1. CASE AGAINST ARGENTINE PRESIDENT, BROUGHT BY PROSECUTOR WHO DIED, IS DISMISSED (The New York Times)11. ARGENTINE EXPORTS REACH FIVE-YEAR LOW AMID RISING DISCONTENT AND BLEAK OUTLOOK AHEAD OF ELECTIONS (IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis)12. ARGENTINA AND D.C. UNITED MATCHES SCHEDULED FOR SAME DAY AT SEPARATE VENUES (Washington Post.com)1. CASE AGAINST ARGENTINE PRESIDENT, BROUGHT BY PROSECUTOR WHO DIED, IS DISMISSED (The New York Times)By Jonathan Gilbert27 February 2015BUENOS AIRES — An Argentine judge on Thursday dismissed criminal allegations against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner that had been brought by a prosecutor who had accused her of conspiring to shield Iranian officials from responsibility for the deadly bombing of a Jewish community center here in 1994.Judge Daniel Rafecas decided that the criminal complaint the prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, put forward before his mysterious death last month was not sufficient to open an investigation of the president. In the 63-page decision, Judge Rafecas said that the allegations did not ”minimally hold up” and that there was ”not even circumstantial evidence” pointing to Mrs. Kirchner.The criminal case, which had been revived by another prosecutor after Mr. Nisman’s death, sought to charge the president, the foreign minister and other political supporters of Mrs. Kirchner.The original complaint by Mr. Nisman, the lead investigator into the attack on the Jewish center, which left 85 people dead, had described a complex web of back-channel negotiations, accusing Mrs. Kirchner of directing an effort to reduce pressure on Iranians wanted in connection with the bombing in exchange for trade benefits.The judge’s decision to dismiss the case can be appealed by the prosecutor who revived Mr. Nisman’s criminal complaint, Gerardo Pollicita, said María Bourdin, a spokeswoman for the judiciary.In a speech Thursday night after swearing in ministers in a cabinet reshuffle, Mrs. Kirchner did not mention the decision by Judge Rafecas.But on Twitter, Florencio Randazzo, the interior minister, said: ”We always said Nisman’s complaint against the president was nonsense. A judge confirmed that today.”Investigators are trying to determine whether Mr. Nisman was killed or committed suicide. The lead investigator said Wednesday that Mr. Nisman’s death was still ”a great unsolved mystery.”Mr. Nisman’s body was found just a day before he was scheduled to appear before Congress to discuss his criminal complaint against the president and several top supporters. He had also drafted a request for Mrs. Kirchner’s arrest, but he did not include it in his complaint.The sudden death of Mr. Nisman, who was found on the floor of his apartment with a gunshot wound to the head, stunned Argentina and exposed deep rifts in the nation.Tens of thousands of Argentines poured into the center of Buenos Aires last week for a demonstration in honor of Mr. Nisman, and a sweeping array of theories have swirled around the country ever since his death, with many Argentines saying in polls that they believed that the government had a hand in it. Analysts said Thursday that Judge Rafecas’s decision could help assuage the damaging perception that the government was involved in Mr. Nisman’s death.Mrs. Kirchner made it clear in January that she believed Mr. Nisman had been killed. She and her inner circle have cast suspicion on various figures, including the assistant who lent Mr. Nisman the gun that was found underneath his body and the ousted spymaster who worked with Mr. Nisman during his investigation.Much of Mr. Nisman’s complaint was based on telephone calls that appear to have been intercepted by Argentine intelligence agents.This week, Congress approved a bill, at the urging of Mrs. Kirchner, to dissolve the Intelligence Secretariat and create a new intelligence agency with limited surveillance powers. Mrs. Kirchner said the agency no longer served the nation’s needs, but the opposition claimed the changes were politically motivated.Mrs. Kirchner and the foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, have both rejected assertions that they conspired with Iran, pointing to statements from Interpol’s former secretary general that they never sought to lift arrest warrants for Iranian officials wanted in connection with the 1994 bombing.Still, the federal prosecutor who took up Mr. Nisman’s case this month sought to charge Mrs. Kirchner in connection with the claims of secret negotiations with Iranians.In his decision to dismiss the case, Judge Rafecas wrote that the assertion that the foreign minister had tried to get Interpol to lift arrest warrants against the Iranians was unfounded. The evidence, he wrote, contradicted the accusation ”categorically and conclusively.”Some of Mrs. Kirchner’s political opponents immediately sought to question the judge’s impartiality.Jorge Lanata, an influential broadcast journalist who openly opposes the government, said in televised comments that Judge Rafecas was behaving ”like a soldier of Kirchnerismo,” the name given to Mrs. Kirchner’s political movement.Martín Böhmer, a law professor at the University of Buenos Aires, said the decision — and the breathing room an appeals process could bring — would enable Mrs. Kirchner to retake the initiative in her annual speech to Congress on Sunday.”The president will be better armed for the congressional address,” Mr. Böhmer said.Aides to Mr. Pollicita, the prosecutor who revived the case, refused to say Thursday whether he would appeal the decision.Mr. Nisman received death threats in 2012 and 2013, according to emails leaked to the local news media on Thursday. In one email, Mr. Nisman was told his body would end up riddled with bullet wounds. In a separate case, a judge has been investigating threats made in recent years against Mr. Nisman and his family.By Taos Turner27 February 2015Justice rules no evidence supports alleged plot by leader to cover up Iran’s role in a terrorist attackBUENOS AIRES — A federal judge on Thursday rejected allegations that Argentine President Cristina Kirchner plotted with Iran to cover up its alleged role in a 1994 terrorist attack here, saying there was no evidence whatsoever of any crime.The 63-page ruling by Judge Daniel Rafecas, which can be appealed, is a big boost to Mrs. Kirchner and a setback to supporters of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who filed the criminal complaint in January only to be found dead days later.“The evidence collected, far from even minimally supporting the prosecutor’s claim, undermines it in a robust and harsh manner, leading to the conclusion that there was no crime,” the judge wrote.Mr. Nisman’s complaint accused Mrs. Kirchner, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, and others of sabotaging his years-long probe into the bombing, which killed 85 people at the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, or AMIA — the worst attack on Jews in the hemisphere and one of the worst world-wide since World War II.Mr. Nisman said at the time his evidence was based largely on more than two years of intercepted phone calls involving associates of the president.Argentine officials, including Mrs. Kirchner, have denied the allegations, calling them absurd. Iran has denied any involvement in the attack.Mr. Nisman, who had tried to untangle the bombing for more than a decade, was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment a day before he was due to testify about his allegations to Congress.The case has thrust Argentina into its worst political crisis in more than a decade, with polls showing that a majority of Argentines believe Mr. Nisman’s accusations were true. An autopsy determined that Mr. Nisman fired a gunshot into his head, but most Argentines don’t believe the 51-year-old prosecutor killed himself, according to an Ipsos poll.Almost a month after Mr. Nisman’s death, another federal prosecutor, Gerardo Pollicita, took up the case and said his colleague’s findings merited investigation — asking Judge Rafecas to charge Mrs. Kirchner with trying to obstruct Mr. Nisman’s investigation.The judge’s ruling “is an important step for Kirchner in trying to regain some sort of momentum in public opinion,” said Sergio Berensztein, a political analyst.The ruling is a harsh rebuke of Mr. Nisman’s claims. It says that not only were some of Mr. Nisman’s accusations patently false but that the evidence he provided to the court contradicts them.“There is not a single proof, not a single indication that backs up the prosecutor’s grave and mortifying hypothesis that Hector Timerman instigated or prepared the path to cover up the attack on the AMIA,” the judge wrote.In an interview at his office, the judge said he listened to all of the intercepted calls that Mr. Nisman presented to the court, but said the calls don’t prove a crime was committed.Few, however, expect the controversy to subside after the judge’s ruling. Mr. Pollicita, the prosecutor, can appeal the judge’s decision. An appeals court would then determine how the case should proceed, if at all.“We will have to wait and see. This saga is not over yet,” Mr. Berensztein said.Santiago Canton, an Argentine who heads the human rights program at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights in Washington, D.C., said Judge Rafecas has a good reputation with respect to cases involving human rights. The judge also wrote a well-received book about the Holocaust.“In general there is a great respect for him,” Mr Canton said. He added, however, that even if there is no legal case against the administration, Mr. Nisman’s accusations indicate “highly improper” behavior by people close to it who were allegedly interacting by phone with one of the top suspects behind the bombing.Mr. Nisman had concluded years ago that top Iranian officials used Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group, to carry out the suicide bombing. In 2007, based largely on Mr. Nisman’s work, Interpol issued international arrest notices for Iranian suspects.In January, Mr. Nisman alleged that Mrs. Kirchner had been plotting with Iran to guarantee Iranian suspects impunity as part of a broader geopolitical realignment with the country. In exchange, Mr. Nisman said Argentina aimed to obtain Iranian oil.In 2013, Argentina and Iran’s government signed a memorandum of understanding to create a so-called Truth Commission, a move which outraged Argentina’s Jewish community, which accused the government of trying to whitewash Iran’s involvement by getting it to take part in the probe.27 February 2015BUENOS AIRES – A federal judge on Thursday dismissed allegations that Argentine President Cristina Fernàndez de Kirchner tried to cover up the purported involvement of Iran in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center, easing a crisis for her government fed by the death of the prosecutor who brought the case.Judge Daniel Rafecas said the documents filed by Alberto Nisman, the late prosecutor, failed to meet “the minimal conditions needed to launch a formal court investigation.”“There is not a single element of evidence, even circumstantial, that points to the actual head of state,” the judge said.Nisman had filed the complaint just days before he died Jan. 18 under mysterious circumstances. Polls show that many Argentines suspect officials had a hand in the death, though Fernàndez and her aides have suggested that the death was aimed at destabilizing her government.Tens of thousands of Argentines marched through the capital last week, demanding answers in the death of Nisman, who was found in his bathroom with a bullet in his right temple.Nisman had asked judges to authorize a formal criminal investigation of the president, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and other figures on allegations that they agreed to grant impunity to eight Iranians accused in the attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, in which 85 people died. In return, he said, Iran would increase trade with Argentina.The prosecutor who took over the case after Nisman’s death, Gerardo Pollicita, renewed his request.Investigators say they are trying to determine whether Nisman was killed or committed suicide.The president initially suggested that the 51-year-old prosecutor had killed himself, then did an about-face a few days later, saying she suspected he had been slain.She suggested that he might have been manipulated by disgruntled intelligence agents. After his death, she pushed through a law to reform the spy service. Congress gave final approval to the measure earlier Thursday.“I think the accusations themselves have weakened her government, and Argentines are still open to conspiracy theories. Even with the dismissal of the charges against her, there are still questions about who killed Nisman,” said Shannon O’Neil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S.-based think tank.Fernàndez also shuffled her cabinet on Thursday, replacing three ministers with close aides.By Helen ReganFeb 27, 2015Ruling comes after the lead prosecutor died in suspicious circumstances last monthAn Argentine judge dismissed a controversial case on Thursday against the country’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, citing a lack of evidence.Kirchner and her foreign minister Héctor Timerman were accused of covering up the alleged involvement of Iranian officials in a bomb attack on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994, reports the New York Times.The criminal case was brought against the duo and other officials by prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who died mysteriously last month.Judge Daniel Rafecas said the case filed by Nisman did not “minimally hold up” and said there was not enough evidence to launch a court investigation.Nisman’s body was found in his apartment on Jan. 18, with a gunshot wound to the head. He was due to testify against Kirchner the following day in Congress.The circumstances surrounding his death have not been established.Both Kirchner and Timerman have denied they had any hand in shielding the Iranians from responsibility in the attack.Also on Thursday, Argentine legislators approved a bill scrapping the country’s existing intelligence agency. In its place, a new federal investigative agency will be established.By Benedict ManderFebruary 26, 2015An Argentine judge has dismissed an accusation by prosecutors that President Cristina Fernández conspired to hide Iran’s alleged role in a deadly 1994 bombing.The decision provides a needed fillip for the embattled leader but also raises more questions about the credibility of Argentina’s judicial system.Judge Daniel Rafecas ruled on Thursday that he would “discontinue” the case, which had been revived after its initial prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was found shot dead on Jan 18 in mysterious circumstances that have sparked political turmoil.“The evidence gathered far from meets the minimal standard,” said a statement from the country’s court system about the decision, which can be appealed.Ms Fernández, her foreign minister and several other senior officials had been accused of impeding a probe into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in order to put through a grains-for-oil deal with Tehran.Ms Fernández has called the claims against her “absurd” while Jorge Capitanich, the cabinet chief, has called the case “judicial putschsim”.But the government’s often insensitive handling of the case has only inflamed local opinion, and on Thursday the twittersphere lit up with derogatory comments about the judge’s decision.“I thought for a moment I was wrong in being pessimistic about Argentina’s future. No more,” read one tweet.Last week some 400,000 protesters, including opposition politicians and state prosecutors, marched in silence through Buenos Aires to the presidential palace to demand truth and justice over Nisman’s death.“Cristina has completely failed to grasp the dimension of the problem,” commented Alberto Fernández, no relation, who served as cabinet chief for Ms Fernández’s late husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner.Mr Fernández described the president’s insensitive response to Nisman’s death — she suggested he had commit suicide and then that he was murdered by rogue spies — as a “huge mistake”. It has prompted a backlash that has hit her popularity and reinvigorated a divided opposition ahead of October’s presidential election.“The opposition has charged against the government with everything it has, with the help of the media,” said Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, a human-rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 for campaigning against Argentina’s military dictatorship.Echoing government claims that opponents want to engineer a “soft coup”, he argues that certain sectors want to destabilise the government, describing accusations by some opposition figures that Ms Fernández is guilty of murder as “delirious”.Alejandro Catterberg, a director of local pollster Poliarquia, said the crisis has knocked about five points off Ms Fernández’s approval ratings, which have oscillated below 40 per cent recently. While significant, he says such a fall is similar to previous crises during her tenure, with most Argentines already having made their mind up about the polarising leader who cannot run for a third term.“This [crisis and the protests] are not a game changer,” said Mr Catterberg, who sees October’s presidential contest, which has three roughly equally strong contenders, as wide open. He said Daniel Scioli, the expected candidate for the ruling Peronist party, may be initially harmed because of his association with the government, but that he could recover when campaigning gets under way in July.Moreover, he added, whichever of the three leading candidates wins will be an improvement on Ms Fernández’s “populist, unpredictable and often aggressive” style of government.A recent rally in Argentine bond prices suggests foreign investors agree. Market optimism has been reinforced by the government’s commitment to protect precariously low foreign exchange reserves, despite other economic problems.These include a fall in commodity prices that has hit Argentine soya exporters, which the government depends on for foreign exchange, and Ms Fernandez’s apparent refusal to settle a long running legal dispute with a group of US hedge funds that has blocked access to international capital markets.Nevertheless, the Nisman affair is likely to reinforce a more general distrust in Argentine institutions that transcends current discontent. Most Argentines fear the case will join a long succession of unsolved crimes, such as the 1994 bomb attack on the Jewish AMIA centre that Nisman had been investigating.Mr Pérez Esquivel accuses Ms Fernández of “political autism” but says Argentina’s flawed judiciary — weakened by continued executive interventions over past decades — is ultimately responsible.“Twenty years have passed and absolutely no one has been punished for the AMIA bombing,” said Pérez Esquivel. “You cannot build a democracy on impunity.”By Peter Eavis27 February 2015A New York hedge fund that is suing Argentina over its debt is moving swiftly to try to stamp out any effort by the country to issue new bonds in international markets.Argentina is seeking to sell roughly $2 billion of new bonds to investors and has employed JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank to handle the deal. But the banks have now suspended the deal, at least temporarily.The bonds were being marketed outside of the United States to non-American investors. If the deal were to be called off completely, it would underscore the remarkable reach of a small group of investors armed with favorable court rulings.In response to a request by NML Capital, a unit of Elliott Management, Judge Thomas P. Griesa of the Federal District Court in Manhattan on Wednesday ordered JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank to produce documents that would describe how money from the bond sale might pass to Argentina. He also ordered the banks to have witnesses present at a deposition about the bond deal at 3 p.m. on Thursday.The court’s demands led the banks to put their deal preparations on hold, according to two people briefed on the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the transaction.Elliott Management’s legal moves are the latest installment in its long-running legal battle to gain full repayment on bonds that Argentina defaulted on in 2001. Most of the bonds involved in that default were later exchanged for new securities, known as exchange bonds, that were worth far less than the original debt.Elliott and other investors gained the name ”holdouts” after refusing to accept the exchange bonds in return for their securities. The holdouts scored a pivotal victory in 2012, when Judge Griesa ruled that Argentina had to pay the holdouts in full whenever it made payments on the exchange bonds.A United States court had power over the exchange bonds because many of them were issued under New York law. And the judge’s ruling had teeth because global banks did not want to fall afoul of the order by passing money from Argentina to holders of the exchange bonds. Argentina, for instance, has in recent months not been able to get money to holders of its exchange bonds.Argentina’s attempts to sell the new bonds form an important test for the country. The bonds were going to be denominated in dollars and Argentina may need the foreign currency to pay off other debts coming due. What is more, a successful sale would demonstrate that the country was able to borrow billions of dollars in international markets even as the holdouts pursued it.Lawyers at JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank would almost certainly have taken steps to try to prevent the new bonds from falling afoul of Judge Griesa’s order. As well as being sold outside of the United States, the new bonds would be registered under Argentine law. At the deposition, the banks’ representatives may seek to show that their deal complies with the judge’s order.Still, the holdouts have had success in gaining courts outside the United States to seize Argentine assets. A court in Ghana, for instance, ruled that the country could impound an Argentina naval vessel in 2012. (Under international maritime law, the boat was later released.)A document relating to the deal suggests that it is being arranged in London. The holdouts may be hoping that a British court will support their efforts and threaten to seize any money that Argentina might raise through the bond sale. In a 2011 ruling on a case brought by NML Capital, a British court ruled that governments like Argentina could not claim immunity from certain civil judgments in courts outside of Britain.A document relating to the sale of new bonds includes a lengthy passage detailing potential legal challenges to the sale. Specifically, it raises the possibility of legal attempts to ”attach assets of Argentina.”By Matt Wirz and Christopher Whittall27 February 2015A bid by two global banks to sell bonds for Argentina in London collapsed, delivering a fresh setback to the cash-strapped South American nation amid a long-running feud with creditors.Deutsche Bank AG and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. approached bond-fund managers on Wednesday to gauge interest in an auction of the country’s debt in London, people familiar with the matter said. The banks believed they had found a way to sell Argentine bonds without running afoul of a U.S. court ruling last year, the people said.The banks suspended the plans Thursday after legal action taken by a group of creditors who have been battling with Argentina for payment on defaulted bonds. Late Wednesday, the U.S. District Judge in the case, Thomas Griesa, ordered an emergency hearing to discuss the proposed London sale.The sale would have been the first of its kind outside Argentina since the country defaulted in 2001, and would have helped it replenish dwindling foreign-currency reserves. It isn’t clear whether the banks had an official mandate from Argentina, which has been fielding bond sale proposals from banks for over a year.A spokeswoman for Argentina’s Economy Ministry said the government studies all debt-issuance proposals submitted to it that are in accordance with Argentine law.The developments show that “Argentina will find it extremely difficult to use international banks to help it raise funds and will likely not be able to issue new local-law bonds to foreign investors,” said Jane Brauer, an emerging-markets analyst at Bank of America Corp.Though short-lived, Argentina’s latest attempt to borrow outside its borders marks a new phase in the cat-and-mouse game it has been playing with some creditors for years.Judge Griesa ruled in June that Argentina can’t pay holders of its restructured debt until it pays a group of hedge funds known collectively as holdout creditors. They own bonds that Argentina defaulted on in 2001 and are seeking repayment; they have refused to participate in the country’s 2005 and 2010 debt restructurings.The judge said anyone that helped Argentina pay other bondholders would be in contempt of court. As a result, bond trustees and payment-clearing firms have been reluctant to pass along payments from Argentina to restructured bondholders.Investors have snapped up Argentine bonds in recent months, effectively wagering that Argentina will soon find a way around last year’s ruling by Judge Griesa or that the country will settle with the holdout creditors after general elections scheduled for October.The yield of Argentina’s dollar bonds that mature in 2024 has fallen to 7.86% this week from 10.48% in December, according to FactSet. Yields fall when prices rise.A successful sale of new bonds in international markets would give Argentina the upper hand in the long-running legal battle with the holdouts, led by hedge funds Elliott Management Corp. and Aurelius Capital Management LP.Lawyers working for Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan crafted the new bond sale in a way they thought would conform to Judge Griesa’s directives, according to people familiar with the matter.On Wednesday the banks’ salespeople approached fund managers to gauge interest in a new bond to be issued in London through an auction format, according to investors who received sales pitches. The new debt would have been issued by reopening a pre-existing bond governed by Argentine law rather than U.S. law.Elliott first subpoenaed Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan about a planned $2 billion bond sale for Argentina on Feb. 9 but they failed to respond, prompting Judge Griesa this week to force them to comply.The banks are now in a holding pattern to see whether the judge will agree that their plan doesn’t violate his earlier ruling blocking bond payments. No deal had officially been launched and the plans were at an early stage, people familiar with the matter said.Elliott said through a spokesman Wednesday that it was “dismayed” that Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan were participating in the attempted deal.Some of the investor optimism comes from lawsuits challenging Judge Griesa’s ruling filed in Belgium and the U.K. by other hedge funds that in August held about 1.3 billion euros ($1.48 billion) of euro-denominated bonds Argentina issued in exchange for bonds it defaulted on over the past decade.Argentina tried to pay at least 226 million euros on its euro-denominated bonds last year, but Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and Euroclear PLC, the trustee and clearing house administering the payments, refused to transfer the funds because of Judge Griesa’s order.The hedge funds, including Knighthead Master Fund and George Soros’s Quantum Partners, won a victory on Feb. 13 when the London Chancery Court ruled the bonds are governed by U.K. law and that Bank of New York Mellon’s obligations as trustee “are unaffected” by the U.S. court decision.By Davide Scigliuzzo26 February 2015NEW YORK, Feb 26 (Reuters) – Argentina has suspended a planned sale of dollar-denominated bonds intended to raise at least $2 billion, two investors with direct knowledge of the deal told Thomson Reuters IFR on Thursday.The suspension, if lengthy, could hamper Argentina’s financing of bonds worth over $6 billion that mature later in the year as the government fights to shore up low foreign reserves.The decision to suspend the sale came after U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa ordered Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan Chase & Co to hand over documents relevant to the Bonar 24 bond sale.Griesa said late Wednesday, according to a court transcript of an emergency hearing on Wednesday, that the order he signed did not restrain any transaction. “It simply asks for discovery,” Griesa said.The South American country, a pariah in global debt markets for more than a decade, said on Wednesday it had a “window of opportunity” to raise debt internationally and began marketing the new Bonar 24 bonds.The proposed reopening of the sale of new Bonar 24 bonds, with a coupon of 8.75 percent, was estimated to be at least $2 billion, according to the hearing transcript that cited a letter to potential investors prepared by the banks.Lawyers for JPMorgan said in court that the bond sale was merely “contemplated,” despite the contention by lawyers for the hedge funds it was imminent.“There was never a confirmation of a sale, therefore it can’t be suspended. Argentina yesterday just confirmed that it was open to study all proposals that it may get,” Argentina’s Economy Ministry told Reuters in a statement.The new debt was to be issued under Argentine law to non-U.S. investors to avoid legal risks in the United States. Argentina is embroiled in a drawn out legal battle with a small group of New York-based hedge funds over unpaid debt held under U.S. law stemming from its 2002 default.Two sources familiar with the matter said Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan decided to put the bond sale on hold as a precaution while they respond to the court’s request.“Argentina is not prevented from raising funds,” a source said. “Any restrictions (from the U.S. courts) apply to the coupon payments on its bonds, not to its ability to raise capital.”The same source said the deal could be back on, depending on the outcome of the legal proceedings.Argentine bonds have rallied in the past two weeks, partly driven by investor confidence that the Oct. 25 presidential election will usher in a more market-friendly government. President Cristina Fernandez cannot run for a third straight term.Investors appeared to take the latest developments in stride. The price of the Bonar 2024 rose 0.191 percent to a bid of 104.85 cents.“Investors believe that with a change of administration there will be greater opportunities to access international funding, and at these interest rates there is money available,” said Roberto Drimer, an economist at the Buenos Aires-based consultancy VaTnet.According to court documents dated Feb. 25, NML Capital, one of the firms suing Argentina, served subpoenas on the banks seeking information on the issuance of Bonar 24 bonds on Feb. 9.Argentina tipped back into default in July after Griesa blocked it from servicing its performing debt until it settled with the litigating hedge funds.By Linette LopezFeb. 26, 2015If you’re going to invest in Argentina, you’d better put on your big-boy pants and be prepared to lose them.That’s the tone of a letter JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank sent potential investors in a proposed Argentine bond offering that was “suspended” less than 48 hours after it was announced.Earlier this week the country said that it had hired the banks to issue its bonds on the international market. That’s a big deal, as Argentina has been the black sheep of international markets since its 2001 default.Basically no one wanted to buy Argentina’s debt after that disaster. After over 10 years of paying back debt, though, Argentina had only one major credit problem left — it refused to pay a specific group of its bondholders over $1.3 billion of defaulted debt because the bondholders wouldn’t take a 70% cut to their payout.Those bondholders were led by hedge fund manager Paul Singer, and he sued the country until it went right back into default.So that’s where Argentina is now — technically. It’s in technical default. Also the economy is in incredibly bad shape. Inflation is hovering over 40%, capital flight is rampant, and women were freaking out earlier this year because Argentina’s weird import/export policies made it impossible to find tampons.Anyway, the country decided that now was the time for it to issue bonds regardless of its state. JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank signed on to help. They did, however, send potential investors an unusual letter warning them of the dangers of investing, especially because of Singer’s ongoing lawsuit and general doggedness in pursuit of his money.
