombing.

Nisman also cited the testimony of Abolghassem Mesbahi, who called himself a “defector” from the Iranian intelligence service, that Iranian officials had made such a decision sometime in August 1993. But Mesbahi was known by US intelligence analysts as a “serial fabricator”, who had also told an obviously false story about Iranian involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Nisman failed to mention, moreover, that Mesbahi had given a secret 100-page deposition to Argentine investigators in 2000 in Mexico in which he had claimed the planning for the attack had begun in 1992.

Nisman’s was so convinced of Iran’s guilt that he was ready to see almost any fact as supporting evidence, even when there was an obvious reason for doubting its relevance.  For example, he cited Rabbani’s shopping for a van “similar to the one that exploded in front of the AMIA building a few months later.”  In fact, however, as I reported in 2008, the Argentine investigation files include the original intelligence report on the surveillance of Rabbani showing that Rabbani’s visit to the car dealer was not “a few months” before the bombing, but a full fifteen months earlier.
Despite the Argentine intelligence following Rabbani’s every move and tapping his telephones for all those months, Nisman cites nothing indicating that Rabbani did anything indicating his involvement in preparations for a terror bombing. The FBI official who assisted the investigation told me in a November 2007 interview that the use of phone metadata to suggest that Rabbani was in touch with an “operational group” nothing but “speculation”, and said that neither he nor officials in Washington had taken it seriously as evidence or Rabbani’s involvement.

The fact that Nisman’s two indictments related to Iran and AMIA were extremely tendentious obviously does not dispose of the question of who killed him. But whatever the reason for his being killed, it wasn’t because he had revealed irrefutable truths about AMIA and Argentine government policy.

- Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy.  His latest book, “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare,” was published in February 2014.

Photo: A man holds a placard that reads “Nisman lives, in the documents, don’t let him be killed” during a demonstration called by leftist parties and social movements against the impunity and covering up of the death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman and the bombing of the AMIA, in Buenos Aires on February 4, 2015 (AFP)

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The Uses of Torture

by Peter Costantini
“Enhanced interrogation”: the George W. Bush administration bureaucrats who coined the term had perfect pitch. The apparatchiks of Kafka’s Castle would have admired the grayness of the euphemism. But although it sounds like some new kind of focus group, it turns out that “enhanced interrogation” was just anodyne branding for good old-fashioned torture.
Unfortunately, the debate around it unleashed by the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has largely missed the point.
Certainly, the report provided overwhelming evidence that torture did not produce useful intelligence. The CIA had concluded previously that torture is “ineffective,” “counterproductive,” and “will probably result in false answers.” Some CIA agents and soldiers reportedly questioned the legality of the “enhanced interrogation” policies and resisted carrying them out. FBI agent Ali Soufan, who had legally interrogated prisoner Ali Zubaydah, has written that Zubaydah had cooperated and provided “important actionable intelligence” months before he was tortured extensively.
Historian Gareth Porter has used new evidence from the Senate report to refute the CIA’s claim that information obtained through torture “played a substantial role” in locating and killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The CIA, he says, deceived the U.S. government and public on this point. In fact, Porter contends, the identification of bin Laden’s courier, which eventually led U.S. forces to bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, “had nothing to do with the CIA torture program.”
Even a Bush Justice Department lawyer has acknowledged: “It is difficult to quantify with confidence and precision the effectiveness of the program.” In any case, it is impossible to know that intelligence purportedly extracted by torture could not have been elicited by legal interrogation.
Fundamentally, though, whether torture “works” or not is immaterial.
 
What’s the word? Nuremberg
The Third Geneva Convention and the UN Covenant Against Torture do not exempt torture that somebody believes to be “effective.” The codes are based on neither expediency nor compassion, but rather on hard-headed self-interest. Nearly all nations have formally recognized that by agreeing not to torture non-combatants they can reduce the probability of their own non-combatants being tortured.
Post-World War II tribunals imprisoned and executed German and Japanese officials for war crimes including torture. Nuremberg and Tokyoestablished the indelible principle that acting as a responsible government official, or following the orders of one, is not a defense against accusations of war crimes.
Granted, these norms have been observed as much in the breach as in practice. And on the blood-soaked canvas of the past century, the damages of torture pale beside the scope of suffering inflicted by the “legal” savageries of war. Yet if the leaders of the richest and most powerful empire in history can claim that defense of the homeland requires torturing prisoners, what other government or non-state actor will hesitate to make the same claim?
Morally, the would-be civilized world continues to recognize torture as intrinsically venomous. It destroys lives on both ends of the cattle prod. The officials that ordered it and now defend it bolster the evidence that the Bush administration was a rogue régime. Dick Cheney, former vice president and current marketing director for the Spanish Inquisition, says: “I’d do it again in a minute.” No one should doubt his sincerity.
 
The “New American Century” Goes Medieval
One of the “enhancements” was reportedly an effort to fabricate a justification for invading Iraq. High Bush administration officials allegedly put heavy pressure on interrogators “to find evidence of cooperation between al-Qaeda and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime” in an effort to fabricate a justification for invading Iraq, according to a former senior US intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist cited by McClatchy News. No such evidence of cooperation was found.
But beyond such immediate imperatives, the torture policy meshed seamlessly with a discretionary war premised on lies and optimized for “shock and awe.” This neat ideological package asserted the unchallengeable power of a “unitary executive” above constitutional checks and balances, national law, and international treaties. Echoing Richard Nixon’s circular self-justification of three decades earlier, Justice Department lawyer Steven Bradbury told Congress: “The president is always right.”
The Project for the New American Century, a think tank with which Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other officials were associated, laid down intellectual covering fire for these policies. With the United States the only superpower left, the PNAC apparently concluded that history was over and that the Bush administration had an unprecedented opportunity to remake the world in its own image and demonstrate the futility of resistance. The policies it engendered effectively said to the international community: “The rules we used to agree on no longer apply to us. Here’s exactly how far above international law we are. What are you going to do about it?”
Strategically, the Bush-Cheney project targeted conceptual smart bombs on the very idea of human rights. The rest of the world got the message, and the cracks in the foundations of U.S. national security have yet to be repaired.
 
“Human Resource Exploitation” 101
“Enhanced interrogation,” however, has roots reaching back decades into CIA collaboration with dictatorships in Latin America.
Brazil’s National Truth Commission recently concluded that from 1954 through 1996 the United States gave some 300 military officers “theoretical and practical classes in torture.” Current President Dilma Rousseff was one of those tortured by the military, which ruled the largest country in Latin America from 1964 through 1985.
Over the past half-century, the CIA has been implicated in providing similar training to military dictatorships across South and Central America. The United States also provided military aid and advice to many of them, participated in coups against elected governments, and was complicit in the murder and disappearance of hundreds of thousands, according to investigative journalist Robert Parry.
In Guatemala, for example, the CIA trained and supported a military and intelligence apparatus that exterminated close to 200,000 people over 30 years and committed genocide against Mayan communities, according to an independent Historical Clarification Commission. The military dictatorship initially came to power in a 1954 coup—planned, organized and executed by the CIA—that overthrew the elected government of President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán and killed hundreds of his supporters.
Under the Richard Nixon administration, the CIA was deeply involved in the 1973 coup in Chile, which overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende and led to the torture, disappearance and death of thousands of Chileans.
Of course, none of these régimes needed to be shown how to torture prisoners. But the official trainings put the imprimatur of their sponsor to the north on their atrocities.
The origins of US torture policies go back even further, to early in the Vietnam War. According to the Senate report, “In 1963, the CIA produced the KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, intended as a manual for Cold War Interrogations, which included the ‘principal coercive techniques of interrogation …’.” In 1983, sections of KUBARK were incorporated into the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, which was “used to provide interrogation training in Latin America in the early 1980s.”
One of the CIA officers who provided these trainings was later “orally admonished for inappropriate use of interrogation techniques.” But his efforts ultimately proved to be a good career move. In 2002, the CIA made him chief of interrogations, according to the report.
In 1992, the Pentagon destroyed most documentation of these training programs, Parry reported. The orders came from the office of then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.
Among the key players in these programs, historian Greg Grandin gives special mention to Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center for the George W. Bush Administration. Rodriguez reportedly was responsible for destroying tapes of torture and discouraging field agents from questioning the practices, and he continues to defend them.
 