And also because the banks didn’t want to be sued in the event that something went wrong, of course.“In particular no investor will have any claim and the Sellers will have no liability based on: (i) any difference the purchase price and any subsequent value of the Securities; (ii) the ability of any investor to receive any interest or redemption payment to cover the principle amount of the Securities; or (ii) any circumstances beyond the Sellers control, included where the Securities are not admitted to a relevant clearing system or otherwise delivered,” it said.In other words, JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank are saying: Sign here and then do not ask us about this stuff again because you are on your OWN!To be fair, this is what any rational institution would do. Sure, a lot of investors are saying that the country is a buying opportunity once President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s intransigent government is out of power after elections this fall. But you actually never really know in Argentina. She already tried to change the Argentine Constitution once so she could run again and failed.Plus, Singer and his cadre (known collectively as NML) were not happy about any of this. They went to the judge who has been presiding over their case and got an injunction forcing JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank to show them the bond issue documents (including this letter).“Despite our repeated attempts to engage in good-faith negotiations, the Argentine government appears determined to remain in default and in contempt of a US federal court order,” said an NML spokesman regarding the bond issue. “We are dismayed that JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank are participating in the schemes of an international scofflaw, schemes which we believe are an attempt to evade the court-ordered enforcement of bondholders’ rights.As practiced as NML is at waging legal war on Argentina, it’s not crazy to think they would throw JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank in there too if they thought they had a claim. NML still hasn’t gotten its money, so what’s a little more paperwork?That’s probably why this bond issue was dropped. Fast.By Michelle CelarierFebruary 26, 2015Argentina suspended plans for a US dollar bond sale on Thursday following an outcry from billionaire hedgie Paul Singer.Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan Chase were soliciting interest from international buyers in the potential $2 billion bond sale — but put the plans on hold after Singer convinced a federal judge to order the banks to hand over documents related to the expected bond sale and to produce witnesses.Singer has been tangling with Argentina for about a decade in an attempt to collect more than $1.6 billion on bonds defaulted on in 2001. The country has refused to pay Singer — and even defied a judge’s order to do so.“Everyone’s being cautious,” sources close to the banks said, after plans for the bonds were halted.That’s not to say the banks were thrilled with Singer’s action.“Elliott [Paul Singer’s hedge fund] is attempting to interfere in a perfectly legitimate capital raise,” said a source at one of the banks, who said the sale effort could be re-started at a later date.11. ARGENTINE EXPORTS REACH FIVE-YEAR LOW AMID RISING DISCONTENT AND BLEAK OUTLOOK AHEAD OF ELECTIONS (IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis)By Mario Guillen26 February 2015Argentina’s balance of trade reported a surplus of USD73 million in January, an increase of 109% year on year (y/y), according to the latest report by its National Statistical Office (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos: INDEC). Exports posted a fall of 18% y/y, returning to values from five years ago, while imports decreased by 19% y/y. The most remarkable falls in the export sector were in the categories of fuels and energy (down by 58% y/y), manufacture goods of industrial origin (down by 24% y/y), and manufacture goods of agricultural origin (down by 15% y/y). The only category to post an increase was primary products, up by 16% y/y. With regard to imports, the passenger vehicles category fell by 67% y/y, while fuels and lubricants decreased 54% y/y, followed by a contraction of 20% y/y in the pieces and accessories of capital goods category. Imports of capital and consumer goods also dropped, falling by 13% y/y and 12% y/y, respectively.Significance: Despite the balance of trade exceeding the surplus recorded in January 2014, back then the fall in imports and exports amounted to just 4% y/y and 8% y/y, respectively. Put into perspective, this year’s results highlight the continued deterioration of Argentine trade due to internal and external factors. The fall in exports is mainly attributed to weak demand in Brazil, the country’s main commercial partner, as well as the general downturn in the region. This is exacerbated by the effects of a stronger US dollar on the competitiveness of Argentine manufacturing, which increases doubts about the sustainability of the peso’s value. Internally, financing difficulties drove the current administration to reduce imports, tighten the allocation of dollars while blaming the private sector for the recession, and advocate more state intervention. Amid rampant inflation, low commodity prices, and difficult access to international markets, the current administration is left with little room for action ahead of the upcoming presidential election in October.12. ARGENTINA AND D.C. UNITED MATCHES SCHEDULED FOR SAME DAY AT SEPARATE VENUES (Washington Post.com)By Steven Goff27 February 2015Promoters eager to bring Lionel Messi and the powerful Argentine national soccer team to Washington initially targeted March 27 for a friendly against El Salvador at FedEx Field in Landover. Talks dragged on for weeks without an agreement. Then Thursday, organizers announced the game will take place March 28, a Saturday, which is more conducive to ticket-selling, TV programming and transportation.Seems sensible, except one of D.C. United’s marquee home matches of the MLS season, against the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy, falls on the same day at RFK Stadium.The United-Galaxy game, set by the league six weeks ago, will kick off at 7 p.m. The international match is set for 4 p.m.The stadiums are seven miles apart and on the same Metro lines (although FedEx Field is almost a mile from the Morgan Boulevard station). So conceivably, a fan could attend both. Whether they would be willing to pay two admissions is another matter. The ticket price range to see Argentina is $38 to $175, not including service fees. Tickets go on sale Saturday.Such conflicts are bad for the local pro team’s business, and the U.S. Soccer Federation does have the power to decline sanctioning international matches. However, a USSF spokesman said the Argentina-El Salvador game has been approved.“Within U.S. Soccer’s International Games policies,” director of communications Neil Buethe said, “there is no prohibition on staging international games on the same dates or in the same territories as other professional matches.”United officials have yet to comment on the matter.There does appear to be a financial incentive for the USSF, which collects either 9 percent or 9.25 percent of gross gate receipts, and an additional 13 percent of the balance of receipts after the first $200,000. However, the USSF also says it will “use these fees to cover fees due to CONCACAF.”Last summer, a similar scenario played out: Spain planned to play its final World Cup tuneup at FedEx Field against El Salvador on June 7, conflicting with United’s home match that day against the Columbus Crew. The sides ended up negotiating a doubleheader in Landover. To help compensate for lost revenue at RFK, promoters also scheduled a Turkey-Honduras friendly at the East Capitol Street venue.From a logistical and competitive standpoint, United did not enjoy the arrangement. Its game followed the Spain match, and many of the 53,267 had departed by halftime of the MLS event, leaving large pockets of empty seats in the lower sections of the 80,000-capacity venue. In essence, United had surrendered its influential home-field advantage and lost the feverish environment provided by the RFK crowd. Season ticket holders grumbled about poor seat assignments and the hassle of traveling to FedEx Field.While that doubleheader came to fruition after months of discussion and finalized three months ahead of time, United officials were unaware until this week that organizers of the Argentina-El Salvador game were seeking to play on the 28th instead of the 27th. Even if they had, they probably would not have agreed to another doubleheader anyway.The March 28 move has also required promoters to fiddle with El Salvador’s other friendly on its U.S. tour, March 29 against Guatemala at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. That one will now take place March 31.As of Feb. 18, neither international match had been sanctioned by the USSF. Nonetheless, on Feb. 10, StubHub Center formally announced the friendly and accompanying ticket information.Public announcements prior to sanctioning are subject to fines starting at $1,000 and other penalties, USSF operating procedures state.Buethe said Thursday that “no application has been submitted for that match but we have had a conversation with the promoter that an application is forthcoming.”Argentina will also face Ecuador on March 31 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.The last week in March is an official FIFA match period, which allows national teams to summon their best players from around the world. Argentina, the 2014 World Cup runner-up, would likely call in Messi, the Barcelona superstar, and many other European-based regulars. The Argentines have not played in the Washington area since a 1-0 defeat to the United States in 1999 at RFK.By Ryan Dube26 February 2015Argentine President Cristina Kirchner replaced her cabinet chief and health secretary on Thursday, amid a political crisis less than a year before her term ends.The president’s spokesman, Alfredo Scoccimarro, said at a brief news conference that cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich will be replaced by Anibal Fernandez, currently the secretary general of the president’s office. Mr. Fernandez is a long-time ally of President Kirchner, and had previously served as her cabinet chief. Eduardo de Pedro will replace Mr. Fernandez as secretary general of the president’s office.Mr. Scoccimarro said Health Minister Juan Manzur is being replaced in the cabinet reshuffle by Daniel Bazan. He didn’t explain why the cabinet changes were being undertaken.The shuffle comes as Mrs. Kirchner is mired in a crisis following last month’s death of Alberto Nisman, who was found dead in his apartment a few days after accusing Mrs. Kirchner and other government officials of trying to cover up Iran’s alleged involvement in a 1994 terrorist attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Mrs. Kirchner and Iran deny those respective allegations.On Thursday, a federal judge dismissed the charges against Mrs. Kirchner, saying there wasn’t evidence of a crime.President Kirchner is constitutionally-barred from running for reelection in October’s presidential election.By Eliana Raszewski26 February 2015BUENOS AIRES, Feb 26 (Reuters) – Argentina’s state-controlled oil company YPF disappointed the market with its earnings on Thursday but announced that output at a key shale oil and gas field was ramping up.Output at Argentina’s vast but barely tapped Vaca Muerta field has risen to 40,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd). A report from the formation’s home province of Neuquen last month showed output was about 33,000 boepd at the end of September.YPF, which was nationalized in 2012, is seeking to ramp up production at Vaca Muerta in order to reverse a $7 billion energy deficit that is draining foreign reserves.The company does not publish output data for the formation on a regular basis.“Vaca Muerta is important to us because today it has come to represent production of 40,000 boepd,” YPF Chief Executive Officer Miguel Galuccio said on a call with reporters.“However…it still only represents 4 to 5 percent of total output so it does not yet have a significant impact on our results.”Argentina began running energy deficits in 2011, a year before the government expropriated YPF. President Cristina Fernandez said at the time that former parent company Spanish oil major Repsol was not investing enough in Argentina.Oil output at YPF rose 5.3 percent in 2014 while natural gas production climbed 25.1 percent, YPF said.Net profit was 1.383 billion pesos ($161.7 million) in the fourth quarter. Full-year earnings were 9.002 billion pesos, nearly 60 percent higher than in 2013.Both figures were nonetheless below market expectations for profit of 2.827 billion pesos in the October to December period and 10.350 billion pesos for 2014.But YPF Chief Financial Officer Daniel Gonzalez said fourth-quarter results were distorted by a provision a subsidiary had to make. The year-on-year comparison was further warped by an insurance payout received in the fourth quarter of 2013.Investment at YPF nearly doubled to 58.881 billion pesos in 2014, in part through debt issuance, the company said. It has previously said developing Vaca Muerta and securing energy independence will cost up to $200 billion in the next 10 years.YPF earlier this month sold $500 million of bonds in its first international sale since Argentina defaulted in July.“We once again have a comfortable cash situation, and we will see if it is necessary to return to markets before the end of the year,” Gonzalez said.By Charles Newbery26 February 2015Buenos Aires (Platts)–26Feb2015/632 pm EST/2332 GMT Argentina’s YPF said Thursday its oil production rose 5.3% and natural gas output increased 25.1% in 2014 compared with 2013, as the state-run energy company continued to ramp up investment in squeezing more out of maturing conventional reserves and developing unconventional resources.The company stepped up its total hydrocarbon production by 13.5% to 560,100 b/d of oil equivalent in 2014 from 493,400 boe/d a year earlier, it said in an earnings statement.YPF said the increase was helped by the 2014 acquisition of US-based Apache’s assets in Argentina, which added 38,600 boe/d of production.The company’s crude production rose 5.3% to 244,600 b/d in 2014 from 232,300 b/d in 2013, while gas output rose 25.1% to 42.4 million cu m/d from 33.9 million cu m/d a year earlier, YPF said. Production of natural gas liquids rose 1% to 48,700 b/d in 2014 from 48,200 b/d in 2013.The increase came largely from YPF’s operations in Neuquen, a southwestern basin with huge potential for unconventional oil and gas production, the company said. YPF said there was a large increase in output of tight gas from the Lajas play in that basin.During 2014, the company said it drilled 908 wells, of which 255 were into unconventional formations on its own or in partnerships.YPF is drilling for shale oil and gas in Loma Campana with Chevron, where they drilled 173 wells into the Vaca Muerta shale play.The rest were drilled to target largely tight gas, 44 on the Loma La Lata block targeting Lajas, while 29 were in Rincon de Mangrullo in a partnership with Argentina’s Petrolera Pampa, and nine in El Orejano with Dow Chemical.At the end of 2014, YPF said it had 74 drilling rigs in operation, adding that its spending on exploration surged 145% in 2014 on the year.Upstream investment rose 115.3% to 49.08 billion pesos ($5.6 billion), helping to boost not only production but also its reserve replacement rate to 163%, YPF said.The company said its proven reserves rose 11.9% to 1.212 billion boe in 2014 from 1.083 billion boe in 2013, its fastest increase on record. The previous record had been a 10.6% rise in 2013 on the year.Of the new reserves, much of it came from tight gas in the Lajas and Mulichinco plays in the Neuquen Basin, YPF said.Additions also came from the extension of field licenses in Rio Negro, shale oil reserves in Vaca Muerta, as well as from the consolidation of Apache reserves and advances in secondary recovery and new projects in the southern San Jorge Gulf Basin.REFINERY CAPACITY UTILIZATION RISES FOUR PERCENTAGE POINTSIn its downstream business, YPF said diesel and gasoline consumption rose 4% and 1%, respectively, in 2014 compared with 2013, while the rate of capacity use of its refineries rose to 91% from 87% over the same period. This was helped by a recovery in the utilization capacity of its 189,000 b/d La Plata refinery, which was hampered by a fire and flooding in 2013.YPF ran 290,000 b/d of crude through its refineries in 2014, up 4.3% from 278,000 b/d in the year-ago period.YPF said its average crude price rose 3.2% to $73.70/b in 2014 from $71.40/b a year earlier, while its average gas price rose 13% to $4.29/MMBtu from $3.79/MMBtu in 2013.Domestic diesel and gasoline prices rose 2.1% and 6.9%, respectively, over the same period, it added.YPF produces 42% of Argentina’s 530,000 b/d of crude and 30% of its 114 million cu m/d of gas, according to the Argentine Oil and Gas Institute, an industry group. It also has a 55% share of diesel and gasoline sales.
Archive for the ‘ARGENTINE UPDATE’ Category
6. THE REAL-LIFE INSPIRATION FOR ‘WILD TALES’ FROM ARGENTINA ; WRITER-DIRECTOR DAMIAN SZIFRON CHANNELED HIS ROAD RAGE AND FRUSTRATION INTO A BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM OSCAR NOMINEE (The Boston Globe)March 1, 2015Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said Sunday the prosecutor who had accused her of a criminal cover-up had also praised her, characterizing the late Alberto Nisman’s actions as contradictory in a sharply worded speech that included a rebuke of Israel over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.Fernandez said documents had been found in Nisman’s safe, one written in December and the other in January. She said in both he spoke favorably of the president’s speeches to the United Nations aimed at getting justice for the attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, which killed 85 people.She said that was contradictory to his allegations that she and other top officials in her administration had orchestrated a cover-up with Iran to shield officials allegedly responsible in a grain-for-oil deal. Fernandez has rejected the allegations and Iran has long denied involvement in the bombing.“Which Nisman do I go with?” she said. “With the one who accused us of a cover-up or the one who addressed me, acknowledging all we had done” to bring justice?Nisman was found dead Jan. 18, the day before he was to detail his allegations against Fernandez to Congress. Authorities are investigating whether Nisman committed suicide or was killed.The case has rocked Argentina, creating a scandal that Fernandez’s administration has struggled to confront. The president, constitutionally barred from running in October elections, got a boost last week when a federal judge threw out the case that Nisman had been building, saying it wasn’t solid enough to open an investigation.Fernandez, known for fiery, populist rhetoric, made the comments about the documents at the end of her nearly four-hour speech. When opposition legislators held signs saying “Open the Archives!” on the community center bombing, she launched into a vigorous defense of all she had to bring justice in the case.The bombing had become a “chessboard of national and international politics,” she said.In particular, she took aim at Israel, saying the country had shown tremendous interest in getting justice for the community center bombing but not in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29.Nobody has been convicted in either attack.“Why does the state of Israel demand (justice) for AMIA,” she said, referring to the Spanish acronym of the community center, “and not for the blowing up of their own embassy?”It wasn’t clear what, if anything, Fernandez was implying. The president often makes vague accusations that other nations are meddling in Argentina’s affairs.In January 2014, Itzhak Aviran, the former Israeli ambassador to Argentina, reportedly told a Jewish news agency that “most of the guilty (for the Jewish community center attack) are in the other world and we did that.” The comments were immediately denied by the Israeli government. At the time, Nisman, who for 10 years headed up the investigation into the bombing, said he would summons Aviran.On Sunday, Fernandez said she would formally request that Israel send Aviran to Argentina to testify so “Argentines can at least know the perpetrators” of the community center attack.A message sent to the Israeli embassy’s press office late Sunday seeking comment was not immediately answered.In the documents, Fernandez said Nisman asked that she demand that the U.N. Security Council order the extradition of the Iranians allegedly responsible. She said the U.N. wouldn’t likely agree, especially when the United States was negotiating with Iran about the future of its nuclear program.By Jonathan Gilbert2 March 2015BUENOS AIRES — President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina made an impassioned defense on Sunday of her role in the investigation into the fatal bombing of a Jewish community center here in 1994, days after a judge dismissed criminal allegations against her.In her annual State of the Union address to Congress, Mrs. Kirchner accused others of using the case for political gain. ”If there are delays or a cover-up of A.M.I.A., look somewhere else, not here,” she said, using the Spanish acronym for the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association, the bombed community center.A judge dismissed on Thursday a criminal complaint brought by a federal prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, shortly before his mysterious death in January of a gunshot wound to the head. Investigators are trying to determine whether he was killed or had shot himself.In an emphatic rebuke of Mr. Nisman’s complaint, which was revived by a second prosecutor, Gerardo Pollicita, Judge Daniel Rafecas wrote that there was no evidence pointing to Mrs. Kirchner and faulted the evidence provided by Mr. Nisman. Mr. Pollicita can appeal the decision.Mrs. Kirchner had been accused of conspiring to shield Iranian officials from responsibility in the bombing, which left 85 people dead, in exchange for trade benefits.Bolstered by the judge’s decision after weeks of turmoil here following Mr. Nisman’s death, Mrs. Kirchner dedicated a large part of her address to Congress, which lasted almost four hours, to defending her record over the investigation into the bombing. Tens of thousands of supporters gathered outside Congress in a show of support for the beleaguered president.Mrs. Kirchner suggested that Mr. Nisman was manipulated by forces trying to destabilize her. She pointed to documents, cited by Mr. Rafecas, in which Mr. Nisman had highlighted her government’s role in helping the investigation just weeks before he filed the criminal complaint.”Which Nisman do I believe?” Mrs. Kirchner said, before questioning the circumstances under which he returned to Buenos Aires from Europe in January to accuse her. ”I don’t think Nisman wanted to attack the president.”There were nationwide marches last month to honor Mr. Nisman and express anger with Argentina’s political establishment. Many Argentines believe the government had a hand in Mr. Nisman’s death. But Mrs. Kirchner and her inner circle have cast suspicion on a former spymaster who worked with him on the bombing investigation.”She painted herself as the hero of the A.M.I.A. case and presented her administration in a triumphant way, but what emerges is a very dubious legacy,” said Federico Finchelstein, an Argentine historian at the New School for Social Research in New York, referring to divided public opinion over Mr. Nisman’s death and economic problems.By Charlie DevereuxMarch 1, 2015Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said in her final state of the union address that opponents are exploiting the death of a prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.Hundreds of thousands of supporters rallied Sunday outside Argentina’s Congress in Buenos Aires to hear the broadcast of her almost four-hour speech at the same spot where less than two weeks ago a similar number marched in one of the largest protests against her government. In the address before lawmakers, Fernandez also mentioned progress in reducing debt and pledged to nationalize the railroads.The government has been thrown into turmoil since prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead from a gunshot to the head on Jan. 18. He had been due to present allegations that Fernandez sought to cover up, in exchange for trade deals, Iran’s involvement in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center that killed 85 people. Last week, a judge dismissed charges filed against Fernandez in connection with Argentina’s deadliest terrorist attack, saying there wasn’t enough evidence.“I lament his death, just as I lament the death of any Argentine, of any human being,” Fernandez said in reference to Nisman. But she added that “the AMIA case cannot continue to be used as a political instrument.”The state television channel said about 300,000 people waving flags and singing Peronist songs lined the Avenida de Mayo in a show of support for Fernandez.The president said she will leave a country that’s “comfortable” economically with record growth, low levels of unemployment and that has freed itself from debt “definitively.”Bond RallyThat vision is contradicted by bond investors. They are piling into Argentine bonds on speculation Fernandez’s sinking popularity will cost her political party in presidential elections in October and pave the way for a new government that will end the nation’s decade-long dispute with creditors who refused to accept terms of a restructuring.Argentina’s 2024 bonds soared last week to the highest since they were issued in May, data compiled by Bloomberg show.A plan to sell at least $2 billion in bonds came to a halt last week after a U.S. judge cited JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Deutsche Bank AG, the banks managing the sale, for failing to comply with subpoenas, people with knowledge of the matter said.Argentina was attempting to raise debt financing to help pay down more than $6 billion in debt maturing this year. A decade-long legal battle with NML Capital, a hedge fund controlled by the billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Capital Management that resulted in Argentina’s second default in 13 years in July, has hampered the nation’s return to international debt markets.Looking ahead to her final year in office, Fernandez said she is preparing legislation to nationalize the country’s railway system. In 2012, she expropriated Spanish oil company Repsol SA’s share of YPF.By Hugh BronsteinMar. 1, 2015Argentina’s scandal-hit president came out swinging with a fiery speech about justice on Sunday, retaking the initiative three days after being cleared of allegations that she tried to derail an investigation into a deadly 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires.In mid-January Cristina Fernandez was accused of conspiring to cover up Iran’s alleged role in the truck-bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center. Prosecutor Alberto Nisman said Fernandez conspired to whitewash the bombing in order to complete a grains-for-oil deal with Tehran.Days after leveling the charge, Nisman was found dead, a bullet in his head, a gun by his side. His accusation and mysterious death hurt Fernandez’s credibility and sent her government reeling while conspiracy theories multiplied.In her first speech since a judge threw out the cover-up allegation on Thursday for lack of evidence, Fernandez took aim at the rogue intelligence agents she blames for the scandal.“Twenty-one years have passed without a single conviction for AMIA,” the two-term president shouted during her final annual address to Congress on Sunday, in which she claimed to have done everything possible to get to the bottom of the case.Fernandez said fault for the lack of progress in solving the bombing lies with the local courts “and the intelligence services that covered up, and covered up, and did not permit the truth to be known.”“If there have been delays,” she shouted, her voice breaking, “look somewhere else. Don’t look here.”Adding to the confusion over the case, Fernandez said two signed documents were found in Nisman’s safe after he died. One argued the case against her while the other said she had nothing to do with a cover-up.“Which Nisman am I left with?” she said.Fernandez has accused former counterintelligence chief Antonio Stiuso of manipulating Nisman into making the allegation in order to smear her, and then of having a hand in his death.Stiuso, who has left the country, is also accused of operating a smuggling ring from the headquarters of the SI Intelligence agency, which Congress voted to disband last week.Fernandez, constitutionally barred from running for a third term in October’s election, has nine more months in office.Polls show the cover-up allegations and Nisman’s death have damaged Fernandez’s popularity, already strained by a weak economy, and will hurt government-allied candidates in the October vote.By Nicolás Misculin27 February 2015BUENOS AIRES, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Argentina’s government will purge spies it no longer trusts from the state intelligence agency as part of a major overhaul of the security body, sources familiar with embattled President Cristina Fernandez’s thinking said.The move comes after lawmakers passed a law on Thursday disbanding the former Intelligence Secretariat, or SI, parts of which Fernandez has portrayed as sinister and out of control, and established a new agency.The SI has been at the center of a six week-long political storm following the death of state prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had accused Fernandez of trying to cover up Iran’s alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.Fernandez and her ministers say rogue agents duped Nisman into fabricating unfounded allegations against her in order to destabilize the government, and then needed him dead. Fernandez branded Nisman’s accusations as “absurd” and on Thursday a judge threw out the case.“Many people are going to be fired. There is going to be a serious review,” said one senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.“The idea is to get rid of all those who the state can’t trust or who work for other agencies as well,” the source said, referring to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Israel’s Mossad.The legislation approved on Thursday includes a clause which says “all personnel and property” will be transferred from the SI to the new Federal Intelligence Agency, or AFI.But legal experts have described the law’s wording as loose and officials close to the presidency said agents could be “retired” during a 90-day window the legislation allows for the creation of the AFI.A purge is likely to raise questions over why Fernandez wants to ensure loyalists are in control of the agency when she has just 10 months left in office.The Nisman scandal laid bare both a power struggle within the SI and a festering conflict between the government and factions within the security body.Fernandez portrayed parts of the agency as sinister, out-of-control and accountable to no one, saying it had “not served the interests of the country.”“Let’s not say there will be a purge, it’s an ugly world. Let’s say that some will be retired,” said a second government source familiar with the matter.DIRTY PASTArgentina’s intelligence service played an important role during a “dirty war” directed by the military dictatorship of 1976-83 against Marxist rebels, labor unions and students.Since democracy was restored, successive governments are widely believed to have continued to use the agency to snoop on opponents.A purge would not be without risk. The intelligence service has in the past enjoyed significant power and autonomy and is widely thought to have run extensive wire tappings on politicians, journalists and judges.But cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez has rejected suggestions there may be disenchanted agents holding sensitive information.“That is not something to worry us,” he told reporters.Nisman was found dead on Jan. 18 of a bullet to the head, with a pistol by his side, a day before he was due to detail the evidence behind his accusations against Fernandez.His mysterious death spawned a blizzard of conspiracy theories, with some pointing directly to the president.Top officials have said that a former spymaster, Antonio Stiuso, who was sacked from the SI in December, was the mastermind behind Nisman’s allegations. Stiuso’s spy career spanned four decades and he was viewed as one of the most powerful men in the agency.But dissent within the agency was widespread, said the first government source.“You have to realize there was a rebellion inside the intelligence service,” the source said.6. THE REAL-LIFE INSPIRATION FOR ‘WILD TALES’ FROM ARGENTINA ; WRITER-DIRECTOR DAMIAN SZIFRON CHANNELED HIS ROAD RAGE AND FRUSTRATION INTO A BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM OSCAR NOMINEE (The Boston Globe)By Christopher Wallenberg1 March 2015Damian Szifron knows full well that human beings are primal creatures at heart. While civilization has trained us to repress our dark, animalistic instincts, given the right series of nerve- rattling circumstances or cascading provocations, those primal urges can surface, prompting rage, vengeance, destruction, and self- immolation.Such reactions are at the heart of Szifron’s “Wild Tales,” which scored an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film this year (it lost to Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida”) and opens in the Boston area on Friday. Made up of six individual stories — funny, acerbic, and utterly delirious vignettes about people seeking revenge, retribution, or release, “Wild Tales” is a portrait of humanity in extremis, an ode to the art of losing control, shaking your fist at the world, and fighting back against injustice.“For me the main issue is the pleasure of reacting, the pleasure of reacting toward injustice,” Szifron said last week over the phone from Los Angeles, a few days before the Academy Awards.Like most of us, Szifron (pronounced Ziff-ron), an Argentine writer-director, can speak from personal experience about losing control of his emotions. He recalls getting into a road rage standoff with a rich guy in a fancy car who was speeding down the highway and trying to pass him. He also had his car towed multiple times from unmarked “no parking” spaces, taking his anger and frustration out on an innocent clerk at a tow lot. Both incidents were the inspirational seeds for two of the stories in the film. He even ended up in a brawl at a restaurant, in which he punched the chef after Szifron thought the man grabbed his wife’s arm in a violent manner during an argument. A fistfight resulted, the chef’s ear got cut by a broken wine glass, and the police eventually showed up.“I’m a very peaceful guy, and I’ve never been involved in a fight. But I hit my breaking point. And when you hit this breaking point and you’re under a lot of pressure, you suddenly lose your fears, and you’re not measuring consequences. So you’re just driven by your instincts,” Szifron said. “For a neurotic guy like me who’s always very careful, it was very out-of-character. But there is something that changes in our chemistry, your body is releasing these endorphins, when you’re in that kind of situation, so you enjoy that moment without any fear.”The first of the six chapters of “Wild Tales,” co-produced by Pedro and Agustin Almodovar, begins with a bang. A pretty young fashion model and a music critic strike up a conversation on an airplane and discover they both share a past with the same troubled young man — as does everyone else seated around them — which leads to one of the most satisfying freeze-frame shots in cinema history. A waitress working in an empty diner is startled to learn that the man she’s serving is a criminal who wronged her family many years ago, while the female cook encourages her to seek revenge. There’s the blood-soaked story of road rage gone off-the-rails as an obnoxious, Audi-driving yuppie faces off with a brutish, jalopy- driving hothead on a remote stretch of road.After getting his car towed from an unmarked parking spot and missing his daughter’s birthday, an explosives engineer turns to extreme measures when he’s rebuffed by the Kafka-esque bureaucracy that refuses to hear his objection. A wealthy plutocrat tries to negotiate a scheme to keep his son out of prison after a fatal car accident, while corrupt lawyers and lawmen try to take advantage of his desperation. In the film’s horrifyingly funny finale, an exuberant wedding celebration spirals out of control after the bride learns her dashing new husband cheated on her with one of their guests, culminating in a blood-soaked dress, shards of broken glass, and an overturned wedding cake.A critical favorite at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Palme d’Or, “Wild Tales” became Argentina’s biggest indigenous domestic hit of all time, seen by more than 3.5 million people since its premiere in August.While he’s mostly unknown in the United States, Szifron, 39, created the Argentine cult hit “The Pretenders” in the early 2000s. He went on to write and direct two well-received films — “The Bottom of the Sea,” about a guy stalking his girlfriend’s lover, and “On Probation,” a buddy action film featuring a cop and a psychiatrist.But after creating the 2006 television series “Hermanos and Detectives,” Szifron decided to take a break and concentrate exclusively on writing. He penned several film scripts, including a romantic comedy, an ambitious science-fiction film, and a Western. But he was most excited about a series of short yet potent vignettes he began working on, which he realized were united by the themes of vengeance, liberation, and fighting back against injustice. The process was freeing, and he thought of anthology series like “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Twilight Zone.” The result was “Wild Tales.”“I felt like a musician or a painter that can create one track or one painting one day, and then next day they are free to do another one,” he said.The film nods to Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” Steven Spielberg’s “Duel,” the Michael Douglas crime drama “Falling Down,” and the genre-shifting melodramas of Pedro Almodovar. The look and feel of each vignette is slightly different, but each one is marked by shifting tones, with outrageous comedy and savage black humor sliding up against nerve-jangling suspense and Tarantino-style action.He cites the road rage episode as an example. It’s a social commentary about the class system, but it also blends genres and tones.“When I was directing that one, I discovered that I was talking to the actors as if they were in a Michael Haneke film. Everything was very dark and oppressive,” he recalls. “But I was directing the rest of the crew as if we were making a Road Runner episode with Wile E. Coyote.”With its skewering of government and corporate corruption and bureaucratic malfeasance, the film has been viewed by some as a critique of Argentine culture and society. But those themes have a universal resonance, Szi fron says, in a world where power is concentrated in the hands of a small group of wealthy and powerful individuals.“The film is subversive because it’s showing this abuse of power. But I didn’t decide to make the film as a critique. Of course I have a critical view of the system,” he said. “But the themes that are underlying each one of these stories are very primal in a way — man versus a system that’s designed against him, not to facilitate life, but to take things out of you. So I think I could tell that story in any other country and in any other period of time.”Still, mordant black humor is never far away.“The stories don’t begin as comedies, they begin as dramas. The humor is a consequence of what these characters feel in a very dramatic situation. This bride who discovers during her own wedding that her husband is cheating on her, that’s a very dramatic beginning,” he says. “But this girl, she loses it, she explodes, and I think we all enjoy watching that tour de force. She is liberating a huge amount of energy, and that’s funny, because she is reacting toward something that is unjust.”
buenísima escritora y analista!!!