Throwing Light on the Dark Side
In response to mounting evidence of decades of torture, what would an “indispensable nation” do?
The release of the Senate report was an important precedent. But what has been released so far is only the executive summary. The Senate should release the full report and encourage the Obama administration to act on it. Until perpetrators all the way to the top are brought to justice, the U.S. government will rightly be seen as hypocritical when it criticizes the human rights violations of others.
Ultimately, the gravity and scope of wrongdoing call for a reincarnation of the Senate’s 1975 Church Committee, which investigated abuses by intelligence agencies in the wake of Watergate. It should serve as a truth commission exposing the U.S. government’s use of torture, terror and other human rights violations, going back 40 years to where Church left off.
The official U.S. Senate history of the Church Committee cites historian Henry Steele Commager, referring to executive branch officials who seemed to consider themselves above the law: “It is this indifference to constitutional restraints that is perhaps the most threatening of all the evidence that emerges from the findings of the Church Committee.”
Under the present Republican leadership, with the honorable exception of Senator John McCain (R-AZ), it’s a safe bet that nothing will happen on this front.
Allies, though, have begun digging. In 2009, Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzón Real opened two investigations of the Bush torture program, one of which is still pending. In December, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin filed complaints accusing several high Bush administration figures of “the war crime of torture” under German and international law.
The odds of seeing Cheney and company in a glass booth may be slim. But it would be a small victory for humanity if they had to look over their shoulders whenever they travel abroad.
As some of us never seem to learn, genuine national security is about not black ops and drones, but hearts and minds.
As an epitaph for the Bush-Cheney vision, consider Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1818 poem “Ozymandias”:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
 