1. ALBERTO NISMAN DEATH: EX-WIFE CRITICIZES PROBE, CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION TO TAKE OVER (International Business Time)1. ALBERTO NISMAN DEATH: EX-WIFE CRITICIZES PROBE, CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION TO TAKE OVER (International Business Time)By Aditya TejasFebruary 13 2015The ex-wife of Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor who died under mysterious circumstances after accusing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of covering up a 1994 bombing, voiced criticism of the probe on Thursday. Nisman was found dead in his apartment in what was ruled a suicide.Sandra Arroyo Salgado, the prosecutor’s former wife, speaking at a congressional session organized by opposition groups, said the probe had become too politicized and is leaking too much information, calling for the case to be referred to an international commission, Deutsche Welle reported.“Let’s let justice take its course, don’t continue politicizing a case in which so much is still unresolved,” she said. “In my own name and that of my daughters, I ask the national public defenders’ office to consider … the possibility of taking the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.”Nisman, who was investigating Argentina’s response to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, was probing whether Iran’s alleged involvement in the deal was covered up in exchange for favorable oil deals. He died one day before he was due to testify on the matter.Argentine investigators say they’ve unearthed a draft of a warrant seeking the president’s arrest.Investigators initially said the death was a suicide, before announcing later they were considering the possibility of a homicide. Nisman was reportedly found shot in the head with a pistol in his hand. Authorities say there was no sign of a struggle or intruders, ProPublica reported.After Nisman’s death, Kirchner disbanded the intelligence service and announced plans to reform it with a new agency. She also said she was certain Nisman’s death was not a suicide, but that he was murdered by a conspiracy of former intelligence agents in order to discredit her, Reuters reported.The other official implicated by the warrant is Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who denied allegations that he discussed the possibility of absolving suspects in talks with Tehran. “I don’t have to prove my history. It is there for you to look at. I don’t need to prove that I support the defense of human rights. The same with my government. So it is ridiculous to think I put forward a deal, an economic deal, to forget about the case,” he told The Washington Post in an interview on Tuesday.The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is a human rights monitoring and advocacy group. It has previously investigated several high-profile incidents in the area, including a series of murders in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and the suppression of democracy in Venezuela.By Hugh Bronstein12 February 2015BUENOS AIRES, Feb 12 (Reuters) – A former inmate of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay traveled from his new home in Uruguay to neighboring Argentina in recent days on a mission to lobby the government to provide refuge to inmates still imprisoned in Cuba.Jihad Diyab, one of six detainees released in December and resettled in the tiny South American country of Uruguay, told Argentine radio and other media he had come on behalf of prisoners who remain at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.“I will never forget my friends who are still there, and that’s why I’ve come here, to struggle for justice,” Diyab said on Argentine station Radio Madre.“The government of Argentina could accept prisoners from Guantanamo for humanitarian reasons,” the Syrian national added.He did not say how long he would be in the country or who he would be meeting with. Argentina’s interior and foreign ministries declined comment. Diyab’s lawyer, Cori Crider of international rights group Reprieve, had no immediate comment.While jailed, Diyab mounted a legal challenge against the U.S. military’s force-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantanamo.He and five other former Guantanamo prisoners were flown to Uruguay in early December. The Uruguayan government said the six would be treated as “totally free men.”Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said at the time the men – four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian – could leave whenever they wanted or stay as long as they pleased.President Barack Obama’s administration has sped up transfer of Guantanamo detainees in recent months but its efforts to shut the prison have been blocked by lawmakers who think the inmates pose a threat.Obama promised to shut the detention facility, used to imprison people captured after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, when he first took office six years ago.By Larry Rohter15 February 2015As the Argentine film director and screenwriter Damián Szifrón sees it, “what separates civilization from barbarism” is “a complex battery of social inhibitors” that prevent us from retaliating with violence to the many slights and aggravations of daily life. But that’s definitely not the case with the characters he created for his dark and sometimes surrealistic comedy “Wild Tales,” which has been nominated for the Oscar for best foreign-language film and opens Feb. 20.“Wild Tales” — the Spanish-language title is closer to “Savage Tales,” and the opening credits unfurl against a backdrop of tigers, sharks, wolves and other predators in their habitats — consists of six episodes, each with a different cast but all about revenge for offenses real or imagined: Two men on a deserted highway, one in an Audi, the other in a jalopy, are gripped by a bout of what Mr. Szifrón described as “road rage to the fifth degree.” A bride realizes at her wedding that her new husband has been cheating on her. On a stormy night, a waitress at a diner recognizes a customer as the sleazy developer who foreclosed on her family’s home.“What differentiates us from animals is our capacity to restrain ourselves,” Mr. Szifrón, 39, said in an interview last month while on the Oscar campaign trail in New York. “An animal can’t, and is condemned to its instincts. In contrast, we have a fight or flee mechanism, but it comes with a very high cost. Most of us live with the frustration of having to repress oneself, but some people explode. This is a movie about those who explode, and we can all understand why they do. Any time I read about someone who has committed a supposedly irrational or barbarous act, that person doesn’t feel foreign to me.”Indeed, Mr. Szifrón said that the writing of the script, which came in short bursts as he was working on other projects he still intends to film, offered a “cathartic release” for incidents in which he felt aggrieved. And when the script was sent to the actor Ricardo Darín and others who eventually signed on, they felt the same.Mr. Darín, who played the lead in “The Secret in Their Eyes,” which won the foreign-language Oscar in 2010, is probably Argentina’s most popular actor. He was offered a choice of roles but opted for that of Simón Fischer, a demolitions engineer who finds his car towed from an unmarked parking spot in front of the bakery where he has just bought a cake for his daughter’s birthday party.What especially attracted him, Mr. Darín said with a chuckle during a telephone interview from Argentina, was a sentence, “sensible but naïve,” that Mr. Szifrón had written for his character: “Where is the office where they offer an apology after they make a mistake?” That lament comes after the engineer’s proclamations of innocence are mockingly rebuffed by a city employee, a response that precipitates an eruption of anger.“This was my chance to show my disagreement with the bureaucratic labyrinth that tramples on citizens’ rights,” Mr. Darín added. “I’ve been in similar situations myself two or three times, and they always want you to pay first and ask questions later, when I think it should be the other way around.” Though he understands his character’s need to take a stand, “I disapprove of Simón Fischer’s actions.”The six stories vary in style and build in intensity, but “they are vital organs of the same body” Mr. Szifrón said, and “to sustain itself, the movie needed all of them.” Thus the episode featuring Mr. Darín is followed by one in which a rich family tries to cover up a fatal hit-and-run accident with the help of their lawyer and corrupt authorities, and that in turn gives way to a final story in which, Mr. Szifrón said, “we go to the most ancestral and basic conflict there is, the relationship between a man and a woman” and witness a wedding reception that turns into a catastrophe.“When I first read the script, I thought, What a delight it is going to be to play this,” said Érica Rivas, who was cast as the hapless bride, Romina. “I’m not the jealous type the way Romina is, so that was a challenge. But to be able to wreck a wedding, that’s a feat, and something really fun to do, something I’ve wanted to do many times in real life.”In fact, Romina goes on an epic rampage. Agustín Almodóvar, a producer of the movie along with his brother, the Oscar-winning director Pedro Almodóvar, described Ms. Rivas’s volcanic performance as “a revelation,” sure to open doors for her internationally.“We hadn’t seen any of her work before, but she is an actress very much in the Almodóvar style,” he said. “She somehow manages to combine tragedy with a subtext of comedy and irony, transmitting sentiments that are incompatible, and Pedro and I adore that.” He added, “You see her and the other characters acting unconstrainedly, without the slightest social or cultural shackles on their behavior, and it all makes for a great spectacle.”In Latin America and Europe, numerous critics have described “Wild Tales” as a kind of “Characters on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” playing off the title of Pedro Almodóvar’s breakout 1988 hit. Agustín Almodóvar said that he and his brother felt the comparison was apt.“We know that Damián wrote his script not thinking that we would be producers, but when we read it, we immediately saw the linkages,” he said. “It was a script right on the edge, very daring, transgressive, and with a fragmented narrative. So of course it appealed to us.”In Argentina, “Wild Tales” has become both the country’s all-time box office champion and a genuine social phenomenon that has made folk heroes of some characters. Several lines, including the one that captivated Mr. Darín and some spoken by Ms. Rivas, have become catchphrases: To say “I am Bombita,” Simón’s nickname, has acquired a meaning similar to “going postal” in the United States.Ms. Rivas, who was already known to Argentine audiences from her role in a local version of “Married with Children,” said that “people come and embrace me on the street, or beep their car horns at me.” Pulling out their smartphones, “some of them even ask me to recite specific lines of dialogue from the film,” including one spoken to the wedding’s videographer as Romina surveys the havoc she has wrought: “Film this for me, Nestor!”Born in the suburbs of Buenos Aires into a Jewish immigrant family with roots in Poland and Russia, Mr. Szifrón was a cinephile as a boy. His father dealt in electronic equipment, and his son early on acquired a VHS player and a digital camera. As a result, Mr. Szifrón said, “I saw all the classics at a very early age.” He began making his own shorts at the age of 9, and before “Wild Tales,” he had written and directed two movies and a pair of television series that were hits in Latin America.“Wild Tales” contains echoes of some of his childhood favorites, among them Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma, as well as “The Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” But in the end, the movie is a very personal distillation of “themes that are in the collective unconscious,” Mr. Szifrón said.“There are a lot of different things from daily life being processed and given free rein in ‘Wild Tales,’ violence and vengeance among them,” he continued. “But at its core, what stands out is this pleasure of losing control and the desire for liberation. This is a movie about the desire for freedom, and how this lack of freedom, and the rage and anguish it produces, can cause us to run off the rails.”February 13, 2015Ten-year-old Cloe Barrios spent a year saving for an iPod, a struggle shared by many Argentine youth scrambling to keep up with technology despite economic woes that make such gadgets exorbitantly pricey.The third-largest economy in Latin America, Argentina was one of the most plugged-in countries in the 1990s.But its high inflation, devalued currency and exchange controls have produced infrastructure failures and a dearth of technological gadgetry today.Cloe, who bought her iPod with help from her mother and an aunt in France, is one of her generation’s lucky ones, possessing a “toy” with the coveted Apple label.“There are only four of us in the class who have iPods,” she told AFP. “Six have cell phones and one has an iPhone but only because their mom lends it,” she said of her class of 28.Her particular iPod came from Chile, the Latin American country where technology is most readily available today.Workers in Argentina, which still has no 4G network, must earn far more than people in the region’s other countries—except for Venezuela—to be able to buy the same technological products, according to Marco Marketing Consultants.A notebook computer costs 2.2 times the average monthly salary in Argentina, while in Chile it costs 0.96 times below the average.The consulting firm’s report, published at the end of 2014, argued that “the difference between the average wages needed in Argentina and Chile to buy an average notebook computer is 129 percent. But if high-end notebooks are compared, the gap rises to 166 percent.”“This means that for mid-range products, the comparative situation in Argentina is better, if still poor.”‘Everyone reads newspapers’While Cloe attends public school, Candelaria Zapata lives in the upper-middle-class Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo and goes to private school.She loves her cell phone: “It’s my best chum, it takes my selfies, supplies my music videos and connects me,” the 11-year-old said.Although Argentina’s middle and upper classes often complain that it’s “a shame” that there is not a larger supply of Apple products, a fetish among the country’s youth, Candelaria does not stress.She boasts of having a Samsung “that was made in Tierra del Fuego,” the archipelago at the southern tip of South America, where the South Korean tech giant was drawn by generous tax breaks.iPhones are not sold in Argentina.Stores authorized by Apple can sell other products from the company at prices tied to the dollar, with an exchange rate of 8.60 Argentine pesos to the dollar—or anywhere from 12-13.60 pesos per greenback on the black market.That makes Apple products an expensive purchase even for a middle-class American.An iPad is 12,599 pesos or $1,465, compared to $499 in New York or Miami.The most basic MacBook Air—which costs $999 in Chile, Mexico and the United States—costs $2,813 (24,199 pesos) in Buenos Aires.“This explains why everyone reads printed newspapers, that’s what impressed me the most when I came to Argentina,” Mike Snow, an American who arrived in the country last April, told AFP.‘Connect Equality’Since 2010, the government has delivered 4.7 million netbooks under its Connect Equality plan, which made the country the leader in computer distribution in public schools.But a lack of teacher training and the technological smartphone gap are still big issues.Argentine technology analyst Enrique Carrier told AFP the plan was “very valuable at a national level, because in some ways it’s giving a first tool that will help people understand network access, especially in distant areas.”But he acknowledged that smartphones are the tool to bridge the digital divide.In Argentina, a country of 42 million people where 47.5 percent of households have Internet access, “everyone buys a multifunctional cell phone, and most have access to social networks,” according to consulting firm Infolatam, using data from the World Bank.As Candelaria’s mother put it: “Here we are like Cubans. We may lack things, but we always manage.”
Argentina has an important history to share with the world.
Senators call to release drone memos
“If this trend continues for another six years our country would become a colony and we would become slaves,” writes Sirisena in his election manifesto.
1. ARGENTINE OFFICIAL: U.S. NOT NEEDED IN PROBE (The Washington Post)By Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger11 February 2015The foreign minister of Argentina, caught in the middle of a scandal in which he and his government are accused of brokering an illegal deal to cover up Iran’s alleged role in a deadly terrorist attack, said this week in a rare interview that the charges were “ridiculous.”Moreover, Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman said, he has no knowledge of what happened to the prosecutor found shot to death the night before he was to present allegations of the secret deal to lawmakers. And the foreign minister expressed deep reservations about the possibility of U.S. assistance in determining how prosecutor Alberto Nisman died – despite calls by some Argentine and U.S. legislators for the FBI to help investigate and an offer of help from the U.S. government.“There are some problems in the United States that the FBI cannot solve,” Timerman told The Washington Post in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires. “I don’t know why they think the FBI can solve problems all over the world.”Timerman made his comments during one of his first lengthy interviews on the topic amid the controversy that has plunged Argentina into turmoil. A State Department official said the U.S. government had offered to assist Argentine authorities in their investigation of the prosecutor’s death, though Timerman said he was not aware of the offer.Nisman was killed with a bullet to the right temple hours before he planned to lay out his findings alleging that Timerman, acting on behalf of President Cristina Fernà¡ndez de Kirchner, had agreed to absolve Iran of involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that killed 85 people. In exchange, Nisman was to allege, Argentina would sell grain to Iran and Iran would sell oil to Argentina as part of a broadening commercial relationship between the two countries.Ever since Nisman’s body was found on Jan. 18, Argentina has been seized by speculation. Did Nisman commit suicide or was he murdered and, if so, by whom?Last week, Argentine officials confirmed that draft criminal indictments for both Fernà¡ndez and Timerman had been found in the trash at Nisman’s apartment after his death.Speaking with The Post on Monday, Timerman, a Jew whose father was a crusading journalist jailed by the regime governing Argentina in the 1970s, spoke in personal terms to reject the core of Nisman’s allegations. He said he would not have sought any deal to cover up Iran’s role in the bombing of the center, which remains a Jewish landmark in the country.“I will not throw out of the window my history, the history of my family, the history of my government, the history of my friends who were killed during the dictatorship. I will not do that,” he said. “For what? To get what? Oil?”Nisman, who had led the investigation into the bombing since 2004, had concluded that Iran masterminded the attack in cooperation with the Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia.In 2007, at Nisman’s urging, the international police agency Interpol issued “red notices,” international arrest warrants, for Iranian suspects.Before his death, Nisman was preparing to allege that Fernà¡ndez and Timerman had secretly agreed to seek the withdrawal of the red notices as part of a publicly announced 2013 deal with Iran to establish a joint judicial panel between Argentina and Iran to interview suspects.Timerman vigorously disputed the claim, saying he opposes the idea personally and philosophically and had no legal authority to make such a request. He noted that the head of Interpol has publicly rejected the claim and said no Argentine official sought the withdrawal of the arrest warrants. The 2013 deal, Timerman said, was intended to provide a way to move the case forward given that Iranian law prohibits extradition and Argentine law does not allow for suspects to be tried in absentia.“That is why we decided it might be a possibility, maybe, to convince the Iranians, the government of Iran to allow the judge to go to Tehran to investigate suspects,” he said.He said the goal was to find a legal process to allow the case to proceed.“We are not going to put a bomb under the car of an Iranian,” he said – a veiled reference to the 2008 car bombing that killed Imad Mughniyah, the Hezbollah leader who was one of those Nisman had sought to charge in the Jewish center bombing. The Post recently reported that he was killed in a joint operation between Israel’s Mossad and the CIA.“The only thing in which Argentinians believe is in the judicial system,” Timerman said.Fernàndez, a colorful and controversial president, at first said she believed Nisman had committed suicide. Later, she said he had been murdered by elements of the Argentine intelligence community in an effort to discredit her government.Timerman declined to repeat those allegations. He said neither he nor Fernà¡ndez stood to gain from the death, which prevented Nisman from appearing before Argentina’s National Congress, where tough questions might have been lodged about his claims.“Who gained by having Mr. Nisman dead?” he asked. “Not me. Not the president.”2. LETTER TO THE EDITOR: ARGENTINA SEEKS ONLY JUSTICE (The Washington Post) by the Argentine Ambassador to the U.S.By Cecilia Nahon11 February 2015The Jan. 25 editorial “An Argentine mystery,” about the tragic death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, contained grave accusations against top Argentine officials based on unfounded speculation, not facts.Any claim that this government was involved in covering up the terrorist attack against the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) is baseless. The fight against international terrorism and impunity has been a pillar of the governments of President Cristina Fernà¡ndez de Kirchner and former president Néstor Kirchner. Their dedication to bringing truth and justice to the AMIA attack is unprecedented.The goal of the judicial cooperation agreement signed with Iran was to allow the Argentine judge to question the accused in Tehran.Ronald Noble, Interpol’s former secretary general, wrote to Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman: “in connection to the AMIA case, you stated that Interpol should keep the Red Notices in force. Your position and that of the Argentinean government was consistent and unwavering.”The facts contradict the alleged oil-for-grain plot: Argentina does not import Iranian oil (Argentine refineries cannot process it because of its sulfur content), while its exports to Iran are insignificant and managed by the private sector.In 2013, Argentina requested that the United States include the AMIA case in its renewed dialogue with Iran. Regarding the call for an independent probe, the investigations are conducted by Argentina’s independent judicial system with full cooperation from the executive branch. Beyond the families affected, no one stands to benefit more from truth and justice than the government and the people of Argentina.The writer is the Argentine ambassador to the United States.By Jonathan Gilbert11 February 2015BUENOS AIRES — The judge overseeing an investigation into the mysterious death of a federal prosecutor here last month has asked forensic experts to identify DNA traces found at his home, it was revealed on Tuesday.The prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was found dead of a gunshot wound last month at his apartment, hours before he was expected to talk to lawmakers about his accusations that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had conspired to derail his investigation into the fatal bombing of a Jewish community center here in 1994.In the case, which has convulsed Argentina, it is unclear whether Mr. Nisman committed suicide or was killed. Judge Fabiana Palmaghini said the DNA did not belong to Mr. Nisman. The traces were found on a coffee cup in the kitchen sink, according to local news reports.Diego Lagomarsino, an aide to Mr. Nisman, says he made himself coffee when he visited the prosecutor the day before he was found dead to take him a .22-caliber Bersa pistol. Mr. Lagomarsino, who is charged with lending Mr. Nisman the pistol, which fired the bullet that killed him, says Mr. Nisman had sought a weapon for protection. Until now, only Mr. Nisman’s DNA traces had been found on items taken from his apartment for laboratory tests.Local news media reported that tests found no gunpowder residue on Mr. Nisman’s hands, corroborating previous results. But ballistics experts say the Bersa pistol might not have left residue.4. LETTER TO THE EDITOR: ARGENTINA UPHOLDS VALUES OF PEACE, TRUTH AND JUSTICE (Financial Times) by the Argentine Ambassador to the U.K.February 9, 2015Sir, I have to disagree with John Paul Rathbone’s article “A democracy dented by mysterious murder” (Comment, February 6). Prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s tragic death, which is under judicial investigation, neither dents nor puts Argentina’s democracy at risk.As Argentines we have lived for many years under cruel military dictatorships — many of them supported by foreign powers — and we are well aware of the value of democracy. For the first time in Argentina’s history we have enjoyed 30 years of continuous democracy. Our democracy is young but not fragile.Mr Rathbone also states that “no Argentine” believes the case will be solved. This is a gross generalisation. As Mr Rathbone rightly points out, Argentina’s judiciary is independent. Our judicial system boasts a well established reputation for delivering justice in complex cases. A good example of this is the investigation and condemnation of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the last military junta. Argentina’s model of transitional justice has been recognised as an example by the international community, as has our government’s human rights policy.Mr Rathbone’s assertion that there is “a conspiracy” involving the Argentine state to prevent the case from being solved is entirely false: President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has taken all necessary steps to facilitate the judicial investigation, among them, the opening of all classified intelligence files possibly related to this investigation.To describe Argentina as a “flawed democracy” or a “rogue state” is a most groundless and offensive accusation. Our country is a dynamic and progressive democracy, as are all the democracies in our region, united in upholding the values of peace, truth and justice.Alicia CastroAmbassador of Argentina to the UKBy Eliana Raszewski10 February 2015BUENOS AIRES, Feb 10 (Reuters) – Argentina has failed to pay interest to holders of defaulted debt who agreed last year to receive payment locally instead of abroad in order to sidestep U.S. court rulings, an investor association said.The South American country tipped back into default in July after refusing to settle with a small group of U.S. hedge funds that were awarded full payment by a New York court on junk debt left over from Argentina’s 2002 default.Argentina responded in September by approving legislation to allow bondholders to receive interest payments via a state-run Argentine bank, in defiance of the U.S. court’s orders. The government said the move would fix the default.“We have bondholders in our group who entered into the restructuring and who have not been able to collect their coupon payments,” Horacio Vazquez, head of the Association of Victims of the Pesification and Default, told Reuters.The Argentine bank appointed to process the payments, Nacion Fideicomisos, did not reply to multiple phone calls and emails from Reuters seeking details. Officials at the Economy Ministry declined to comment when asked if any payments had been successfully completed.Experts had cautioned the debt payment initiative was fraught with massive legal and logistical hurdles. .On Tuesday, Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said the government would not cave in to the demands of the U.S. investors, which it denigrates as “vultures”.“What they’re demanding can’t be paid. You can’t mortgage the country like that,” Kicillof told Radio del Plata. “That’s not going to happen again, at least not under this government.”U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa has ordered Argentina pay the so-called “holdout” funds $1.33 billion – equivalent to 100 cents on the dollar – plus accrued interest.But the cash-strapped government is adamant it won’t better the terms of bond swaps in 2005 and 2010, which saw investors accept huge writedowns. The holdouts have scoffed at the offer.“While Mr. Kicillof ‘fiddles’ with political gamesmanship, the holdout debt grows by about $500 million per year, borrowing costs throughout the country are greatly elevated, and the economy spirals into recession,” said Mark Brodsky, chairman of Aurelius Capital Management, one of two funds spearheading the legal battle in New York.By Charlie DevereuxFebruary 10, 2015(Bloomberg) — Argentina won’t meet the demands of a group of holdouts from its 2001 default that won a New York court ruling ordering the South American nation to pay them in full, Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said today.The group of litigants led by billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management are “obstinate” and only offered Argentina a 15 percent discount on the $1.6 billion a New York-based judge ruled they are owed, Kicillof said today in a radio interview. Settling at those terms would trigger further demands from other holdouts, meaning Argentina could have to pay as much as $20 billion.“We can’t mortgage the country like they did in the ’90s which ended in the biggest bankruptcy in Argentine history,” Kicillof said on Radio Del Plata. “The president has said ‘not with this president’ and I agree with her.”U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Griesa has been blocking interest payments to holders of restructured bonds issued under foreign law since July when President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner refused to comply with his ruling. Kicillof said the legal conflict and default isn’t impairing access to financing.Still, with presidential elections scheduled for Oct. 25 and Fernandez unable to run for re-election, investors have held on to government bonds on the expectation the next administration will resolve the conflict. Restructured bonds due 2033, which are in default, are trading at 92.75 cents on the dollar, above the 83-cent average over the past year.A currency swap of $11 billion and long-term loans for infrastructure projects with China have given the country financial stability in spite of “apocalyptic” predictions made by the holdouts to spook Fernandez into paying, Kicillof said.‘Rotten Fish’“They are throwing rotten fish to see if the president or the minister or someone gets spooked and pays the millions they are demanding, which isn’t going to work,” Kicillof said. “We have long-term credit that we’re going to use to build houses, to build wind parks, to build reservoirs, ports and roads.”Mark Brodsky, chairman of Aurelius Capital Management, a hedge fund involved in the litigation against Argentina, said in a statement today that the government’s unwillingness to cooperate with the holdouts is putting the economy at risk.“Like the Roman Emperor Nero and his fiddling, Mr. Kicillof seems so preoccupied with speech-making that he makes no effort to prevent a serious problem from getting much worse,” Brodsky said in an e-mail. “While Mr. Kicillof ‘fiddles’ with political gamesmanship, the hold-out debt grows by about $500 million per year, borrowing costs throughout the country are greatly elevated, and the economy spirals into recession.”By Charles Newbery10 February 2015Buenos Aires (Platts)–10Feb2015/1044 am EST/1544 GMT Argentina’s natural gas imports rose 28% to 24.8 million cubic meters/d in December, compared with 19.4 million cu m/d in the same month of 2013, while crude imports fell to zero over the same period, the Energy Secretariat said Tuesday.The imported gas supplies, which accounted for one-fifth of the 126 million cu m/d average consumption, were up from 20.9 million cu m/d in November, the Energy Secretariat said in a monthly data report.Argentina, which relies on gas to meet half of its energy needs, imports supplies by pipeline from Bolivia and LNG from global suppliers.Bolivian gas imports fell to 15.1 million cu m/d in December from 15.2 million cu m/d in December 2013, and were up compared with 14.2 million cu m/d in November.LNG imports rose to 9.7 million cu m/d in December from 4.2 million cu m/d in the year-earlier period and 6.7 million cu m/d in November.Argentina has been boosting gas imports as domestic production declines after a decade of limited exploration, maturing reserves and few finds. Gas production dropped 20% to an average of 114 million cu m/d in 2014 from a record 143.1 million cu m/d in 2004, Energy Secretariat data shows.Consumption surged 33% to an average of 126 million cu m/d in 2014 from 2013 on a growing economy and price controls that have made gas the cheapest source of energy in the country, according to the national statistics agency Indec.Argentina plans to ramp up Bolivian gas imports to 27.7 million cu m/d in 2017 as more pipeline capacity comes online.LIQUID IMPORTSThe Energy Secretariat said no crude was imported in December, compared with 6,712 b/d in the year-earlier period and 4,992 b/d in November.Argentina had not imported crude for years until 2012, when it had to turn to overseas suppliers to make up for dwindling domestic production, in particular during times of higher demand in the May to September cold season and the December to February crop harvest period and summer holidays. Crude production fell 37% to 532,000 b/d in 2014 from a record 847,000 b/d in 1998, according to the Argentine Oil and Gas Institute, an industry group.Refinor, a smaller refiner in the north of the country, handled the crude imports in all of the periods.Diesel imports rose to an average of 30,738 b/d in December compared with 21,135 b/d in November, while those of gasoline rose to 2,232 b/d in December compared with zero in November, according to the report. The secretariat did not provide year-on-year comparisons for these products.