Peter Costantini is a Seattle-based analyst who has covered Latin America for the past three decades.
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 1. WHODUNIT? IN OBSESSED NATION, QUESTION BECOMES WHO DIDN’T (The New York Times)
By Simon Romero
8 February 2015
BUENOS AIRES — The president did it. No, it was the Argentine spymaster plotting against her. Maybe it really was a suicide, the tragic fall of a man whose case was coming undone. Or was it Iran, the Israeli Mossad, the C.I.A.? And what about the lingering influence of the Nazis who fled here after World War II?
Ever since the fatal shooting of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who accused President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of conspiring with Iran to cover up responsibility for the bombing of a Jewish community center, this country has been awash in theories about who pulled the trigger, and why.
Whether in hushed conversations in cafes, at corner news stalls, or at a lonely beach town hot-dog stand, much of Argentina seems to have an idea about how Mr. Nisman ended up on his apartment floor with a gunshot wound to the head — the night before he was scheduled to testify about his accusations to lawmakers.
”It has to either be the armed faction of narco-Nazi-jihadist international terrorism, or it has to be the Jewish-Marxism mafia that also involves the C.I.A., Israel and the Mossad,” said Carlos Wiesemann, 65, a hot-dog vendor in the town of Pinamar, weighing his list of suspected forces while drinking whiskey with a friend.
Indeed, the obsession with Mr. Nisman’s death — and the expansiveness of the theories to explain it — has grown so intense that some Argentines are poring over the case in one of the country’s most intimate sanctuaries: the psychotherapist’s office.
”All my clients are talking about the case,” said María del Carmen Torretta, 67, a psychoanalyst who treats about 15 clients a week in Villa Ballester, a suburb of Buenos Aires. ”People are tired and scared,” she said. ”It’s a red-hot issue.”
Pollsters have even surveyed Argentines to see who they think is responsible. One recent poll by Rouvier showed that about 48 percent of people in 800 telephone interviews across Argentina thought that Mrs. Kirchner’s government was behind the prosecutor’s death. Nearly 20 percent said the opposite — that he was a victim of a conspiracy against the government — while 33 percent acknowledged that they just did not know. The survey’s margin of sampling error was plus or minus three percentage points.
The loss of Mr. Nisman is the latest installment in a Latin American tradition: landmark political deaths that spur an array of clashing theories, often for decades.
”Many people are in anguish over Nisman’s death and they’re grasping for ways to explain it,” said Diego Sehinkman, a psychologist and author here. ”If Argentina were a patient, it would appear to have a disorder involving repetition compulsion over traumatic unsolved deaths.”
Much like the Kennedy assassination in the United States, suspicious deaths have become staples of political debate in the region, sometimes pushing the courts and the authorities to go to great lengths to resolve them.
In recent years, the body of President Salvador Allende of Chile was exhumed to determine whether he took his own life or was shot dead as troops stormed the presidential palace in an American-supported coup on Sept. 11, 1973.
The remains of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, were recently exhumed to figure out whether he died of cancer or foul play shortly after the coup in 1973. Investigators recently disinterred João Goulart, a Brazilian president deposed in a 1964 coup supported by the C.I.A. to see if he was poisoned by spies while in exile in Argentina.
And in a particularly dramatic event, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela had the sarcophagus of Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century aristocrat who freed much of South America from Spain, opened on national television to determine whether he died of arsenic poisoning instead of tuberculosis in 1830, as historians had long accepted.
In each of these cases, investigators failed to find evidence of foul play in the deaths.
Here in Argentina, many people said that Mr. Nisman’s death reminded them of another mysterious episode in the country’s history: the 1995 death of the son of Carlos Menem, Argentina’s president at the time.
After Carlos Menem Jr. died in a helicopter crash, his mother claimed that her son had been killed, prompting yet another exhumation. Mr. Menem, now 84 and a senator, officially contended as well last year that his son had been murdered.
Mrs. Kirchner made it clear in January that she believed Mr. Nisman, the prosecutor, had been killed, pointing to three previous episodes, two from 1998 and one from 2003, in which ”cases of suicide were never cleared up.” Mrs. Kirchner and her inner circle have rejected Mr. Nisman’s accusations of wrongdoing and cast suspicion in his death on a range of figures, including the assistant who lent Mr. Nisman the gun and the ousted spymaster who worked with Mr. Nisman to compile the allegations against the president.
Though neither Mrs. Kirchner nor her government has accused anyone of murder directly, she has described Mr. Nisman’s death as part of a plot to smear her, saying, ”They used him while he was alive and then they needed him dead.”
But given that Mr. Nisman’s 289-page criminal complaint accused Mrs. Kirchner of trying to reach a secret deal with Iran to derail his investigation into the 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center, which killed 85 people, many Argentines argue that her government is the logical place to look for suspects.
”This is a country where mafias can artfully make a murder look like a suicide,” said Ana Rosa Di Serio, 65, a newsstand operator who said she believed that government officials supporting Mrs. Kirchner had Mr. Nisman killed, though without the president’s knowledge.
Others reject that theory, siding with the government.
”It doesn’t suit the government to have a death in an election year,” said Claudia Rúmolo, 55, the owner of Mordisquito, a bar lined with bookcases in downtown Buenos Aires, referring to the presidential election later this year. ”A rogue branch of the Intelligence Secretariat did it, responding to opposition sectors nationally or abroad.”
Confused yet? The theories get far more complex.
While investigators have still not ruled whether Mr. Nisman was killed or took his own life, few of the theories heard on the streets accept suicide as an explanation.
One claim involves a local assassin targeting the prosecutor with the help of Venezuelan spies. Some bloggers have cast suspicion on what they describe as the Chinese mafia. A rabbi here put forward a complex interpretation of the Torah, pointing to a codified reference to the surname ”Nisman” to deduce that the prosecutor was pressured by others into killing himself.
”I don’t know who did it, but I’m sure we will never find out,” said Marcus Macias, 29, an attendant selling snacks and soft drinks at a kiosk while watching a zombie movie on a flat-screen television under the glow of neon lights.
”These things happen everywhere,” he said. ”The Nisman case is just like Kennedy.”
2. A LONG-UNSOLVED TERRORISM CASE, WRAPPED IN A MYSTERY; IN ARGENTINA, PROSECUTOR’S DEATH ADDS LAYER OF UNCERTAINTY (Los Angeles Times)
By Andres D’Alessandro, Chris Kraul
8 February 2015
Three weeks after the death of an Argentine prosecutor investigating the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, details surrounding his demise are as murky as the labyrinthine case he was examining, which is still unsolved after more than 20 years.
Alberto Nisman, who was in charge of the inquiry on the 1994 attack, was found dead Jan. 18 in the bathroom of his luxurious Buenos Aires apartment, a bullet in his right temple. A .22-caliber gun was found next to him.
Did Nisman, 51, commit suicide, as evidence made public so far seems to indicate, or was he killed? If it was a homicide, who committed it and why?
Two-thirds of the Argentine public thinks Nisman was assassinated, with half of those believing the government headed by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was somehow responsible, according to a recent Ipsos poll. Fernandez has denied that any coverup occurred. But she also thinks Nisman may have been slain.
Here’s what is known so far:
The bombing
On July 18, 1994, a van loaded with explosives drove into the Argentine Israelite Mutual Assn., or AMIA, headquarters in a densely populated commercial district of Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring at least 150. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history, but not the only one. Two years earlier, the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed, killing 29 and wounding 242. Islamic Jihad, a Lebanese Shiite Muslim group thought to have ties to Iran, claimed responsibility for that attack.
The bombing investigation
Nisman, a federal prosecutor appointed to lead the investigation, filed a criminal complaint in 2006 alleging that Iran and another Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah, were responsible for the AMIA bombing. The motive, the complaint alleged, was Argentina’s decision to stop supplying nuclear materials and technology for Iran’s nuclear program. And though the “driving force” behind the attack was said to be the cultural attache at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires, the orders, according to the complaint, came from top Iranian officials. There was abundant circumstantial evidence: cellphone records, bank transfers, the departure of Iran’s ambassador and deputy chief of mission from Argentina days before the attack. Iran denied involvement and refused to extradite the suspects; the case remains unsolved.
Domestic complications
The purported skulduggery wasn’t limited to Iran. Nisman claimed to have found evidence of a coverup at home too. He accused then-President Carlos Menem and several officials in the intelligence and security services of helping hide the tracks of local accomplices of the bombers, including a Syrian Argentine businessman. Menem, the son of Syrian immigrants, is awaiting trial on charges of obstructing the investigation.
And then Nisman began finding coverup fingerprints involving the current government — or so he said. In a report given to a judge five days before he died, the prosecutor alleged that Fernandez had secretly reached a deal to prevent prosecution of the former Iranian officials. He said the deal — which Fernandez contends never happened — may have been made in exchange for favorable trade deals, including an exchange of Argentine grain for Iranian oil. Part of the unsolved mystery is the timing of Nisman’s sudden Jan. 12 return from vacation in Spain to release his report. What information did he get, and from whom?
The death investigation
The initial autopsy concluded that Nisman had committed suicide. The pistol found near his body had been lent to him by fellow investigator Diego Lagomarsino, who said Nisman asked for it because he didn’t trust his security detail. That no suspicious visitors were reported entering Nisman’s apartment at the time of his death seems to support the idea of suicide. The trajectory of the bullet also is consistent with that theory, as is the presence of Nisman’s fingerprints on the weapon.
But among those with questions is Viviana Fein, the prosecutor heading the investigation. Immediately after the death, she publicly described the case as “suspicious.” Another is Fernandez, who wrote on her Facebook page shortly after Nisman’s death that she was “convinced” that he had not committed suicide. In her lengthy entry, she threw out several possible scenarios, including one in which rogue elements of the government’s Secretariat of Intelligence may have killed him because those who wanted to “use him alive now want to use him dead.” She has since ordered the intelligence agency disbanded.
Last week, press attention focused on Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso, the third-highest ranking official in the Intelligence Secretariat, who had been working closely with Nisman in the AMIA investigation. Stiuso was called by Fein to give evidence after phone records indicated he was among the last people to talk to Nisman. The late prosecutor had acknowledged his closeness to Stiuso, saying in one interview that Fernandez’s late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, introduced him to the intelligence officer, describing him as the most knowledgeable man in Argentina about the AMIA bombing. Stiuso has yet to testify, and his whereabouts was unknown late last week.
Family members and friends dismiss the notion that Nisman killed himself. His ex-wife, federal Judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, said that before his death she received a mailed photo of him with markings that she regarded as threatening. “This end was not your decision,” she said at his funeral.
Nisman died “trying to shed light in the shadows that were cast over us a long time ago,” friend and philosopher Santiago Kovadloff said.
 3. ANGUISH IN ARGENTINA AFTER PROSECUTOR’S MYSTERIOUS DEATH (The Huffington Post)
By Matt Sheehan
02/07/2015
Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic driving headlines around the world. Today, we speak with leading Argentinian journalist Nelson Castro about the mysterious murder of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had accused the government of covering up a 1994 terror attack.
Argentina is embroiled in its most sensational political scandal in decades, a twisted saga of terrorism, torture, murder and high-stakes international politics. The deadly 1994 bombing that killed 85 people at Jewish community center has haunted the country for two decades, and the case was thrust back into the headlines following the suspicious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman on Jan. 18.
Nisman had recently accused President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of cutting a deal with Iran — a prime suspect in the bombing — to cover up Tehran’s role in the attack. Hours before Nisman was scheduled to testify before Argentina’s congress, he was found dead from a gunshot wound in his apartment. Initially ruled a suicide, Nisman’s death has since been labeled homicide, sending shock waves through Argentinian politics. The discovery of a draft arrest warrant for Kirchner in Nisman’s apartment has only heightened tensions.
Kirchner has denied all involvement in Nisman’s death, claiming the prosecutor was the victim of a conspiracy by the nation’s intelligence agencies to destroy her presidency. She has pointed out that Argentina never asked international police to remove arrest warrants for Iranian leaders, as Nisman alleged, and the country has not benefited from Iranian oil. In a recent speech, Kirchner called for the country’s intelligence agencies to be dissolved and rebuilt from the ground up.
Investigations into the bombing have been marred by all manner of corruption and incompetence: The former president stands accused of accepting an Iranian bribe to derail the case, a former judge was fired for bribing a witness, and a separate investigator was kidnapped and brutally tortured with a knife and blowtorch.
The WorldPost spoke with the respected Argentinian radio and television host Nelson Castro to understand what the scandal means to the country’s citizens.
What is the sentiment on the ground among Argentinians? What do they make of these conflicting conspiracy theories?
Most people are angry, and also anguished. They suspect that the government is not working hard enough to ensure the total clearing of the case. Even though most people don’t believe that the government was involved in the murder of Nisman, most people think the government is not doing enough to clear the case.
Further, the involvement of people from the Argentine intelligence services raises suspicions of the government’s responsibility for the lack of protection of Mr. Nisman had, considering the high risk that his denouncement implied. Remember that when he announced the charges, he said that he could be murdered for it. Instead of taking care of him and taking his words seriously, the government mocked him and made fun of him. People are saying that the government is responsible for not taking care of him the way he deserved.
How has the story been reported in local media? Is coverage split along party lines?
That’s the problem we have here in Argentina: There are divisions inside the press. The pro-government press will of course side with the government and say that there is a conspiracy against the government. Those who work independently consider the objective facts, and the facts are quite clear concerning the responsibility of the government in not taking care of Nisman. The independent media also covers all of the elements of Nisman’s denouncement. The fact of the matter is that everything that the government denied happened to be true. The independent press showed that to the people, and because of this we have to face provocation, defamation, and criticism by the government and the official press.
How dangerous could this be to President Kirchner? Is there danger of this bringing down the current government?
There’s no risk that this could bring down the government — fortunately that doesn’t happen in Argentina anymore. But of course this is going to affect those candidates running for Kirchner’s party in the next election. That is indisputable. Polls are showing that the image of the government — which was not so bad considering the whole mess with the economy — has gone down. The positive image of the government was around 35 to 36 percent, but now it’s gone down to 22 to 23 percent.
President Kirchner has blamed Nisman’s accusations and death on a conspiracy by the country’s intelligence agencies. How do Argentinians view their own intelligence services, particularly in light of their history during the “Dirty War”?
People have a really huge negative view of intelligence services. People blame the government for the situation, but of course that is nothing new. This government has been in power for more than 10 years and has done nothing to improve things. Quite on the contrary, they took advantage of the dark side of the intelligence services in order to damage political leaders from the opposition. So at this moment, that’s one of the things people are quite angry at the government about. The Argentinian people have a clear notion that this is something that must be improved, and that it will take a lot of work from the next government.
Paradoxically, the government is clearly affected by the situation at this moment. After having displaced the whole leadership of their intelligence services, the government is blind. It has no intelligence services at all, effectively nothing in order to face the crisis caused by Nisman’s death.
What’s next for both the investigations that Nisman was carrying out, and the investigations into his death?
Analysts are convinced that the investigation led by Nisman is not going to continue — nobody else will dare to go as far as Nisman did. So in a way, that case has been definitively ended because of Nisman’s death. The government will hugely benefit because no one will dare to take the case the way that Nisman did. Concerning the investigation of Nisman’s murder, things are a little uncertain as to whether the prosecutor who is managing the case is going to be able to solve it. So in both cases — Nisman’s death and Nisman’s accusation — we have the idea that impunity will prevail, unfortunately.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
4. EST EX-SPY CHIEF’S TESTIMONY SOUGHT IN ARGENTINE DEATH (International New York Times)
By Simon Romero
7 February 2015
The lead investigator in the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who accused Argentina’s president of trying to shield Iranians from responsibility over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center here, has summoned an ousted spy chief to testify in the case.
But Antonio Stiusso, a former spymaster at Argentina’s premier intelligence agency, appeared to be resisting the summons on Thursday. Mr. Stiusso’s lawyer said he was looking into whether his client could testify about matters that might be covered by secrecy laws.
‘‘Stiusso was an excellent civil servant,’’ the lawyer, Santiago Blanco Bermúdez, told a local radio station in an interview, referring to his client’s four-decade career at the Intelligence Secretariat during which he became the head of counterintelligence. Mr. Blanco Bermúdez said he did not expect his client to testify on Thursday.