The Nisman murder and the AMIA terror bombing: A tangled thread
- 5 min read
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’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)
The Uses of Torture
Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
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.
2. A LONG-UNSOLVED TERRORISM CASE, WRAPPED IN A MYSTERY; IN ARGENTINA, PROSECUTOR’S DEATH ADDS LAYER OF UNCERTAINTY (Los Angeles Times)10. INDEPENDENT ARGENTINE PANEL CRITICIZES MEXICAN PROBE OF MISSING STUDENTS; REPORT FINDS IRREGULARITIES IN GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATION (The Wall Street Journal Online)By Simon Romero8 February 2015BUENOS 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 Kraul8 February 2015Three 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 bombingOn 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 investigationNisman, 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 complicationsThe 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 investigationThe 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.By Matt Sheehan02/07/2015Every 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.By Simon Romero7 February 2015The 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.By Benedict ManderFebruary 6, 2015A 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.By Evan OsnosFebruary 6, 2015During 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.”6 February 2015Despite 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 sharplyIn 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 transfersTotal 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.6 February 2015Fact sheetAnnual data 2014a Historical averages (%) 2010-14Population (m) 42.7 Population growth 1.2GDP (US$ bn; market exchange rate) 526.3 Real GDP growth 4.1GDP (US$ bn; purchasing power parity)887.7 Real domestic demand growth 5.5GDP per head (US$; market exchange rate) 12,335 Inflation 26.1GDP per head (US$; purchasing power parity) 20,803 Current-account balance (%of GDP) -0.4Exchange rate (av) Ps:US$ 8.1b FDI inflows (% of GDP) 1.8a 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 totalProcessed agricultural products 35.5 Intermediate goods 26.4Manufactures 34.9 Capital goods 16.5Primary 22.9 Fuels 15.3Fuel and energy 6.7 Consumer goods 10.1Leading markets 2013 % of total Leading suppliers 2013 % of totalBrazil 20.2 Brazil 29.2China 6.8 US 15.2US 5.3 China 13.0Chile 4.4 Germany 4.86 February 2015Argentina: Country OutlookFROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNITPOLITICAL 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 Córdoba8 February 2015MEXICO 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.
1. EX-SPY CHIEF CALLED TO TESTIFY IN INVESTIGATION OF ARGENTINE PROSECUTOR’S DEATH (The New York Times)7. ARGENTINE INVESTIGATORS SEEK EX-SPY CHIEF TO TESTIFY IN CASE OF PROSECUTOR’S MYSTERIOUS DEATH (US News & World Report)13. THE US HAD TIES TO AN ARGENTINE TERROR INVESTIGATION THAT ENDED WITH A PROSECUTOR’S MYSTERIOUS DEATH (Quartz Online)19. CHINA EMERGES AS LENDER OF LAST RESORT FOR AILING LATIN AMERICAN ECONOMIES (The Washington Post)1. EX-SPY CHIEF CALLED TO TESTIFY IN INVESTIGATION OF ARGENTINE PROSECUTOR’S DEATH (The New York Times)By Simon RomeroFeb. 5, 2015BUENOS AIRES — 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, summoned an ousted spy chief to testify in the case on Thursday.But Antonio Stiusso, a former spymaster at Argentina’s premier intelligence agency, appeared to be resisting the summons. 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, said in comments broadcast on local radio, referring to his client’s four-decade career at the Intelligence Secretariat as one of the country’s most powerful spies. He said he did not expect Mr. Stiusso to testify on Thursday.Testimony by Mr. Stiusso could shed light on the circumstances around 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 a hand in the events surrounding the prosecutor’s death.Viviana Fein, the lead investigator in 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. Mr. Blanco Bermúdez could not be reached immediately for comment on the developments.Mr. Nisman had been investigating the 1994 attack on the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, run by the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, which left 85 people dead.Days before his death, Mr. Nisman had 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 if 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 his 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 which were used by various people.” The lawyer said he could not dismiss the possibility that one of those phones was used by someone with access to 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 contended “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 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 before his death, easing concerns that it would languish in Argentina’s legal system.Ms. Fein confirmed that Mr. Nisman had drafted a request for arrest warrants for 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 week.Charles Newbery and Jonathan Gilbert contributed reporting.By John Paul RathboneFebruary 5, 2015No Argentine believes this conspiracy will be solved, writes John Paul RathboneTruth can be stranger than fiction. Ever since Alberto Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment, Argentina — or, more precisely, the government of Cristina Fernández — has proved the wisdom of the proverb. You could not make this story up.Three weeks ago, Nisman was preparing for the defining moment of his career. On January 19, the 51-year old prosecutor was set to accuse the president of covering up Iran’s alleged role in Argentina’s worst terrorist attack: a 1994 bombing that killed 85 people. A few hours before the congressional hearing, Nisman’s mother found her son lying in a pool of blood.At first, Ms Fernández suggested Nisman’s death was suicide. Then, in a rambling Facebook post, she suggested it was a murder, at the hand of rogue spies wanting to discredit her.“In Argentina . . . every day you have to explain the obvious and the simple,” she wrote wearily, adding: “in Argentina, like everywhere, not everything is what it seems”. Few leaders can match such sarcasm.Conspiracy theories are thickening. Officials blame “dark interests”. Yet most of the conspiracy theories are fed by the state itself.On Sunday, Clarín, a newspaper that has clashed repeatedly with the president, reported that Nisman had also drafted a warrant for her arrest. The government rubbished the report and, on television, the cabinet chief ripped it up. The next day, it transpired the article was true: a draft of the warrant was found in Nisman’s garbage.Argentines remain understandably suspicious of their intelligence services, which are little changed since the military dictatorship ended in 1983. That means Ms Fernández’s idea that rogue spies planned Nisman’s death is not entirely implausible. Yet that does not make Ms Fernández a credible reformer of Argentina’s spy services, the mantle she claimed in an hour-long television broadcast on January 26.After all, long experience has also made Argentines wary of government lies — over almost everything, but particularly corruption and inflation. The government, acting as if it is holier than Mother Teresa, has always batted away such allegations.“No Argentine believes this conspiracy will be solved, because of the complicity of so many sectors”But now, trapped by its own mistakes, it can no longer disguise reality with words. Nobody suggests Ms Fernández orchestrated Nisman’s death. But her government’s actions suggest that it is scared and perhaps hiding something too. Ms Fernández’s behaviour has not helped. She is yet to offer condolences to Nisman’s family. On Wednesday, on a trip to China, she also mocked her hosts’ accents by swapping l’s for r’s, remarking that humour was the best reaction to slurs.Now the spotlight is on Argentina’s judiciary. It is slow, inefficient, perhaps corrupt, but still enjoys silos of competence and legal expertise. Indeed, its independence is one reason why Argentina is not as messed up as Venezuela, despite Ms Fernández’s best efforts to control it (she is a lawyer).Two years ago, for example, Ms Fernández proposed a reform that would have seen the panel that chooses Argentine judges selected by popular vote. This would supposedly “democratise” the legal system. In reality, it would have put it in thrall to ruling politicians. In the end, the courts threw out the initiative, as they did a government-sponsored accord with Tehran over the 1994 terrorist attack.One does not have to look far for reasons why Ms Fernández might want to stack the judiciary in her favour. Her personal wealth has grown exponentially since she and her deceased husband came to power in 2003. In 2013, according to the latest filing, her wealth grew 15 per cent to $6.6m. But her presidency ends this year, she cannot seek re-election and, stripped of immunity, that could leave her legally exposed. Ms Fernández’s actions give critics further cause for suspicion.One solution now might be to bring in a credible team of independent experts to investigate Nisman’s death — and the 1994 bombing too. Mexico brought in Argentine forensic experts to investigate the death of 43 students this year. Similarly, a UN-backed commission investigated the mysterious death of a Guatemalan judge in 2009. Buenos Aires has not made a similar move.The result is a murder conspiracy that nobody believes will ever be properly solved because of the complicity of so many sectors: the state, the presidency, the judiciary, Congress and the intelligence services. The story exemplifies that notion that Argentina, 32 years after the demise of the military junta, remains at best a flawed democracy and at worst a rogue state.By Aaron RutkoffFebruary 5, 2015The president of Argentina apparently forgot that it’s not smart to make fun of the people who are bailing out your country.Next time, Christina Fernández de Kirchner might want to listen to her doctors.The Argentine president, already mired in a furor at home over the mysterious death of a prosecutor who had accused her of graft, posted a message on Twitter during her visit to Beijing that mimicked a stereotypical Chinese accent, asking about “lice” instead of “rice” and “petloleum” rather than petroleum. It tuns out that Fernandez went to China even though her physicians had told her not to travel because of her bum ankle, according to the official China Daily newspaper. She told her hosts she could barely walk before her visit.Still, there was no stopping her China travel plans—and that’s due in no small part to China’s huge role in Argentina’s economy. “I came out of my desire to be here with you,” Fernández said in Beijing, “with our partners who are coming to sign agreements.” China’s official news agency decided the best strategy was to avoid the embarrassing story in its coverage. Fernández met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said afterwards he was “even more confident of the outlook for China-Argentine relations,” according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency.Making fun of the Chinese is especially dangerous for Fernández, given the Chinese appetite for one of Argentina’s most important exports—soybeans. China is the one overseas buyer for soybeans that really matters, accounting for 73 percent of the market among major importers. China’s imports surged 17.5 percent last year, to 70 million metric tons, and are likely to increase another 5.2 percent in 2015.Argentina, the world’s third-biggest grower of soybeans, exported just under 8 million metric tons worldwide last year.Argentina’s farmers can’t afford a spat with the Chinese government, which has already shown a readiness to use them as a pawn in a trade war. In 2010, China banned imports of Argentine soybean oil over worries about solvent residues. It didn’t help matters that the two countries also were squabbling about other industries, such as textiles and kitchen products. China eventually relented, and the country is now Argentina’s second-largest trading partner, after Brazil.Another dispute would be costly, given Argentina’s current weakness. Exports of Argentine soybean oil dropped 3.5 percent last year, although the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects them to rebound in 2015. Total exports of soybeans gained only 1.3 percent last year, and the forecast for this year doesn’t look much better.China is also helping to keep Argentina’s precarious finances in order. When Xi visited Buenos Aires last July, just before the latest default by Argentina, the Chinese leader signed a deal to establish an $11 billion swap agreement. The Argentines have been taking advantage of that generosity, drawing close to $3 billion since then. An official from the Argentine central bank told Bloomberg last month that the country would turn again to China, increasing its foreign exchange reserves by $400 million. The deal “helped to reduce the perception that the country may be heading to yet another currency run,” Goldman Sachs economic Mauro Roca wrote in December.Argentina isn’t the only country in South America benefiting from Chinese generosity. Hurt because of the falling price of commodities—a plunge driven in part by the slowdown in the Chinese economy—both Venezuela and Ecuador have also received funds from China to prop up their foreign-exchange reserves. China has provided them a combined $27.5 billion in funding and investment, Bloomberg reported last month.Given that sort of money from China, it’s easy to see why the same day Fernández posted her accent-mocking message on Twitter, she also told Xi of Argentina’s interest in increasing the amount of its currency swap with China, according to Xinhua. All joking aside, Argentina’s leader understands how much her country needs China’s help.By Charlie DevereuxFebruary 5, 2015(Bloomberg) — Argentine authorities can’t locate the former spy chief at the center of an investigation into the death of a prosecutor who accused President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of an attempted cover up.Prosecutors accompanied by intelligence agents weren’t able to find Antonio Stiuso at three addresses registered to his name, Intelligence Secretary Oscar Parrilli said. Stiuso, who worked his way up through the intelligence agency over four decades before his departure last month, was summoned to testify on Thursday by the prosecutor investigating the death of Alberto Nisman from a shot to the head Jan. 18.Even Stiuso’s lawyer says he doesn’t know where his client is.“I think he’s in the country but I’m not certain,” Santiago Blanco Bermudez said in an interview on Argentine television channel TN.Fernandez accused Stiuso of feeding Nisman false information after the prosecutor prepared a 300-page report saying the president sought to cover up the alleged involvement of Iranian officials in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. The government has lifted a confidentiality gag on Stiuso if he’s questioned by investigators, Parrilli said Thursday.‘Tell Everything’“The president wants the whole truth to be known and for Stiuso to tell everything,” Parrilli told reporters in Buenos Aires.Blanco Bermudez said he has met with Stiuso since Nisman’s death and that his client is willing to testify. Talking to his client can be problematic though as Stiuso has almost 100 telephone numbers to his name and he often communicates through third parties, Blanco Bermudez said.Nisman was found dead in his apartment a day before he was due to present his evidence against President Fernandez to lawmakers. A draft document calling for the detention of Fernandez and members of her government was found in Nisman’s apartment following his death, prosecutor Viviana Fein said this week.Under a memorandum of understanding in 2013, Fernandez and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman would push for Interpol to remove “red notices” against some former Iranian officials charged for their involvement in the terrorist attack in exchange for greater trade, Nisman said in his report. A red notice is a request to authorities abroad for help arresting and extraditing wanted persons.In a letter published on her website Jan. 22, Fernandez said she had no doubt that Nisman was fed false information and then murdered to tarnish her government.“They used him while alive and then needed him dead. It’s that sad and terrible,” she wrote in a statement on her website. “The real operation against the government was the death of the prosecutor.”By Sarah Marsh and Richard LoughFeb 5, 2015BUENOS AIRES, Feb 5 (Reuters) – Argentine investigators summoned a former spy chief for questioning over the death of a state prosecutor who alleged the country’s president had tried to cover up his investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center, Argentine media reported.Alberto Nisman was found dead in his flat on Jan. 18, a day before he was due to testify about his claim that President Cristina Fernandez tried to whitewash his findings that Iran was behind the attack in order to win economic favours from Tehran.Iran vigorously denied involvement in the bombing and Fernandez branded Nisman’s findings absurd. She said Nisman was duped by rogue agents involved in a power struggle at the Argentine spy agency, and killed when he was no longer of value to them.One of those spies was Antonio Stiusso, Fernandez has said.Stiusso, fired during a December shake-up of the Intelligence Secretariat, or SI, had helped Nisman with his investigation of the bombing which killed 85 people.Anibal Fernandez, the president’s chief of staff, declined to confirm Thursday if Stiusso had been called for questioning. Asked if he thought Stiusso would appear before investigators, Fernandez told reporters: “I suppose he has to otherwise he will find himself in an uncomfortable position.”A spokesman in the office of the lead investigator, Viviana Fein, said he had received no official confirmation from Fein of a summons for Stiusso.It remains unclear whether Nisman killed himself or was murdered. Conspiracy theories abound, with some pointing directly at the president.No arrests have been made since President Fernandez’s remark two weeks ago that renegade spies were behind the prosecutor’s death.Stiusso’s whereabouts were unknown.“Legally he is in Argentina,” Anibal Fernandez said. “But I don’t know if he has left the country illegally.”Citing sources close to the investigation into Nisman’s death, Argentine news agency DyN and the daily La Nacion said Stiusso had been called to testify at 11:00 a.m. (1400 GMT) in Buenos Aires.Fein called upon him to testify after checking calls received and made on Nisman’s telephone before his death, both media outlets reported.For years, Stiusso had been one of the most powerful and feared men in the SI. The agency played an important role in the military government’s “dirty war” against suspected Marxist rebels, union leaders and other leftists in the 1970s.Since democracy was restored in 1983, successive governments are widely believed to have continued to use the agency to snoop on opponents.By Ed AdamczykFeb 5, 2015She referred to “rice and petroleum” as “lice and petloleum.”BEIJING, Feb. 5 (UPI) — Argentine President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, after mocking Chinese accents on social media, was the subject of ridicule herself from angry social media users.Fernandez, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping Wednesday in Beijing to boost economic ties between the two countries. She later attended a trade event and wrote, in Spanish on her Twitter account, “More than 1,000 participants at the event…Are they all from the Campola and in it only for the lice and petloleum?”She referred to her political party’s youth group and its reputation for attending events only for the drinks and food, but her light-hearted mention of the perceived inability of the Chinese to pronounce the letters “r” and “l” sparked a torrent of complaints by Chinese and Argentine social media users.“Cristina Fernandez’s lack of judgment and respect is incredible. She goes to China looking for (business) agreements and she makes fun of their accents,” wrote one. “If you want to be funny, do it in an intelligent way,” wrote another.In an attempt to calm the storm, Argentine Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich said in Buenos Aires her comment was a “sign of affection that recognizes the ties that have been built with China.”Although her trip was overshadowed by the Twitter controversy, Fernandez and Xi signed 15 agreements, on issues including nuclear energy and enhanced cooperation in a number of economic sectors, during her four-day state visit.The Chinese government offered no comment on what one Twitter user called Fernandez’s “stupid mistake.”7. ARGENTINE INVESTIGATORS SEEK EX-SPY CHIEF TO TESTIFY IN CASE OF PROSECUTOR’S MYSTERIOUS DEATH (US News & World Report)By Peter PrengamanFebruary 5, 2015BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The spy novel-like drama that has gripped Argentina since the mysterious death of President Cristina Fernandez’s nemesis took a critical new twist Thursday when investigators called one of the country’s most enigmatic spy chiefs to testify before them.The testimony by Antonio Stiuso, who was dismissed in December and whose whereabouts were unknown, could be key to determining whether Fernandez is able to survive the storm in the waning months of her presidency, or whether the deepening scandal will swamp her administration.Stiuso, a shadowy intelligence agent known by the name “Jaime,” had assisted prosecutor Alberto Nisman in his investigation of the unsolved bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center in 1994. A report Nisman submitted to a federal judge in January accused Fernandez of agreeing to shield the alleged masterminds of the attack, former Iranian officials, in exchange for oil and other trade benefits.But Nisman was found shot dead Jan. 18, hours before he was to appear in Congress to detail his allegations.Without naming Stiuso specifically, Fernandez has suggested rogue intelligence agents played a role in the death and, last week, she urged Congress to disband the agency.“The government is trying to regain control of the narrative and this is part of it,” said Maria Victoria Murillo, an expert in Latin American politics at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “The whole thing is like a spy novel and he’s a spy, so it makes sense for the government to put him at the center of the story.”Fernandez, who on Thursday wrapped up an official visit in China, has come under increasing heat since Nisman’s death, with conspiracy theories flourishing around the case. Although the prosecutor was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in the bathroom of his apartment, even she has rejected the initial finding that he committed suicide.Nisman had feared for his safety and 10 federal police officers were assigned to protect himStiuso, who press reports say ran a vast wire-tapping operation, is said to have been one of the most powerful people in the country, a figure similar to the controversial former head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover.Most Argentines, however, would be unable to recognize him. He keeps a very low profile and the only image circulated of him is a once-classified black and white photo of a young-looking man released a decade ago by one of his foes.Now in his 60s, Stiuso joined the agency, formerly known as the Secretary of State Information, in 1972, working through the “Dirty War” years of the military junta dictatorship in the 1970s and then alongside every administration since the return of democracy in 1983.People who have crossed him have not fared well.In 2004, then Justice Minister Gustavo Beliz said during a television interview that Stiuso was a “dangerous” man who frequently broke the law. Soon after that, Beliz was forced to resign.