Testimony by Mr. Stiusso could shed light on the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Nisman, 51, who was found at his Buenos Aires apartment on Jan. 18 with a gunshot wound to his head, a day before he had been scheduled to speak to Congress about his accusations against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. She and her top aides have accused Mr. Stiusso of having had a hand in the events surrounding the prosecutor’s death.
Viviana Fein, the prosecutor leading the investigation into Mr. Nisman’s death, told the newspaper La Nación on Wednesday night that she had asked Mr. Stiusso to testify on Thursday. According to telephone records, a phone thought to belong to Mr. Stiusso was used to call Mr. Nisman hours before his death, the newspaper reported.
Appearing to respond to Mr. Blanco Bermúdez’s concerns, Oscar Parrilli, the head of the Intelligence Secretariat, said on Thursday that the president had lifted the secrecy restrictions that would have prevented Mr. Stiusso from testifying. He added that Mr. Stiusso could not be found at addresses he listed in his name, delaying formal notification of the request for him to testify. Mr. Blanco Bermúdez could not immediately be reached for comment on the developments.
Mr. Nisman had been investigating the 1994 attack on the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which left 85 people dead.
Days before his death, Mr. Nisman accused Mrs. Kirchner of seeking to forge a secret deal to shield Iranians charged in the attack from responsibility. No one has been charged with responsibility for his death, and investigators have not yet determined whether it was a suicide or a homicide. However, an information technology consultant for Mr. Nisman’s investigative unit was charged with lending him the gun that was found on the floor near his body.
The president and her top aides have angrily rejected Mr. Nisman’s accusations, which were laid out in a 289-page criminal complaint, and have pointed to statements by the former head of Interpol saying that Argentine officials had never sought to lift the arrest warrants for Iranians sought in connection with the bombing. Mr. Nisman had acknowledged receiving ample assistance for his investigations from Mr. Stiusso, who was removed from his post by the president in December. The core of the complaint against Mrs. Kirchner was based on intercepts of telephone calls believed to have been obtained by Mr. Stiusso’s operatives at the intelligence agency.
In the radio interview, Mr. Blanco Bermúdez said Mr. Stiusso had ‘‘a fleet of telephones in his name that were used by various people.’’ The lawyer said he could not dismiss the possibility that someone with access to those phones used one of them in the hours before Mr. Nisman was found dead.
In the uproar over Mr. Nisman’s death, Mrs. Kirchner moved last month to dissolve the Intelligence Secretariat in a sweeping overhaul of Argentina’s intelligence services, which she said ‘‘have not served the interests of the country.’’ Her government wants new legislation to create an agency with reduced surveillance powers.
In another twist, Ms. Fein on Wednesday canceled plans to go on vacation on Feb. 18, a move that had driven suspicions that she was being pressured by the government. Ms. Fein has denied that she is under any pressure.
Aníbal Fernández, the president’s chief of staff, said the government was not trying to displace Ms. Fein. Mr. Fernández said he had even urged Ms. Fein to postpone her vacation, criticizing her for ‘‘leaving here to put on her swimsuit.’’ A judge, Daniel Rafecas, was also appointed on Wednesday to take up the case put forward by Mr. Nisman, easing concerns that it would languish in Argentina’s legal system.
Ms. Fein confirmed that Mr. Nisman had drafted a request for arrest warrants to be issued against Mrs. Kirchner and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, in connection with his accusations. The draft of the document, which was not included in his complaint, was found in the garbage at Mr. Nisman’s home, Ms. Fein said this past week.
5. DEATH REVIVES ARGENTINA’S DIRTY PAST (Financial Times)
By Benedict Mander
February 6, 2015
A year after the death in 1952 of Eva Perón, Argentina’s beloved heroine, her older brother Juan, who had by then fallen from favour amid corruption accusations, was found dead in suspicious circumstances. The official explanation given by the government of Juan Domingo Perón, Evita’s widower, was suicide — but many cried foul.
Such unsolved murder mysteries played out at the highest levels of state have punctuated Argentina’s recent history. The strange death three weeks ago of prosecutor Alberto Nisman just days after he had filed a criminal case against Cristina Fernández, the current president who likes to style herself after Evita, is only the latest scandal to grip the nation.
Argentines are divided as to whether Nisman’s death was murder or suicide, but few believe it will ever be solved satisfactorily. For many, the case has revived a deep-rooted cynicism towards Argentina’s state institutions, which some fear could undermine democracy in a country that lived under a brutal military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983.
“The peoples’ verdict has already been reached, and it is irreversible. The vast majority of Argentines do not believe in our institutions or in the people who manage them,” says Waldo Wolff, vice-president of Daia, Argentina’s largest Jewish association.
Nisman spent a decade investigating the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed 85 people — the most deadly terror attack in Argentina’s history. This led the prosecutor to believe that Ms Fernández had tried to cover up the alleged role of Iran in the attack in exchange for oil. She has described this accusation as “absurd”.
“It is a long and very complex story that exposes the worst side of Argentina — the absence of justice,” Mr Wolff says.
Former president Carlos Menem, who has also been accused of obstructing justice in the same investigation, was at the centre of another of Argentina’s most notorious mysteries when his son died in a helicopter accident in 1995. Unlike his wife, Mr Menem publicly accepted the official version of events for many years, and only admitted recently that he suspected it was murder.
Such cases have served to harden attitudes among Argentina’s 250,000-strong Jewish population, the world’s seventh largest, who are still waiting for justice twenty years on. Instead, a new crime may have been committed, with Nisman being treated as the 86th victim of the AMIA bombing.
Gastón Chillier, executive director of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies in Buenos Aires, says Argentina’s justice system suffers “structural deficiencies” that prevent politically sensitive cases from being handled effectively.
Particularly problematic, he says, is the judiciary’s “promiscuous” relationship with the intelligence service, which has become an “uncontrollable monster” and maintains many of the shady practices employed during the military dictatorship.
Ms Fernández — who, together with her predecessor and late husband Néstor Kirchner, has won praise for bringing many of the culprits of Argentina’s so-called Dirty War to justice — has recently begun to act on a historic pledge to overhaul the intelligence agency, after a purge of its leadership in December. But her timing has been questioned.
Meanwhile, the nation waits in suspense for the appearance of Antonio Stiuso, the enigmatic former spy chief who was one of those sacked by Ms Fernández in December.
She has suggested that Mr Stiuso is behind Nisman’s death — declaring herself “convinced” it was not suicide — while freely admitting she had “no proof” of this.
But critics accuse Ms Fernández of behaving more like a crime novelist than a president.
“There’s a feeling that the president is out of touch, out of control,” says Felipe Noguera, a political consultant, adding that Ms Fernández’s actions sometimes appear to lack a clear strategy.
Nevertheless, he argues that Ms Fernández’s priorities are to avoid becoming a lame duck president before her term ends in December, and to retain some power in the next administration in order to protect her political legacy.
Thus her attempts, albeit clumsy, to dominate the public agenda, and to reform institutions such as the secret services and judiciary.
Some also view it as part of a push by Ms Fernández to deflect attention from continued speculation over how she accumulated her personal wealth, which the former lawyer declared to stand at $6.6m in 2013.
Laurence Allan, an analyst at IHS Global, a risk consultancy, points out that none of the corruption allegations levelled at Ms Fernández and her government has been proved. “But for any critic looking for a reason to mistrust the government, they don’t have to look far,” he says.
 6. CRISTINA KIRCHNER’S MISADVENTURE IN CHINA (The New Yorker)
By Evan Osnos
February 6, 2015
During a visit to China this week, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner paused from her effort to attract Chinese investment to her country, in order to set what may be a new record in racially offensive efficiency: she managed to insult a fifth of humanity in less than a hundred and forty characters. Noting that hundreds of Chinese visitors had shown up to see her at an event in Beijing, she tweeted, “Más de 1.000 asistentes al evento… ¿Serán todos de ‘La Cámpola’ y vinieron sólo por el aloz y el petlóleo?” In other words, she replaced R’s with L’s in “La Cámpora” (the Argentine political group that supports the President wholeheartedly) and “el arroz y el petróleo”—rice and petroleum—and asked, “Could they all be from La Cámpora and they came just for rice and oil?” as if speaking with a cartoonish Chinese accent.
President Kirchner may have intended her mockery to be primarily for the benefit of her 3.53 million Twitter followers. She may also be accustomed to a more permissive environment; her right-hand man and confidante, Carlos Zannini, is nicknamed “El Chino” (“The Chinaman”) because of the Maoist leanings he had in the nineteen-seventies. But Kirchner’s “lice and petloleum” comment soon reached the social-media consciousness of China’s 1.4 billion people. The Times, in a story on the controversy, reported that some were baffled. “So this is the I.Q. of a president,” one Chinese user wrote. Some offered objections that were no more admirable than the original insult, suggesting that Kirchner had mistaken them for “Japanese or Koreans.” Others found it most galling that, as one put it, “the president of a trifling country like Argentina” would make the crack while in China asking for money. Kirchner quickly tweeted that she was “sorry,” but, if patterns hold, the affront is likely to linger in the collective mind of the Chinese Web, a realm in which slights to China’s national image have a way of circulating long past the point when they might be expected to expire. In 2008, Jack Cafferty, then a commentator for CNN, made a crack about China being “basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been” for half a century. It was the kind of casual malice that is the mainstay of cable talk, but it took flight in the closed loop of the Chinese Internet, taking on a larger importance, inspiring protests against CNN and online rebuttals directed at the previously little-known Cafferty. Chat with a young Chinese nationalist today and she will likely be able to tell you about Cafferty’s slur.
President Kirchner’s tweet is not likely to lead to street protests—leaders in Beijing, with far heavier problems to worry about, wouldn’t allow them anyway—but it has already advanced what appears to be her rigorous campaign to become her hemisphere’s most eccentric head of state. The oddities of President Kirchner, who succeeded her late husband, Néstor, in the office, are hardly news to her countrymen, alas. As Jon Lee Anderson wrote last month, she has starred in a long-running political saga that is, by tradition, “a mix of Greek tragedy and opera buffa.” But, in recent weeks, her behavior has acquired a new global significance, following the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, who was found dead in his apartment on January 18th, a day before he was to present evidence, he had let it be known, alleging that Kirchner had covered up Iran’s role in a 1994 car bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in exchange for trade concessions—petroleum, if not rice. Kirchner first endorsed, then renounced, the idea that Nisman committed suicide, and her approval ratings have dropped into the mid-twenties.
After her utterance in Beijing, Kirchner tried to play it off with a tweet that when the “levels of ridiculousness and absurdity are so high”—a reference, it seemed, to the pressures at home, “they can only be digested with humor.” But, while it’s tempting to think that she may be succumbing to the pressures of the moment, there have been signs for years that Kirchner may not be operating at full steam. In a leaked State Department cable published in 2010, U.S. diplomats asked each other for information about her “mental state” and “any medications.” That year, Kirchner joked that she would like to make several of her political opponents “disappear.” She tried to walk it back, but that was difficult in a country still sorting out its own history of political disappearances.
For the last couple of years, a common joke in Argentina’s business circles has been that the country is becoming “Argenzuela,” the heir to the departed spirit of Hugo Chávez. Until recently, Kirchner’s dysfunctional behavior drew limited attention from broader audiences. But, month by month, speech by awkward speech, she is evolving more fully into an Argentine Chávez, who puts power before country, confuses conspiracy theory with policy, and regards economics and diplomacy as an inconvenience. Long before the spectacle of a murdered prosecutor put Kirchner’s judgment in the news, she had already shown herself to be capable of incalculably poor decisions.
Kirchner may be taking her act on the road. In the post-Qaddafi-world—that is, in which no head of state travels with a tent and a demand for a place to pitch it—Kirchner may be vying for a new standard as the world’s most awkward V.I.P. Last fall, in an episode that merited little attention at the time, I watched Kirchner at “high-level week” at the General Assembly, when heads of state converge on the United Nations. On the afternoon of September 24th, she joined a special session of the Security Council, chaired by President Obama. The room was full of monarchs and political leaders: King Abdullah, David Cameron, François Hollande, and dozens of others. It began on a somber note: shortly before the session began, the participants got news that extremists in Algeria had beheaded Hervé Gourdel, a French hostage. Each of the heads of state was scheduled to speak for five or ten minutes. When it was her turn to speak, Kirchner held forth, with no notes or evident preparation, for five minutes, then another five, and on she went. She talked about the Islamic State and the Afghan mujahideen, and criticized Israeli air strikes. She also noted, cryptically, that she “had been directly targeted by extremist groups simply because she knows Pope Francis,” as one reporter recalled it. The interpreter struggled to keep up. Obama, looking weary, raised an index finger to try to bring her to a close, but Kirchner pressed on. When she was done, Obama said, “We have to make sure we’re respectful of the time constraints.”
Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping differ on many things, but the photos from Kirchner’s visit to Beijing suggest that the leaders of the world’s two most powerful countries have found some common ground. Peering down the dais at Kirchner, as she gesticulated and held forth, a solemn Xi sat tight-lipped, with his hands clasped. Xi and his government never mentioned the tweet. Their visitor showed no sign of slowing down. Asked if she thought her comments about the expanding murder case was complicating the investigation, she said, “I’m going to talk and I’ll talk as much as I want to.”
7. ARGENTINA ECONOMY: FISCAL DEFICIT WIDENS (Economist Intelligence Unit – ViewsWire)
6 February 2015
Despite huge transfers from the Banco Central de la Républica Argentina (the Central Bank), the primary deficit widened by over 70% in 2014. While tax revenue was hit by the economic downturn, expenditure growth accelerated, driven in large part by growing energy subsidies. Interest payments also rose in 2014, reflecting the growing burden of debt issued in the domestic market.
The primary deficit rose to Ps38.6bn (US$4.5bn) in full-year 2014. This was well up on year-earlier levels and also completely at odds with the Ps83.9bn primary surplus that had been projected in the 2014 budget. The overall fiscal deficit rose to Ps109.7bn, up by 70% on 2013. Property income (a current revenue line item that is made up mostly of Central Bank transfers to the Treasury) more than doubled, and exceeded the primary deficit threefold, highlighting the effect of fiscal deterioration on monetary policy and inflation. If property income had been classified below-the-line as financing and not included above-the-line as revenue, the primary deficit would have climbed to Ps159bn, and the overall deficit to Ps230bn.
Transfers, capital spending and interest payments all rose sharply
In total, primary spending rose by 45% in 2014. With inflation ending the year at 38.2%, this indicates a strong rise even in real terms. Fiscal expansion was fuelled by current transfers to the private sector, which rose by almost 60% and accounted for around a quarter of primary expenditure growth. Although this item includes social aid to households, the main driver of growth was energy subsidies: according to estimates from the Asociación Argentina de Presupuesto y Administración Financiera Pública (ASAP, the Argentinian budget association), these grew by 86% in the first 11 months of 2014. The Compañía Administradora del Mercado Mayorista Eléctrico (Cammesa, the company that manages the wholesale electricity market) was the main recipient of energy subsidies, reflecting severe distortions in the electricity market, with subsidies covering the gap between the electricity distributors’ revenue (which is essentially frozen owing to a lack of adjustment of residential tariffs) and the increasing cost of electricity generation. As a result, subsidies to Cammesa doubled in 2014.
Capital expenditure also showed notable dynamism in 2014, growing by 45% on the back of new investments in suburban railways, social housing and in energy (to put new power plants in operation). Interest payments grew even faster, by 69%, driven by a rise in local currency-denominated interest payments of almost 80%. This reflects a shift in government policy last year away from debt reduction and towards increased borrowing in the local capital markets as a means of reducing fiscal dependence on Central Bank transfers and in light of Argentina’s continuing inability to access external markets.
Revenue boosted artificially by Central Bank transfers
Total revenue rose by 44% in 2014, bolstered by Central Bank transfers. Tax revenue grew much more slowly (by 39%) than total revenue, and was only marginally positive in real terms. Income tax held up relatively well amid recession, growing by 45% as high inflation pushed workers into higher tax brackets. But value-added tax (VAT) receipts grew by only slightly over 30%-well below inflation-as falling real wages hit private consumption and retail sales.
Worryingly, there has been no sign of fiscal adjustment in recent months. There was in fact a marked deterioration in the fiscal accounts in the last quarter of 2014, with December’s primary deficit accounting for 60% of the full-year outturn. Since 2010 the fiscal accounts have typically worsened in December as the government authorises extra-budgetary expenditure at the last minute. The latest last-minute increase will make it extremely difficult for the government to bring the public finances under control in 2015, even if it is so inclined. In reality, the government’s desire to tighten policy is doubtful in a presidential year, and further deterioration in the public finances beyond our current expectations remains a distinct possibility. With the government’s financing options dwindling, this will add to concerns over government creditworthiness and ability to pay in the coming year.
8. ARGENTINA: COUNTRY FACT SHEET (Economist Intelligence Unit – ViewsWire)
6 February 2015
Fact sheet
Annual data                    2014a    Historical averages (%)              2010-14