“Stiuso is an excellent professional,” Miguel Angel Toma, the former head of the Secretary of Intelligence, told The Associated Press. “I never gave him an order to do anything illegal and he never made me presume that he did these kind of (illegal) activities on his own.”Stiuso had collaborated with Nisman during the 10-year investigation of the bombing, which killed 85 people. The spy chief was removed from his post by Fernandez in December.The president has suggested Stiuso fed false information to Nisman that implicated her and her top officials in a cover-up of the bombing. Fernandez has denied any wrongdoing.Viviana Fein, the lead investigator into Nisman’s death, called Thursday for Stiuso to appear to testify, said Oscar Parrilli, the secretary of intelligence.Officials, however, have not located Stiuso. His lawyer, Santiago Blanco Bermudez, told Radio Vorterix on Thursday that Stiuso had yet to receive a summons, but would appear when he is formally called.“It’s his obligation as a citizen and former public official,” Blanco Bermudez said.By law, intelligence officials are prohibited from disclosing state secrets. But, Parrilli said, Fernandez would present an order exempting Stiuso from the restriction, clearing the way for him to speak about anything.“The president wants all the truth to be known, and wants Stiuso to tell us everything, from 1972 until now,” Parrilli told reporters outside Congress.While Fernandez has cast aspersions on Stiuso and his intelligence colleagues, bringing him to testify could potentially backfire on the president and her supporters as her party tries to position itself for October elections. Fernandez is prohibited from running for a third term.The case Nisman built against Fernandez is proceeding despite his death. On Wednesday, it was assigned to federal Judge Daniel Rafecas, who was expected to review it later this month. Rafecas was appointed to the bench by President Nestor Kirchner, Fernandez’s late husband.“The case doesn’t need to be strong,” said Martin Bohmer, a legal expert and former dean of the law school at the University of San Andres. “It just needs to be strong enough to start an investigation, and can become stronger from there.”By Dovid Margolin9 February 2015Buenos AiresThe sudden death on January 18 of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, shot in the head at close range just hours before he was to have offered damning testimony against President Christina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, is the latest twist in a long-running mass-murder mystery. The saga began on July 18, 1994, when a white Renault van loaded with explosives slammed into the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building on Pasteur Street in the center of the city. The blast leveled the seven-story building, killing 85 and injuring more than 300. It came just two years after the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed, with 29 killed. Immediate suspicion fell on Iran, accused of working through Hezbollah with local contacts. But in the decades since, presidents have come and gone, investigation after investigation has taken place, yet nobody has ever been convicted. Justice has never been served.Argentina’s Jewish community, centered in Buenos Aires, numbers around 250,000 people. It is mostly made up of the children and grandchildren of Jews who fled the pogroms and economic hardships of Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century, or those who came two generations later, as the Nazis rose to and fell from power in Europe. Argentina, in the minds of those early Jewish immigrants, was a faraway land, a place so exotic and distant from the ones they were leaving that they could begin their lives anew. Even today Buenos Aires feels isolated; it is an 11-hour plane ride to New York, even further to Europe and Israel. World events always seemed to happen elsewhere.Until the AMIA bombing.“It was a shock for all of us here,” explains Karina Falkon, a psychologist who lives in Buenos Aires. “It showed us how connected we were to the rest of the Jewish world. They showed everyone that when they want to hurt us, they can do it here, too.”Falkon had lived in Israel in the early 1990s, so she recognized the sound she heard on that July morning as an explosion. She and friends ran to the site to see how they could help. “At night we tried to save the books from the building—the police officially didn’t let us, but we were collecting them so that they could somehow get preserved.”AMIA is the umbrella for all Jewish organizations in Argentina, and the blast brought devastation to nearly every segment of the Jewish community, from secular to religious. All who were old enough remember where they were that day.Rabbi Tzvi Grunblatt has headed Chabad-Lubavitch of Argentina since 1978. Chabad, a Hasidic Jewish outreach organization with over 4,000 representatives all over the world, is one of the largest Jewish groups in Argentina, with more than 52 centers, including schools, synagogues, and social service organizations spread throughout the country. Its headquarters on Aguero Street is less than two kilometers from the AMIA building.“I was here in my house,” Grunblatt recalls of that day. “I had just arrived back from New York. I went to pray in the morning and then I got back home and I went to lie down because I was exhausted after traveling. I woke up when I heard the bomb.”With memories of the Israeli embassy attack still fresh, Grunblatt called his office at Chabad headquarters to find out what happened. “They told me, ‘The building of AMIA does not exist anymore. There was an explosion and the building just disappeared.’“Everyone was affected. A member of my community’s mother was killed. Another member was passing through the building to pay for his father’s gravestone—his father passed away earlier that month—he was paying for the gravestone and got killed. We have a young man whose father worked as security there, he was also killed. It was a great hit for the entire community.”“We were all there digging for days,” adds Grunblatt’s wife, Shterna. “It was just devastating.”Today, concrete security barriers guard every Jewish center in Buenos Aires. They all have security guards as well, with the higher-profile centers employing Israeli-trained professionals.The rebuilt AMIA building—which also houses the offices of DAIA, Argentine Jewry’s political umbrella organization—is an impregnable fortress, a monument to the precautions the Jewish community has been forced to take since the attack. Set far back from the bustling street, the front entrance to the compound is a single, nondescript steel door in a protective wall. Peering through dark sunglasses, two Israeli security guards monitor and question each person going in or out.When I arrived in mid-December to interview an AMIA official, I handed over my ID to the guards, then was instructed to stand behind two lines of yellow tape on the sidewalk, under a large black metal sign bearing the names of all of the bombing’s victims. Fifteen minutes later I was allowed in. After going through a metal detector and a number of enormous security doors with red and green lights signaling me to stay put or move forward, I was finally in the building’s courtyard, which is dominated by a memorial to the victims designed by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam.My purpose was to ask about Argentina’s continuing negotiations with Iran. These talks were agreed to in January 2013, when, on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, the foreign ministers of Argentina and Iran signed a Memorandum of Understanding that called for a joint “truth” commission to investigate the AMIA bombing. At the time, the move was condemned by AMIA’s leadership, Israel’s foreign ministry, and major American Jewish organizations.To be sure, the Argentine investigation into the attack had been mishandled for years; a new start was needed. But Argentina’s decision to invite Iran—which had been formally charged by Nisman, together with Hezbollah, in 2006—to participate in an investigation of its own alleged actions seemed positively sinister.If I had expected the official I interviewed (who asked not to be named) to express disapproval and anger about the Memorandum of Understanding—as Argentine Jews do regularly in private—I was wrong. The years without justice, but full of bungled court proceedings, cover-ups, and misdirection, complicated by ever-present local corruption, whispers of government intimidation, and charges of obstruction of justice against various political figures, in addition to the negotiations with Iran, have left the Argentine Jewish community in a state of fear.“The relationship between the government and the Jewish community is a respectful one,” the official began, measuring his words. “Whatever we decide to work on together we work on together. We understand very well that there is interest on the part of the Argentine government to reach the truth and to come to the results of who is responsible. One of the tools to be used is the Memorandum, and the Jewish community of Argentina does not feel the proper way to reach the solution is through collaborating with the potential perpetrators.”As he spoke it became increasingly clear that this was not a disingenuous bureaucrat, but a Jewish community official who, knowing full well what his government was capable of, was protecting himself and his community. Now, in the light of Nisman’s death as he was about to accuse the president and foreign minister of conspiring to cover up Iran’s involvement in the bombing in exchange for positive trade relations, the official’s caution appears abundantly justified.“I believe that the Argentine government and the world really do want to know the truth,” the official continued. “But it’s not the job of the Jewish community to find the answer, it’s the obligation of the government that’s responsible to run this country. The Jewish community can help, can support, think together with them, but we can’t lead this investigation. The Argentine government is the only one that can do it.”Because of the Argentine government’s entanglement in the cover-up of Iran’s suspected crimes, the circumstances in Argentina are darker and more dangerous than anything we face in the United States. But there is still a lesson to be taken from Argentina’s negotiations with Iran. The Jewish community, victim of an atrocity, has been reduced to self-censorship and mumbled platitudes to express its displeasure at Argentina’s friendly dealings with its attacker.In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama said: “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies—including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.”Does Obama’s call for further negotiations with Iran, like the Argentine-Iranian Memorandum of Understanding, place Israel in a position of danger? Does it undermine America’s own security by showing softness and creating new targets?“It’s always dangerous not to know the truth,” were the AMIA official’s parting words. “When the people who made the worst attack ever [on Argentine soil] aren’t brought to justice, that leaves Argentina scared of more attacks. There is a sense that, because nothing was done about the previous attack, there won’t be peace.”When a government assigned to protect its people by investigating crimes and bringing the perpetrators to justice switches roles and becomes a friendly negotiator with the likely criminal, the victims are vulnerable and frightened. Contemplating events in Argentina, it is impossible not to wonder whether Obama is leading the United States and its allies down a similar path.Dovid Margolin writes on international affairs for Chabad.org and is the director of Hebrew literacy at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute in New York.By J. Robinson5 Feb 2015Argentine LNG imports in December and January marked the lowest monthly volumes on record going back to 2010, data from Platts unit Bentek Energy showed Thursday.In December, Argentina imported 244,880 cubic meters of LNG. In January, import volume totaled just 228,706 cu m. While the summer months of December and January are traditionally a time of low gas demand in Argentina, imports of LNG this season were down 55.7% and 59.4% respectively, from the year-ago period.Gas sendout rates in early January at Argentina’s two import terminals in Escobar and Bahia Blanca were at zero, according to one South America-based market observer.“In the midst of summer gas demand for heating is nil,” the source said. “A mild summer has also kept residential electricity demand for air conditioning low, keeping power generation demand in check.”Beyond the seasonal impact on gas demand, a weakening economy combined with high inflation has also reduced demand for natural gas from the industrial sector where consumption is on the decline, the South American source said.Argentina’s ability to pay for LNG imports has also been crippled by the nation’s default on an estimated $20 billion in debt obligations in late July.Dwindling foreign currency reserves contributed to the delayed the import of at least eight LNG carriers from September to October last year. Those delays, some of which lasted as long as four weeks, increased market-perceived risk of selling LNG supplies to Argentina.Even in the current bearish-market environment, Argentina would likely be required to pay a price premium for LNG imports, according to various market sources.By Frida GhitisFeb. 5, 2015On Jan. 8, Chinese President Xi Jinping strode into a meeting room in Beijing for an unprecedented gathering. The audience was filled with Latin American dignitaries, including three presidents, one prime minister and countless Cabinet members from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).It was the first official high-level gathering of the China-CELAC Forum, and Xi expressed his appreciation. “Your presence,” he told his audience, “has brought warmth to Beijing in the depth of winter.”Xi vowed to double Chinese trade with Latin America to half a trillion dollars and raise direct Chinese investment in the region to $250 billion within 10 years.The magnitude of the investments under discussion at that event, as in other bilateral encounters, is staggering. Billion-dollar numbers are thrown around as if they amounted to run-of-the-mill investments.One might be tempted to dismiss Xi’s figure as hyperbole, considering that just a decade ago Chinese investments in the area totaled a mere $231 million, or one one-thousandth of the goal for a decade from now. But China is dead serious, and it is well on its path to achieving that goal, with all the political and strategic benefits it would entail.Beijing, which lies some 10,000 miles away from Latin America, has made a move into the region with intensity and determination, a process that serves to highlight, among other things, Washington’s perennial tendency to become distracted from its own hemisphere.Whether U.S. officials are occupied with the Middle East, planning for a pivot to Asia or focused on Western European allies, Latin America—which for the most part is chugging along on its way to becoming a major economic power—tends to receive little attention from Washington.Beijing, on the other hand, could not be more attentive.Top officials regularly visit Latin capitals and host their counterparts. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is in Beijing this week. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro made the tour last week. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was there the week before that.China has become a source of massive alternative financing, particularly for countries that have defaulted on their loans to Western creditors and have been shut out of traditional credit markets. While Chinese banks make huge loans and help finance infrastructure programs, Chinese firms, many owned by the state, are buying up production and even the means of production.In Ecuador, for example, Correa defaulted on the country’s sovereign debt in 2008. Since then, he has borrowed heavily from China. As the billions have rolled in over the years, Ecuador, an OPEC member, has promised an ever-growing portion of its future oil output to Beijing.Last November, the head of the national oil company, PetroEcuador, traveled to Beijing to negotiate yet another multibillion-dollar loan. With the crash in oil prices, Correa rushed to Beijing this month to secure an additional $5.3 billion.In exchange for the funds, Ecuador has committed to selling most of its oil output to China until the year 2020.One of China’s most controversial—and mysterious—investments is the transoceanic canal in Nicaragua, whose price tag, at $50 billion, is four times larger than Nicaragua’s entire economy.There has even been talk of another canal in Colombia, this one a “dry canal” linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans by rail.Less spectacular but also enormously ambitious projects financed or engineered by China can be found throughout the region. Chinese companies are partnering with Argentina in the construction of hydroelectric plants and a national railway network, even as they extend credit lines to the government. Chinese firms are mining lithium in Bolivia, helping develop new mining complexes in Peru and, rather awkwardly, standing at the center of a massive corruption scandal in Mexico.A consortium led by the China Railways Construction firm was set to start building a $3.7 billion high-speed rail between Mexico City and the center of the country. But then it was revealed that the bid, which was financed almost entirely by the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China, was rife with irregularities. Mexico’s leading opposition party says that the bidding process was a sham and that individuals close to President Enrique Pena Nieto stood to rake in vast profits. The contract was subsequently canceled and a new tender relaunched last month, before the Mexican government finally decided to scrap the project over the weekend.It’s not the first time that deals with Chinese firms have included questionable stipulations. An umbrella agreement with Argentina gives China exclusive rights to lead a number of projects without any public bidding.By some estimates, China has loaned more than $100 billion to Latin American countries. Its trade totals with the region are about to overtake Europe’s, which stand at roughly $250 billion per year.Despite the halting interest in Washington, the U.S. remains by far Latin America’s primary trading partner, with more than $1.8 trillion in annual trade. With or without participation by Washington, the free market is keeping the relationship strong. Latin America is a pivotal economic partner for the U.S., and that is not about to change any time soon.The question is whether China’s keen interest in Latin America comprises anything more than a lively mercantile matter.China’s most immediate goal is to secure the raw materials it needs for continued economic growth. To be sure, there are many who see China’s highly assertive foray into the Western Hemisphere as a win-win—with no losers.Others, however, worry that the expanding ties are not a natural product of business development but a national policy, spearheaded by the top echelon of China’s Communist Party.Economic ties inescapably affect political ties. There is much talk of military and strategic links between China and its new Latin American friends. The United Kingdom, for example, may note that Buenos Aires could have a new powerful ally on the issue of the Falkland Islands, claimed by Argentina as the Malvinas.And the Nicaragua canal, if brought to completion, would give China a pivotal strategic, not just commercial, position in the Western Hemisphere.For now, China has kept the visible focus sharply on commerce. But the speed of its ascent in Latin America is one more reason for U.S. policymakers to remember what the often seem to forget: Latin America matters much more than its place on Washington’s priority list seems to suggest.By Dimitra DeFotisFeb 5, 2015Two decades have passed since 80 people at a Buenos Aires Jewish center died in a bomb attack linked to terrorists from the Middle East.Yet there has been no justice. And after an attorney was found dead in mid-January, hours before he was to present evidence about the case, one journalist covering the case fled to Israel. In a gripping exclusive, English-language video interview with Israeli publication Haaretz, journalist Damian Pachter explains why his Tweet about the murder scene may have revealed too much, and why he fled Argentina without a suitcase.For markets, the story is not entirely tangential. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the highest levels of government, preoccupied in more recent years with sovereign bond payments, were implicated in an alleged coverup. Argentina will hold presidential elections this fall, Kirchner’s successors are lining up, and at the heart of the case are allegations of an oil-for-silence trade between the governments of Argentina and Iran. Oil prices are on the rebound today, up 6%, with the international Brent price near $57.47 per barrel.Argentina’s oil-and-gas producer YPF (YPF) is up 1.4% today in U.S. trading, while the Global X MSCI Argentina ETF (ARGT) is up nearly a point. The Argentina ETF is up nearly 13% over the past 12 months, nearly twice the performance of the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM). Argentina debt was one of the better emerging market bond investments of 2014.By Bill ChappellFebruary 5, 2015Responding to criticism over a scandal involving a bombing cover-up and a prosecutor’s death, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will write letters to Mia Farrow and Martina Navratilova, who tweeted about the case this week.In recent days, both Farrow and Navratilova have tweeted about the scandal revolving around the unexpected death of the prosecutor who had been preparing charges over how Argentina handled the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center.Interest in the story spiked again this week, when it emerged that prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had been investigating the bombing case for 10 years, had prepared an arrest warrant naming the president before he was found dead in his apartment.That led Farrow to retweet a post by Human Rights Watch leader Kenneth Roth, who wrote that Nisman’s “death keeps getting fishier.”It also seems that Farrow used stronger language in a tweet that’s since been deleted. Posting a link to a news story about the arrest warrant, it stated, “Looks like Argentina’s Prez not only covered up 1994 bombing of a Jewish center, but also killed the prosecutor.”Farrow’s tweet set off a flurry of responses from Secretary General of the Presidency Aníbal Fernandez, who wrote that he believes Farrrow’s statement is a “consequence of either misinformation .. or lack of it.”The newspaper La Nacion has an image of Farrow’s tweet in its story today (and we’ve seen it separately online). In the newspaper, Fernandez’s Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich announced that the Argentine government and the president had sent two letters of clarification about the case, referring to Farrow and Navratilova.It’s not clear how Navratilova’s tweets about the case drew the ire of Argentina’s leadership. On Jan. 25, she wrote, “terrible what is going on in Argentina.” Days earlier, she had tweeted, “this all stinks.”As has happened at many steps in this story, the government’s statements have only stoked more interest. On Thursday, “Mia Farrow” became a trending topic on Twitter in Argentina.Argentine President Now Says Prosecutor’s Death Was Not a Suicide, via @nytimes– and this all stinks… http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/23/world/americas/argentina-cristina-kirchner-changes-position-on-alberto-nisman-death.