Population (m)                42.7     Population growth                    1.2
GDP (US$ bn; market exchange rate) 526.3    Real GDP growth                 4.1
GDP (US$ bn; purchasing power parity)887.7   Real domestic demand growth          5.5
GDP per head (US$; market exchange rate) 12,335   Inflation                26.1
GDP per head (US$; purchasing power parity) 20,803 Current-account balance (%of GDP) -0.4
Exchange rate (av) Ps:US$      8.1b     FDI inflows (% of GDP)               1.8
a Economist Intelligence Unit estimates. b Actual.
Background: Economic liberalisation in the 1990s resulted in firm growth, but an inflexible exchange-rate mechanism and failure to deepen structural reform left the economy vulnerable to shocks, contributing to default and the collapse in 2001 of Fernando de la Rúa’s centre-left government. Eduardo Duhalde of the Partido Justicialista (PJ, the Peronist party) led an interim government until Néstor Kirchner (also of the PJ) began a term in 2003. He presided over an economic rebound, which enabled his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to win the presidency in 2007. Rapid GDP growth and a wave of public sympathy in the wake of Mr Kirchner’s death in 2010 set the stage for Ms Fernández’s re-election in October 2011.
Political structure: Democracy was restored to Argentina in 1983 after 50 years of instability and military regimes. A strong presidential system is in theory checked by a bicameral Congress, comprising a 257-member Chamber of Deputies (the lower house) and a 72-member Senate (the upper house) but, in practice, the presidency dominates. The presidential term is four years. There are 23 provinces and the Buenos Aires federal district, each with its own government.
Policy issues: Procyclical expansionary policies contributed to GDP growth of an annual average 6.6% in 2005-11. But expansionary policy also produced significant imbalances in the economy in the form of double-digit inflation, real-peso appreciation and a deterioration of the balance of payments. Amid currency pressures, the government has resorted to foreign-exchange, import and capital controls, as well as ad hoc interventionism to the detriment of the business environment. In January 2014, amid dwindling reserves and signs the economy was moving into recession, the authorities devalued the peso by 15%. Sovereign default in July 2014, which resulted from Argentina’s failure to comply with a US court ruling favouring holdout creditors from the 2001 default, has produced fresh currency pressures.
Taxation: The value-added tax (VAT) rate is 21% (although some goods and services are charged at a lower rate of 10.5%, and some services are charged at a higher rate of 27%). Corporate income tax is levied at 35% and personal income tax at progressive rates between 9% and 35%. There is a 0.6% tax on financial transactions (deposits and withdrawals). Taxes on exports were reintroduced in 2002 and have since been expanded to account for around 20% of total revenue.
Foreign trade: The current account has shifted from surplus to deficit in recent years. Despite comprehensive controls, there was a large current-account deficit of US$4.8bn in 2013.
Major exports 2013                    % of total   Major imports 2013       % of total
Processed agricultural products   35.5           Intermediate goods              26.4
Manufactures                                34.9         Capital goods                        16.5
Primary                                          22.9         Fuels                                      15.3
Fuel and energy                              6.7          Consumer goods                   10.1
 Leading markets 2013              % of total   Leading suppliers 2013   % of total
Brazil                                                20.2         Brazil                                    29.2
China                                                 6.8          US                                       15.2
US                                                     5.3          China                                   13.0
Chile                                                  4.4          Germany                               4.8
9. ARGENTINA: COUNTRY OUTLOOK (Economist Intelligence Unit – ViewsWire)
6 February 2015
Argentina: Country Outlook
FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT
POLITICAL STABILITY: The death of a federal prosecutor has shocked the political establishment and heightened risks to political stability as the president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, enters her last year in office. Alberto Nisman died in mysterious circumstances in mid-January, just days after formally accusing the president of conspiring with Iran to cover up the latter’s involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in the capital, Buenos Aires–the country’s largest ever terrorist attack. It remains unclear whether Mr Nisman committed suicide or was murdered (he was found dead in his flat with a gunshot wound to his head the day before he was due to present his evidence to Congress). But opinion polls suggest that a majority of the public believes that he was murdered, highlighting a clear lack of faith in government and state institutions. The president, whose opinion poll ratings are falling sharply, has asserted that Mr Nisman’s death is linked to rogue intelligence agents, and has put forward a reform to curtail the powers of the Secretaría de Inteligencia (SI, the intelligence services). The government will be hoping that public attention now shifts to deficiencies in the SI. However, The Economist Intelligence Unit expects the death of Mr Nisman to have damaging, long-lasting consequences for the administration, as public frustration over the investigation–and over the continued failure to bring the perpetrators of the 1994 bombing to justice–continues to heighten the risk of social unrest.
ELECTION WATCH: Opinion polls suggest that there are three main contenders in the October 2015 presidential race. Leading the pack are two members of the Partido Justicialista (PJ, the Peronist party). These are Sergio Massa–a congressman who founded an anti-government Peronist faction to contest the October 2013 mid-term elections and has emerged as a leading figure in the opposition movement–and the Buenos Aires province governor, Daniel Scioli, who is a popular politician that has managed to remain a part of the president’s Frente para la Victoria (FV) Peronist faction, despite tricky relations with Ms Fernández. Mauricio Macri, mayor of the capital city, Buenos Aires, and leader of the right-wing Propuesta Republicana (Pro) party, appears the most promising presidential candidate outside the Peronist party. All of these candidates espouse more liberal, business-friendly policies than the current government, and our forecasts are based on the assumption of a more market-friendly administration from end-2015. Mr Scioli has for several months been the frontrunner, but his ties to the government could prove damaging if public frustration over a lack of transparency in the Nisman affair persists. In these circumstances Mr Scioli could be forced to distance himself from the president, but he would in the process lose the benefits of incumbency, which are large in Argentina’s clientelist political system.
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: Relations with the US will be damaged by Argentina’s continued failure to agree a settlement with litigant holdouts in line with a US court ruling, which culminated in sovereign default in mid-2014. Default also renders essentially useless recent attempts to resolve a series of disputes in order to access external credit. These efforts have included an agreement with the Paris Club to restructure outstanding defaulted bilateral debt; payment of US$5bn in bonds in compensation to Spain’s Repsol for the expropriation of the company’s share in an Argentinian oil company, YPF; and the resolution of a series of claims involving the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Default could also be a setback for attempts to secure increased investment from China. Disbursement of US$4bn in recently agreed project loans from China is also now uncertain, as the contracts include cross-default clauses, although a currency swap has gone ahead and has provided much-needed support to the foreign reserves. More broadly, the economic consequences of default are likely to prompt further trade protectionism. The World Trade Organization (WTO) recently ruled that a host of import restrictions imposed by Argentina were in violation of WTO rules, but the Fernández government is unlikely to remove these in the face of persistent devaluation pressure and is, in fact, more likely to impose new restrictions.
POLICY TRENDS: Amid severe external finance constraints and a steady deterioration of the balance of payments, the authorities would like to stave off a currency crisis, but the unorthodox policy framework continues to raise doubts over the government’s ability to do so. Sovereign default in mid-2014 did not prompt any immediate crisis, but has added to the government’s economic woes, scuppering any chances of regaining access to international capital markets in the short term. This means that the government will need to boost the trade surplus and attract greater foreign direct investment (FDI) to bolster the reserves position. This will, in turn, require macroeconomic adjustment to rein in inflation and restore peso competitiveness, along with reforms to improve the investment climate, following almost a decade of ad hoc policy interventionism that has raised concerns about the rule of law and deterred FDI. We continue to have doubts about the government’s commitment to such adjustments, and its capacity to steer the economy away from crisis. Fiscal policy, for example, remains expansionary. Monetary policy was at least tightened sharply in 2014, and the authorities allowed the peso to weaken by close to 35% in 2014. With inflation hovering close to 40%, however, further peso weakening is required to produce a sustained improvement in the current account and a recovery of reserves amid continued external financing constraints.