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share …President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said she believed that the lead investigator of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center did not commit suicide.13. THE US HAD TIES TO AN ARGENTINE TERROR INVESTIGATION THAT ENDED WITH A PROSECUTOR’S MYSTERIOUS DEATH (Quartz Online)By Tim FernholzFebruary 5, 2015In 2009, David Cohen, then the US Treasury Department’s top financial cop, was in Buenos Aires, where he met an Argentine prosecutor named Alberto Nisman. The prosecutor requested Cohen’s assistance in persuading France and Germany to freeze $48 million sitting in bank accounts belonging to suspects in a terrorist attack, including former Iranian president Ali Rafsanjani. Cohen offered to approach European officials on Nisman’s behalf, according to leaked US diplomatic cables.Six years later, Nisman is dead in mysterious circumstances, and Argentina is in the grip of a geopolitical scandal that promises to get worse before it gets better. (Cohen, meanwhile, is transitioning into the role of deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.)Thanks to the surfacing several years ago of a trove of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, we have something of an inside view into the story, which also appears to involve a scandal-ridden president, Hezbollah bombers, and secret oil deals with Iran. The case is mentioned in 40 diplomatic cables sent between the US embassy in Argentina and the State Department from 2006 to 2009. Nisman flew to the US and briefed officials there, and also met in Buenos Aires with the assistant director of the FBI, as well as Cohen.The US has a long history meddling in South American politics. But why were American officials so interested in an Argentine prosecutor, and why was he so eager to share the details of his investigation with them?Axis of EvilThe answer brings us to the Middle East and the war on terror, but the story begins years earlier, in 1994, when a car bomb destroyed the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association, a community center serving the large Jewish community in Buenos Aires. The bombing—which came two years after an attack by Islamic terrorists had destroyed Israel’s embassy to Argentina—killed 85 people and prompted international outrage. Some argued that a controversy between Iran and Argentina over nuclear technology sparked the attack; the culprits were never caught.The initial investigations were rife with corruption and bad practices. The first prosecutor investigating the case was impeached in 2005 after failing to convict any local suspects and offering bribes for evidence. That’s when Nisman comes in—he’s appointed in 2004 by Argentina’s then-president Nestor Kirchner to dig into the case. He immediately focuses on the Iranian connection, and the idea that the bombing was perpetrated by operatives from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist militia long supported by Tehran.The US was interested in the re-opening the case, too. In 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran and the country restarted its nuclear program; the first round of UN sanctions would come in 2006. At the time, the top lawmaker on foreign affairs in the House was holocaust survivor Tom Lantos. He sent a delegation of staffers down to Buenos Aires to meet Nisman’s co-prosecutor, telling him that “while Congress understands the difficult circumstances facing investigators, there is frustration among members regarding the long time this case has taken to come to conclusion.”In 2006, Nisman brought indictments to Interpol, the global law enforcement organization, seeking red notices—essentially, international arrest warrants—but his case was unconvincing; one embassy cable referred to it as a debacle. Nisman went back to the drawing board, and with the help of US officials, redid his briefs. In 2007, Interpol granted eight red notices, including one for Rafsanjani. It was a big step forward in Argentina’s search for justice, as well as a coup for US efforts to link senior Iranian officials with terrorism. But arrest and extradition were easily avoided by the targets of the investigation, who accused US and Israeli intelligence of smearing them and denied the charges.The first cover-up?Now things really get interesting: The case against Iran stagnates as the country is isolated from the global community. But a different case suddenly develops: In 2008, Nisman surprises embassy officials by announcing charges against Carlos Menem, a former president of Argentina, charging him with covering up a “local connection” who worked with Iran on the bombing. (Apparently, they had family ties that began three generations earlier in an obscure Syrian village.)Per the cables, US officials were miffed that the focus of the investigation was shifting from Iran to domestic politics. When the deputy chief of the US mission called the prosecutor to ask what was going on, he apologized to Nisman for the lack of warning and said that the families of the bombing victims had urged him to act.But some observers saw political motives. Cristina Kirchner, the wife of the previous president, had just been elected to the presidency herself, and was facing a farm strike. An embassy official speculated that Nisman acted to curry favor with Kirchner in an attempt to someday gain a judicial appointment. One contact in the Ministry of Foreign affairs said that Nisman “‘is completely beholden to Alberto Fernandez’ [Kirchner’s Chief of Cabinet] and obeys Fernandez’s orders without question, and he did not discount that the timing of the announcement was ‘a political operation ordered by Alberto Fernandez.’”But an earlier corruption investigation took precedence, and Menem was ultimately convicted in 2013, at the age of 83, for his role in an arms smuggling scheme involving Croatia and Ecuador. No trial was ever held to investigate Nisman’s allegations about Menem.A second cover-up?At this point, we’re out of diplomatic cables and on to other sources; the Wikileaks trove ends in 2010. Nisman’s case doesn’t progress much further in the meantime, but lots of other stuff is going on in Argentina: In the ensuing years, the country’s economy starts to tank, and litigation with US hedge funds over the country’s debt ends with Argentina going into default in the summer of 2013. By that time, Kirchner’s embattled government already had started to shift its foreign policy outlook away from the US. Her administration announced plans for a joint “truth commission” with Iran to discover the story behind the bombing, a move which outraged the Jewish community, the US, and Israel.That’s when Nisman really goes to work: In May, he releases an investigation into deep cover Islamist terror networks throughout South America, particularly blaming the Iranian cultural attache at the time of the bombing, Mohsen Rabbani. At the time, two other suspects in the AIMA bombing were running for president of Iran.Kirchner, meanwhile, starts cleaning up her country’s counter-intelligence apparatus, booting Antonio Stiusso out of government. Stiusso is a powerful and feared figure whose agency, SIDE, provided significant information to Nisman during his investigation. But SIDE also was accused, by Nisman, of being part of Menem’s alleged cover-up, and of even kidnapping and torturing a judicial investigator. Stiusso, whereabouts unknown, is a pivotal figure in this investigation; many see him as the conduit through which foreign intelligence agencies passed information to Nisman and even as a suspect in his murder, although evidence remains murky.In January of this year, Nisman went public with allegations that Kirchner had made a deal to trade Argentine grain for Iranian oil—a convenient deal for two countries locked out of international markets, and which, Nisman argued, amounted to both an attempt to normalize relations and an agreement to make the 1994 bombing allegations go away.Kirchner’s defenders say the case has plenty of holes. Whatever the quality of the case, the night before he was called to testify about these allegations, Nisman died from a gunshot wound to his head, apparently from a pistol he had borrowed from a friend because he felt his life was in danger. While initially thought a suicide, the case is now widely seen as a probable murder. Arrest warrants for Kirchner and her foreign minister were found at Nisman’s side.Whodunnit?Kirchner’s erratic response to Nisman’s death—she is currently in China, blundering her way through a mission intended to rustle up economic aid for Argentina—has ended with her concluding, in a Facebook post, that the death was a murder. By whom, she did not say, but she acknowledged that Nisman’s death brought further legal and political scandal to the country.Kirchner’s government—already implicated in numerous corruption investigations—ends in October, when new elections will be held; the term-limited Kirchner, who has lost power in her party as the economy withered, is not expected to play a major role.As for Nisman, was he the victim of a power struggle in Argentine politics, and a pawn in a struggle between nations duringhis decade-long investigation? As with the 1994 bombing, we may never know.February 5, 2015Kirchner Signs Cooperation Agreements in Beijing, Creates Stir on Social MediaOn Wednesday, February 4, Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner and her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping signed 15 separate cooperation agreements, touching on the economy, infrastructure, and energy, after a bilateral meeting in Beijing.The deals include the construction of nuclear power stations in Argentina with Chinese technology, the financing of the Néstor Kirchner and Jorge Cepernic hydroelectric plants, and the building of a new commercial railway, as well as telecommunications and cultural agreements.Particularly striking is the announcement that Chinese military authorities are to take full control of a lunar space station currently under construction in the municipality of Bajada del Agrio, Neuquén Province.Chinese military contractor CLTC is to be tasked with “carrying out monitoring tasks, and the taking and recording of data under the Chinese program of lunar and space exploration missions,” according to a press release by the Argentinean ministry of planning.“With this new relationship we’re leaving behind the old vision of Argentina as a producer of primary materials and China as a manufacturer, giving way to a genuinely strategic relationship,” Kirchner told press after signing the agreements.The Chinese premier meanwhile highlighted his “deep and fruitful relationship” with the South American leader, whom he described as “an old friend of the Chinese people,” having met with her three times in less than a year.Joining the two presidents at the Argentinean-Chinese Business Forum in Beijing’s Shangri-La Hotel were over 100 Argentinean business figures and 400 representatives from Chinese industry and commerce.Kirchner flirted with controversy during the summit when she used her personal Twitter account to publish a tweet mocking the supposed tendency of Chinese people to pronounce the letter “r” as an “l.”“Over 1,000 attendees at the event. Will they all join the Cámpora, and did they only come for the rice [arroz] and petroleum [petróleo]?”The Cámpora is the Kirchnerista youth wing led by Máximo Kirchner, the president’s son, whose members occupy important positions in state firms and are usually present at official acts.Kirchner subsequently responded to allegations of racism:“Sorry. But you know what? It’s that the ridiculousness and absurdity is so much, you can only digest it with humor, otherwise it would be very, very toxic.”The hashtag #LaCampola was soon trending on social media in Argentina following widespread criticism and jokes concerning the Argentinean president’s ill-advised tweet.By Adam DuboveFebruary 5, 2015Nisman’s Not the Only Blood on Authorities’ HandsOn Saturday, January 24, Ismael Sosa traveled 750 kilometers from Buenos Aires to Córdoba with his girlfriend to attend a show by La Renga, a local rock group with a cult following. However, Ismael, 24, never returned from the Villa Rumipal aerodrome where the band played to a crowd of between 47,000 and 70,000 people. Instead, his body was found floating in an artificial lake in Argentina’s Córdoba province on the following Monday.His girlfriend Victoria had been looking for him since that Saturday night, when she’d lost all trace of him while entering the concert. During a checkpoint prior to entry, police had led him away by the throat. “I tried to stop them from hitting him,” she told Infojus Noticias.Ten minutes later, she saw them beating someone up: “They threw him to the ground between them. One was kicking him in the head, so hard you could hear it.”Although she couldn’t identify the victim “because his head was jammed into the ground,” she stated that his clothing and physical appearance were the same as her boyfriend.“He said: ‘Stop, don’t hit me anymore.’ ‘You still want to throw bottles?’ one asked him, and he kicked him in the stomach. They kept hitting him while they were carrying him away. Five minutes later they returned, saying: ‘That’s it, we’ve dealt with him.”Along with Victoria, Ismael’s family believe that the police killed him. “They were hitting him, they went overboard, and they threw him in the lake,” Facundo said, Ismael’s brother.The following Thursday, Facundo and his mother Nancy Sosa traveled the same 750-kilometer journey. She had just received a phone call telling her that the body found earlier that week in the lake belonged to her son. However, the judge in charge of the case, Andrea Heredia Hidalgo, had failed to inform her due to a simple reason: Hidalgo didn’t receive confirmation until a day after Sosa’s mother.Impunity in ArgentinaWhen he arrived to Villa Rumipal, Facundo attested to having received a phone call from a person claiming to be a prosecutor Rodríguez. But when he came to the police station, he was told that the caller wasn’t a prosecutor but a police officer. “This attracted my suspicion,” he said.While an autopsy is scheduled to take place this Friday and supply further information about the circumstances of Ismael’s death, new elements are emerging daily. We learnt On Wednesday, February 4, that a married couple fishing on the coast of the lake saw Sosa alive on the Sunday after the concert.According to police reports, Ismael approached the couple and asked them for water, saying he was lost, but they didn’t help him.The conduct of the 1,500 police officers on duty over the weekend is not only under scrutiny over the death of Sosa. An investigation launched before his body was found has discovered that 14 arrests were made during the event, none of which were reported to judicial authorities. In the meantime, investigating authorities have ordered the closure of the police department and have confiscated documentation.“We must break the official silence over the horrible death of Ismael, probably caused by police brutality,” local legislator and member of the Socialist Workers’ Party Laura Vilches demanded on Wednesday.“The governor, through his officials, and the police chief must give evidence on the operation carried out on the day that this young man disappeared and was killed,” she added.The complaints against the police department of Villa Rumipal, with scarcely 2,500 inhabitants, aren’t the first. Earlier in January, the parents of two young people — one of them underage — complained that four police officers had hit them, verbally abused them, and threatened them with their regulation firearms. A motorist had previously made a phone call to the authorities describing suspicious activity by a group of people near the lake, causing the police to investigate.Between Rock and a Hard PlaceArgentinean rock music and police brutality have clashed before. On April 19, 1991, 17-year-old Water Bulacio died after being arrested during a razzia, the name given to the mass arrests made by federal police against gatherings of young people. Bulacio was attending a concert by another big name in local rock music, Los Redonditas de Ricota.A day after his arrest, he was transferred to a hospital where he was registered with “cranial trauma.” Six days later, he died as a result of his wounds, with the autopsy finding that he had been subject to blows with heavy objects.His death remains unresolved. In October 2003, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the Argentinean state for its failure to find the culprits. The IACHR ordered officials to reopen the investigation, improve legal human rights protections, and compensate Bulacio’s family with US$335,000.In 2013, the Argentinean judiciary condemned former police officer Miguel Ángel Espósito to a suspended sentence of three years in jail for the illegitimate privation of Bulacio’s liberty, but not for his killing.The death in 2009 of Rubén Carballo, 17, at a concert for Argentinean rock giants Viejas Locas confirmed that police brutality remained untouchable. Carbello died as a result of a beating he took from federal police agents. In 2013, the officers involved were discharged, small comfort for Carbello’s relations, who still hope that the agonizingly slow Argentinean judicial system will bring them justice.While Argentina and the world remain in the dark over the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman on January 19, many other victims of the same authoritarian system remain in the background.These deaths, without names or faces, are yet to generate the same commotion as the case of Nisman, found with a gunshot wound to the head a day before he was due to level grave charges before Congress against President Cristina Kirchner. But the same thuggish spirit ended the lives of Carbello and Bulacio, and most likely the life of Ismael, all for wanting to listen to some music.By Guest PostFebruary 5, 2015Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced Jan. 26 that she would reform her country’s civilian intelligence organization, the Intelligence Secretariat (SI). Soon after, the office of the president said it would submit a draft law to reform the SI to the Senate on Feb. 3. In addition to changing the organization’s name to the Federal Intelligence Agency, the reform is expected to significantly weaken the SI by limiting its ability to gather signals intelligence, revealing a wider political dispute.Fernandez’s motivations for reforming the SI are not completely clear, but concerns that criminal charges could be brought against her and other members of the government once they leave office might have been a factor. Moreover, though the reform appears to be immediately motivated by concerns over the SI’s loyalty to Fernandez, it may significantly affect how the Argentine security apparatus functions long after her term in office ends.AnalysisAlthough the Fernandez government has not released the details, the reforms would drastically alter the way the SI functions. Previously, the organization could engage in domestic intelligence collection after obtaining a federal judge’s approval, but the new reform will likely require more steps and more oversight. A federal judge would have to request a warrant to conduct intelligence gathering from the prosecutor general’s office, and the actual collection process would be either conducted or overseen by that office. The president appoints the prosecutor general, and approval of the reform would grant this post, currently filled by Gils Carbo, significant intelligence collection abilities for the remainder of Fernandez’s presidency and likely into the next presidency.The planned reform follows a mass reshuffling of the SI’s top leadership. On Dec. 16, Fernandez ordered the removal of Secretary of Intelligence Hector Icazuriaga and Deputy Director Fernando Larcher, both longtime ruling-party allies. Icazuriaga and Larcher had been appointed to the positions more than a decade earlier, and according to unconfirmed reports, had worked closely with former President Nestor Kirchner, the late husband of Fernandez. Under the direction of Icazuriaga and Larcher, the SI provided the government with intelligence on political opponents, including labor organizations and members of rival political parties. The reshuffle also claimed Director of Operations Jaime Stiusso, who had served in the organization since 1974.The Argentine government filled the leadership positions with individuals closely tied to the ruling party. ?Oscar Parrilli, Fernandez’s former chief of staff, was named the new director of the organization, and Juan Martin Mena, a legal official closely linked to current Justice Minister Julio Alak, was named deputy director. Moreover, unconfirmed reports indicate that Fernando Basanta, an official loyal to Fernandez’s son Maximo Kirchner, is now in direct control of the SI’s finances. Basanta is part of La Campora, a political patronage network crucial to securing political support within the government for the ruling Front for Victory party. Kirchner has direct control over the network that has significantly increased its presence in state ministries and companies over the past several years.Lasting ConsequencesIt appears that Fernandez is reforming the intelligence apparatus in response to a behind-the-scenes political dispute to minimize challenges from political rivals from the SI and from the broader government. If certain aspects of the intelligence reform pass, the SI will lose most of its intelligence gathering capabilities, and individuals loyal to the current government could carry control of the SI into another administration. The intelligence reform allows Fernandez not only to disrupt a potential threat to herself and her followers once they leave office, but it also creates a legal reform that weakens the intelligence agency — one a successor organization would have to undo through a legislative vote. Given the ruling party’s control of Congress, reversing any changes to the intelligence organization would likely be difficult for the next government.The SI has reportedly been split into factions for the past two years. Some are loyal to the ruling party and others are more difficult to control. For example, SI interior protocol chief Fernando Pocino was allied with the government (allegedly through his close connections with former Defense Minister Nilda Garre), but Stiusso and Larcher were more confrontational. Nestor Kirchner reportedly used the SI’s loyalist faction, which at the time included Stiusso, as a key tool to collect domestic intelligence and manage political allies and enemies. The information that SI accrued made it a politically powerful organization, albeit one with no strict loyalty to Fernandez. This sense of a lack of loyalty was likely amplified by Stiusso’s close cooperation with prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who, before being found shot to death in his apartment Jan. 18, was reportedly set to reveal information he claimed implicated Fernandez and other officials in a cover-up of Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires.Unconfirmed reports indicate that Fernandez saw the SI as a potential threat because its dissident wing allegedly provided federal judges with information to pursue criminal cases against the president and other high-ranking officials. A report from July 2013 also claimed that both Larcher and Stiusso had met with Sergio Massa, a defector from the ruling party who will be a principal challenger to the ruling party as the Renewal Front party’s nominee in the October presidential elections.The SI’s lack of loyalty threatens Fernandez in several key ways that are particularly consequential in an election year and as she prepares to leave the presidency. An unconfirmed report