ECONOMIC GROWTH: Although official data show GDP contracting by 0.5% in seasonally adjusted quarter-on-quarter terms in the third quarter of 2014 (broadly in line with our expectations), we remain concerned that the official GDP statistics overstate the level of economic activity. For example, revised official data still show GDP growing by 0.8% quarter on quarter in the second quarter, when almost all other second-quarter data had pointed to continuing recession. Industrial production fell, the unemployment rate rose, wage growth and retail sales turned strongly negative in real terms, and both exports and imports contracted steeply. Our GDP forecasts are all based on official data, and consequently assume a relatively small contraction in full-year 2014 of 0.4%, despite our deep reservations about the quality of the official data. Official data notwithstanding, we continue to take a pessimistic view of economic conditions in 2015 and expect only a slow recovery, with growth reaching just 0.4%. We expect recovery to accelerate only in the medium term, and view substantial downside risks to our forecasts.
INFLATION: A new consumer price index was unveiled in February 2014, but concerns remain about the accuracy of official data: using the new index, official estimates of inflation remain substantially below private and provincial estimates. Until the official index has a better and longer track record, we will continue to use data from PriceStats, an Internet price-monitoring company, in our forecasts. According to these data, inflation ended 2014 at 38.4%. Weak domestic demand, base effects (reflecting last year’s devaluation), and falling global commodity prices will bring inflation below 30% in 2015. Our forecasts assume continued disinflation thereafter as fiscal policy tightens, domestic demand remains subdued relative to the boom years of 2004-11 and domestic supply strengthens on the back of improvements in microeconomic policy. Even so, annual inflation will remain in double digits in 2016-19, reflecting weak institutional underpinnings of price stability and a high level of wage indexation.
EXCHANGE RATES: Our benign baseline forecast assumes that after a 33% nominal depreciation in 2014, currency adjustment under the heavily managed float will continue in subsequent years, involving substantial depreciation of around 20% per year in 2015-16 and around 10% per year in 2017-19. This would reverse the accumulated real appreciation of the peso in the past five years that has eroded export competitiveness, and bring the real trade-weighted exchange rate back to around 2008 levels. However, in the light of continued uncertainty over the direction of policy in the remainder of the Fernández government’s term, we continue to believe that there are substantial risks to our forecast, and that there is a strong chance of a steep, uncontrolled devaluation in the next year. The black-market premium has actually narrowed in recent months, from around 80% in mid-2014 to 60% in January, reflecting the temporary boost of a currency swap agreement with China and recent issuance of US-dollar denominated local bonds, which have helped to satisfy local dollar demand temporarily. However, the authorities have failed to address underlying fiscal and external imbalances that will eventually, if left unchecked, force some sort of steep currency adjustment. In this context, the risks to our forecasts remain high.
EXTERNAL SECTOR: Although we expect the terms of trade to continue to deteriorate for much of the forecast period (as a decline in prices for imported oil is outweighed by weaker international prices for Argentina’s agricultural exports), currency adjustment should gradually bolster the current account as a weaker peso starts to boost goods and services exports and rein in imports. On this basis, we expect the current account to shift into surplus late in the forecast period. There are substantial upside and downside risks to this forecast, depending on the pace of currency and inflation adjustment. Our benign baseline forecast currently assumes that capital inflows will pick up around half way through the forecast period, reflecting renewed investor confidence in a new government. For now, portfolio and FDI inflows will be deterred by a weak legal framework, continued devaluation fears and default. Meanwhile, import cover will be weakened by the use of reserves to shield the peso from currency pressures and to repay external debt. A sharp recent decline in import cover highlights the substantial risk of a major balance-of-payments crisis if capital flight does not subside and in the absence of a tangible improvement in access to overseas finance.
10. INDEPENDENT ARGENTINE PANEL CRITICIZES MEXICAN PROBE OF MISSING STUDENTS; REPORT FINDS IRREGULARITIES IN GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATION (The Wall Street Journal Online)
By José de Córdoba
8 February 2015
MEXICO CITY—An independent Argentine forensic team investigating the disappearance and presumed killing of 43 students said a Mexican government probe of the case was marred by irregularities.
The conclusion dealt a blow to government efforts to close the case, which has kept the country in turmoil for more than four months. The Mexican government investigation concluded the students had been detained by municipal police in the city of Iguala in the violence-ridden state of Guerrero. The police then handed them over to gunmen from a local drug gang, which killed the students, burned their bodies and threw the ashes into a nearby river, according to the investigation by Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam.
The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, brought in by the parents of the students to verify the government’s investigation, released its report late Saturday. The report said the government seemed to be trying to make the physical evidence fit the testimony of alleged participants in the killing of the students and the burning of their bodies.
“The evidence has to be interpreted in all its possibilities without giving preference to those interpretations which only coincide with the testimonies of the accused,” the report said.
The Attorney General’s office didn’t immediately comment on the report.
The case began on Sept. 26 when about 100 students from a radical teachers college went to Iguala, where they commandeered buses to use in a political rally in Mexico City. The Iguala mayor and his wife, fearing the students were going to disrupt a political meeting being held by his wife, ordered local police to stop the students. In the initial melee, the police fired on the students, killing six people, including three students. Police detained 43 other students and officials say they later turned them over to drug gunmen who killed them, burned their bodies, and threw the ashes into the river.
Officials say the gunmen thought at least some of the students were members of a rival gang which is fighting for control of Iguala, an area where heroin is produced.
The mayor of Iguala, his wife and at least 99 people have been detained in the case, most of them municipal police officers from Iguala and the town of Cocula. One of the 43 students has been confirmed dead after remains were identified by DNA testing.
“This gives us hope that our sons are alive,” Natividad de la Cruz, mother of missing Emiliano Gaspar de la Cruz, 22, said of the Argentine report. “We are a poor peasant family without any money. The government took our sons. We want the government to give them back.”
Like many of the parents, Ms. De la Cruz says she believes the government is holding her son and other students prisoner.
The Argentine forensic team is a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization which uses forensic anthropology and other disciplines to investigate human rights violations around the world. The organization was founded in 1984 to investigate the case of at least 9,000 people who were “disappeared” under military rule during Argentina’s “dirty war” from 1976-1983. About 30 people are involved in the Iguala case.
Parents of the 43 missing students, who deeply distrust the Mexican government, asked the organization to take on the case. Some members of the organization were already in the country to identify people missing in Mexico’s drug war. Since early October, Argentine experts have been working with Mexican government forensic experts.
A member of the team said the evidence gathered so far couldn’t provide an answer on the fate of the missing students. The report didn’t exclude the possibility that some of the students were killed in the manner that the government describes. A member of the team said the forensic experts were issuing the report in response to assertions by Mr. Murillo Karam last month that the case was largely solved.
The case has roiled Mexico for months. Demonstrators have held dozens of protests throughout the country. Other protesters have marched in sympathy demonstrations throughout the world.
While most protests in Mexico have been peaceful, some parents of the missing students and members of a radical teachers union who have supported the parents, have kept the state of Guerrero at a boil. They have routinely blocked the main highway linking Acapulco to Mexico City and have torched some government buildings. Once, they broke down the gates of the army base in Iguala, the city where the students were detained.
The presumed killings have plunged the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto into a continuing political crisis. It has forced Mr. Pena Nieto, who spent the first two years of his six-year term pushing through ambitious economic reforms to change the focus of his government to address the country’s continuing violence and drug-linked corruption.
Among other irregularities, the Argentine team cited the government’s failure to secure the site of the alleged killings—a garbage dump near the town of Cocula—for 20 days. During that time, the site was “totally open to the public.” The forensic experts said 20 out of 134 DNA samples sent by the government to a laboratory in Austria aiding the investigation didn’t match those of the families of the missing students.
The forensic experts said the case is far from concluded since samples from only about 30 of the 137 quadrants of the crime scene had been thoroughly examined. Another 16 pieces of remains sent to a lab at the University of Innsbruck in Austria were too degraded by fire to be identified.

 

ARGENTINE UPDATE – Feb 6, 2015

6 febrero, 2015

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