claims that the SI failed to inform Fernandez that Massa would run in the October 2013 legislative elections. Moreover, once Fernandez leaves office, the outgoing government will lose immunity from prosecution. Fernandez is currently being investigated because a hotel firm she owns was allegedly involved in money laundering. Four government officials, including the vice president and the justice minister, are also facing criminal investigations. These open cases provide a strong incentive for the government to populate the SI with loyalists. In addition, a report from November indicated that Fernandez was negotiating the appointments of four of the five justices on the National Criminal Court of Cassation, the highest judicial body that hears corruption cases. Taken together, the shakeup at the SI and possible judicial appointments indicate that Fernandez is trying to secure judicial immunity for herself and her loyalists for when they leave office.The fate of the SI and its potential to pose problems for future governments depend on how deep Fernandez’s intelligence reform will go. Passing the legal draft of the reform will likely require only minimal negotiations because such draft laws need no more than an absolute majority for passage. Because the Front for Victory party controls 39 of the 72 seats in the Senate and 130 of the 257 seats in the lower house, it is probable the changes will be passed quickly. If the reform extends only to the agency heads, then it is possible an incoming administration will be able to simply undo many of Fernandez’s efforts by replacing the organization’s leaders. However, if Fernandez positions members of La Campora deep into the organization, it could keep it loyal to the Front for Victory well into another presidential administration. Even if the government manages to remove members of La Campora from the SI in the coming years, it will still need to reverse the reform’s institutional changes, a process that will likely take some time.By Larry Rohter6 February 2015ArgentinaEmerging from a bakery with a birthday cake for his daughter, a man discovers that his car has been towed. At her wedding reception, a bride realizes that her new husband has been cheating on her. Each of the six episodes in ”Wild Tales,” Argentina’s Oscar hopeful, begins with a disagreeable incident drawn from daily life, but escalates into an almost baroque tale of revenge. Damian Szifron, the 39-year-old director and writer of ”Wild Tales,” admitted to a kind of vicarious catharsis while writing the script.Q. Do any episodes come from real life?A. All of them have some element arising from people I know or situations I went through. I’ve been at weddings where many of us knew something the bride didn’t, and it seemed as if something could happen at any moment. And I understood how the bureaucracy is structured, so that your complaints go nowhere. What I have done is transport these situations to the terrain of the imagination.Q. What are your Oscar aspirations?A. I am very thankful and fascinated by everything that is happening with the movie, and don’t expect anything more. Thanks to ”Wild Tales,” many doors have opened.Q. So if you don’t win, you’re not going to explode like one of your characters?19. CHINA EMERGES AS LENDER OF LAST RESORT FOR AILING LATIN AMERICAN ECONOMIES (The Washington Post)By Jack ChangFebruary 5, 2015BEIJING — As soon as she landed in Beijing this week, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner began lauding new deals with what she called the world’s “No. 1 economy,” ranging from two proposed nuclear power plants to joint space exploration.With her country’s economy contracting and its supply of dollars dwindling, the South American president had arrived Monday looking for help from China, which has already lent Argentina $14 billion since 2007. By the end of her trip Thursday, she announced a raft of new business deals, including selling more Argentine beef.“Long day, but very fruitful,” her Twitter account read Tuesday night. “Argentina confirms its presence and importance in the No. 1 economy of the world. The reception couldn’t be better.”The trip — and Fernandez’s enthusiasm — highlights China’s growing role as a kind of lender of last resort for Latin America. Beijing has become a frequent destination for the region’s presidents, especially populist ones who have spent freely over the past decade but are now grappling with a collapse in the prices of oil and other commodities that their economies produce and export.While American and European lenders have stayed away from such risky countries, or demand economic and political reforms in exchange for loans, the more than $100 billion China has lent Latin America come with fewer human rights or good governance strings. They do, however, often require countries work with Chinese companies on housing, rail and other infrastructure projects, or pay the loans back with millions of barrels of oil for years to come.China has helped sustain Latin America by buying hundreds of billions of dollars of soybeans, iron ore, oil and other commodities, in the process lifting millions in the region into the middle class and helping shield governments from economic woes in the United States and Europe. Now, as China’s economy slows, and sends commodity prices to record lows, the Asian giant is moving even closer to its partner countries, especially in Latin America.In early January, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro joined other regional heads of state in Beijing for a meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a bloc designed in part to weaken U.S.-led organizations in the Americas.Correa left Beijing with $7.5 billion in new financing, adding to the $10 billion China is estimated to have already lent Ecuador, according to a report by the U.S.-based think tank, the Inter-American Dialogue. Maduro touted what he said were Chinese pledges to invest another $20 billion in his country, a figure analysts said may include formerly announced deals. China had already loaned Venezuela $50 billion since 2007, the report found.Cui Shoujun, an international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said the financial support is designed to build long-term allies around the world as China seeks to remake a global order long dominated by U.S.- and European-based institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. China has already helped launch a $100 billion development bank with Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa, which President Xi Jinping signed off on during a visit to Brazil last year.“We are not calculating the gains and losses in the short period but building a long-term relationship,” Cui said. “It’s a kind of partnership, not just Latin America relying on China and China wanting resources.”Kevin Gallagher, an expert in China-Latin America relations at Boston University, said that even with currently low commodity prices, Chinese leaders also want to secure energy and resource supplies around the globe, as the country’s economy prepares to overtake the United States’ as the world’s biggest, possibly by the next decade.“China sees (Latin America) as very strategic because of natural resources,” Gallagher said. “They might not need it anymore but now they’re pushing their firms around the world and see it as an opportunity to get market share.”The Chinese money comes as a relief for Venezuela, Ecuador and Argentina, which have become financial pariahs by either defaulting on billions of dollars in loans, nationalizing the assets of foreign companies or both. Venezuela and Argentina are also trying to tame runaway inflation and a collapse in their currencies.The China Development Bank charges higher interest rates than the World Bank, but China also offers subsidized loans with lower rates, according to a study co-written by Gallagher. Venezuela pays back its loans by sending China tens of thousands of barrels of oil a day at market prices.On Wednesday night, Fernandez continued the stream of ebullient messages although she did have to stop at one point to apologize for mocking her hosts’ supposed accents in Spanish in one Twitter message.But even with nearly $4 trillion in reserves, China is showing signs that its generosity has its limits.Although Maduro said before his China trip that he would “take on new projects” to rescue Venezuela’s economy, he finished his Chinese tour with only vaguely defined investments. That followed reports that the Chinese had grown impatient with Venezuela’s failure to deliver promised oil and with the government’s management of the Chinese aid.Of all of China’s suitors, Maduro is the most vulnerable, even as he sits on the world’s biggest proven oil reserves. Over the past year, his government has been hit by social unrest, plummeting popularity ratings and a deteriorating economy. Now, the big question for China is whether it can keep Maduro’s government alive just so that it can pay its bills, said Margaret Myers, director of the China and Latin America program at the Inter-American Dialogue. So far, none of China’s debtors are known to have defaulted on their loans.“In the case of Venezuela, it seems like China is at least more hesitant in terms of doling out large loans and considerable finance and rightly so,” Myers said. “It wouldn’t seem that additional infusions of cash would be beneficial at this point.”
3. CRISTINA FERNANDEZ UNDER FIRE AS QUESTIONS MOUNT IN DEATH OF PROSECUTOR ALBERTO NISMAN (The Washington Times)5. ARGENTINA PROSECUTOR ALBERTO NISMAN DIDN’T TRUST SECURITY DETAIL, AIDE SAYS (The Huffington Post)13. U.S. NUCLEAR SCIENTIST WHO OFFERED TO HELP VENEZUELA BUILD NUCLEAR BOMBS GETS 60 MONTHS (Washington Post.com)By Jonathan Gilbert and Simon Romero29 January 2015BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s government on Wednesday cast greater suspicion on an aide to Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor whose mysterious death this month has shaken the country, by describing the aide as an intelligence operative — adding to its assertions that rogue spies were involved in the events around Mr. Nisman’s death.”This kid’s situation is starting to look worrisome,” Aníbal Fernández, the president’s chief of staff, told reporters here Wednesday morning, referring to the aide, Diego Lagomarsino, 35.Mr. Lagomarsino worked in the prosecutor’s investigative unit as an information technology consultant and lent Mr. Nisman the .22-caliber Bersa pistol used in his death, investigators say.Before Mr. Nisman was found dead in his apartment this month, he made the explosive assertion that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had tried to reach a secret deal with Iran to shield Iranian officials from responsibility in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Argentina, which killed 85 people.Mr. Nisman had contended in a 289-page criminal complaint that the Argentine government sought the deal as part of a trade pact with Iran. He died the night before he was scheduled to testify about his accusations to lawmakers.Speaking at a news conference at his lawyer’s office on Wednesday, Mr. Lagomarsino said he regretted lending his gun to Mr. Nisman. Mr. Lagomarsino said the prosecutor had asked him for the weapon because he had lost trust in the police sentries assigned to protect him after making his accusations public against Mrs. Kirchner.” ‘I’m more scared of being right than not being right,’ he told me in other words,” Mr. Lagomarsino said.Viviana Fein, the lead investigator into Mr. Nisman’s death, made it clear on Wednesday that Mr. Lagomarsino was not suspected of killing the prosecutor. ”At the moment, there is no element whatsoever implicating him in a premeditated crime,” Ms. Fein said.Investigators have not determined whether Mr. Nisman committed suicide or was killed, but Mrs. Kirchner’s government has suggested that Mr. Nisman was being manipulated by an ousted spymaster at the country’s main intelligence agency, the Intelligence Secretariat.In a televised speech on Monday night, she said that she would send a bill to Argentina’s congress to dissolve the agency, proposing to replace it with one with less surveillance powers.On Wednesday, Mr. Fernández, her chief of staff, asserted that Mr. Lagomarsino, had been observed carrying out ”intelligence services” at protests over a 2004 nightclub fire that left 194 people dead.So far, Mr. Lagomarsino has been the only person charged in connection to Mr. Nisman’s death. He has been accused of providing a firearm to someone not licensed to use it.Mr. Fernández said Mr. Lagomarsino was seen photographing people at the protests; he did not say for whom or what agency Mr. Lagomarsino could have been working at the time.Maximiliano Rusconi, Mr. Lagomarsino’s lawyer, also put in doubt Mr. Fernández’s remarks about his client and intelligence services, saying that while Mr. Lagomarsino likes photography, he had never been to a protest march.The claims and counterclaims come amid a furor over whether the ousted spymaster helped Mr. Nisman craft the criminal complaint accusing Mrs. Kirchner of secretly trying to reach the deal with Iran.While authorities have already barred Mr. Lagomarsino from leaving the country, Ms. Fein said she was not planning on summoning Mr. Lagomarsino for more testimony.In a speech on Monday night, Mrs. Kirchner accused Mr. Lagomarsino of being an opponent of her government, based on an analysis of his Twitter account. She connected him to Clarín, a powerful media group with which the president has long sparred. She based her argument on an assertion that Mr. Lagomarsino’s brother works at a law firm with ties to Clarín.A spokesman for Clarín said that Mr. Lagomarsino never had any ties to the media group, including one of Argentina’s influential daily newspapers.The government also had pointed to Mr. Nisman’s returning sooner than expected to Argentina, on Jan. 12, from a trip to Europe as evidence that he had been manipulated in a plot against Mrs. Kirchner.But in a confusing twist on Wednesday, Ms. Fein said that Mr. Nisman’s original plans had been to return on Jan 12. Her assertion contradicts a mobile phone message attributed to Mr. Nisman and reportedly sent to his friends, in which he said he was suspending his trip.Mrs. Kirchner’s office, through the presidency’s Twitter feed, pointed to the message from Mr. Nisman just minutes after Ms. Fein’s remarks.Ms. Fein also said that the security register of Le Parc, the luxury block where Mr. Nisman lived, had ”grave irregularities.” She said visits, including Mr. Lagomarsino’s, appeared to have been noted inaccurately.Many Argentines contend the government is trying to shift the focus of the investigation to Mr. Lagomarsino.”She had been preparing the ground for this,” Sergio Berensztein, a political analyst, said of Mrs. Kirchner. ”Hypothesizing about murder and then accusing Lagomarsino.”Mr. Berensztein argued that Mrs. Kirchner’s approach fit a common strategy of tackling scandals here. ”She applies the same model to every problem,” he said, referring to issues like Argentina’s debt battle with foreign creditors. ”Reduce it to a simple conflict: her, the good person, against all the bad ones.”Others here are also taking issue with Mrs. Kirchner’s handling of the crisis, including the plan to dissolve Argentina’s intelligence agency. That decision came after a power struggle with Antonio J. Stiusso, the powerful spymaster ousted from his post last month by Mrs. Kirchner.While Mr. Lagomarsino did not refer on Wednesday to the government’s claim that he was involved in intelligence activities, his lawyer said that Mr. Lagomarsino did not know Mr. Stiusso.A senior official suggested that Diego Lagomarsino, above, had a role in the death.By Taos Turner29 January 2015BUENOS AIRES — Diego Lagomarsino said he was surprised when his boss, Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, asked to borrow his handgun.“Do you have a gun?” Mr. Lagomarsino, an information-technology specialist, recalled Mr. Nisman saying, in televised comments Wednesday that transfixed this country. “Do you know what it’s like when your daughters don’t want to be with you because of fear that something might happen to them?”The gun Mr. Lagomarsino turned over — an old .22-caliber pistol — was used hours later by the prosecutor to shoot himself, according to an autopsy report.But questions about Mr. Nisman’s death — a day before he was to testify in Congress that Argentine President Cristina Kirchner had conspired with Iran to sabotage his investigation into a 1994 terrorist attack — have led many here to believe it was a high-profile murder.Some 70% of Argentines believe Mr. Nisman was assassinated, according to a poll last week by Ipsos. Mr. Nisman was known to have received death threats as the lead investigator into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.Mr. Lagomarsino has been caught in the middle. On Monday, Mrs. Kirchner accused him of being a “ferocious opponent” of her government, citing comments on his social media accounts.Mrs. Kirchner has added to the mystery surrounding Mr. Nisman’s death. Initially, she indicated he had killed himself. Less than three days later, Mrs. Kirchner suggested he had been murdered. “I have no proof, but I don’t have any doubts either,” she said in a letter posted on her official Facebook account.The controversy over Mr. Nisman’s accusations, his death and the president’s reaction to it have stunned Argentines and made many here feel as if they were living in the middle of a murder-mystery novel.Though Mrs. Kirchner has raised questions about Mr. Lagomarsino, Viviana Fein, the prosecutor who is overseeing the investigation into Mr. Nisman’s death, played down such speculation.“At this point, there are no elements whatsoever connecting Diego Lagomarsino to a greater crime,” she told reporters on Wednesday.Mr. Lagomarsino said that in appealing for a gun, Mr. Nisman told him that he didn’t trust his own security guards. Investigators have been questioning the guards and have encountered what they described as contradictions in their statements. At least two of the guards have been relieved of their duties. The guards couldn’t be reached for comment.On Saturday, Damian Pachter, a local journalist who first reported Mr. Nisman’s death, fled the country, saying he felt unsafe after sensing he was being pursued by government agents.The government reacted by using its official Twitter account to publish private details about Mr. Pachter’s air-travel plans, leading to accusations it was trying to intimidate critics.“Argentina has become a dark place led by a corrupt political system,” Mr. Pachter said in a column published in Haaretz, an Israeli daily.Jorge Capitanich, Mrs. Kirchner’s cabinet chief, said Mr. Pachter had himself published information about his trip and that if he had evidence of being pursued he should publish that as well.3. CRISTINA FERNANDEZ UNDER FIRE AS QUESTIONS MOUNT IN DEATH OF PROSECUTOR ALBERTO NISMAN (The Washington Times)By Andre F. Radzichewski29 January 2015BUENOS AIRES — In the wee hours of Jan. 19, Cristina Fernandez took a call from her security minister about an “incident” at the home of the prosecutor who days before had accused the Argentine president of covering up a terrorist bombing.“There is blood running below the [bathroom] door, and you can see a finger,” Maria Cecilia Rodriguez told her, Ms. Fernandez said. “At first I thought it was a midnight joke,” the president added. But hours later “they confirmed that it was the body of prosecutor [Alberto] Nisman.”Mr. Nisman’s death rocked the country, but what has happened in the 10 days since has also put the spotlight squarely on Ms. Fernandez, who, with her late husband Nelson Kirchner, has held executive power in the Casa Rosada for almost a dozen years. Her unsteady handling of the crisis — from supporting and then rejecting the idea of suicide in Facebook postings as the formal investigation had barely begun to her abrupt call to disband Argentina’s intelligence service — further complicates her final year in office, already marked by economic woes and tenacious corruption allegations.Political opponents of the populist president are comparing her to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. And her behavior in the Nisman saga cements the image of a tone-deaf president, editor Eduardo van der Kooy wrote in a Wednesday column in Clarin, Argentina’s largest newspaper and one of Ms. Fernandez’s least favorite media outlets.“Given an incident of the magnitude of Prosecutor Nisman’s death, is it [normal] that she entertained herself with strange Facebook speculations?” Mr. van der Kooy wondered.And many see her call Monday to disband the country’s Intelligence Secretariat less as an attempt to rein in the spy service than as a bid to protect herself and her allies from embarrassing revelations in the Nisman probe. On the day his body was found at his home with a gunshot wound in the forehead, the prosecutor was preparing to go public with new details from his probe of the Fernandez government’s secret dealings with Iran to conceal what happened in the 1994 terrorist bombing on a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that killed 85 people.This week’s moves have only multiplied the questions surrounding Ms. Fernandez’ ability to manage the crisis and limit the damage to her political standing.Using her typical detail-rich, colloquial style, Ms. Fernandez recounted the story in a televised address Monday night. And though one commentator wondered how the president could be “so cold and indifferent” in the face of Mr. Nisman’s mysterious death — which, for more than a week, has captivated the national attention — her performance was trademark Fernandez.The 61-year-old head of state, who in December leaves office after two full terms, likes to pepper her speeches with a mix of anecdotes, slights and insinuations. She hardly ever talks to reporters, once telling a Georgetown University student that “rulers are not there to answer” questions.Confrontational rhetoricHer abrasive, confrontational rhetoric has found frequent targets both at home and abroad. When Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos dared criticize Ms. Fernandez’s nationalization of the Argentine oil giant YPF in 2012, for example, she noted “that bold guy” had almost ruined her breakfast. And in the wake of a supposed Islamic State threat she said she had received last year, she pointed fingers at the United States.“If something happens to me, nobody look to the Middle East; look to the north,” Ms. Fernandez said.Argentines, though largely accustomed to the escapades of the president whom they re-elected in a landslide in 2011, seem increasingly bewildered by her apparent inability to switch modes even in times of crisis. After a 2012 train disaster blamed on government corruption, Ms. Fernandez infuriated victims’ families when she compared the deaths of 51 commuters to that of Kirchner, her husband and predecessor, who suffered a fatal heart attack in 2010.A day after Mr. Nisman was found dead, Ms. Fernandez seemed to suggest that the prosecutor had killed himself, noting that “suicide provokes astonishment [and] questions.” Forty-eight hours later, she said that she had “no proof but no doubts either” that the prosecutor’s “suicide was not a suicide.”In the view of opposition lawmaker Patricia Bullrich, the president’s meddling in the investigation is emblematic of her attempts to dilute judicial independence. Ms. Bullrich presides over the Chamber of Deputies Criminal Law Committee, before which Mr. Nisman was to detail his allegations against Ms. Fernandez on Jan. 19: He had accused her of trying to cover up Iran’s alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in order to secure a trade deal with Tehran.“She presents herself as a police investigator and victim,” Ms. Bullrich said. “It’s like Putin’s Russia.”On Monday Ms. Fernandez doubled down on her commentary, using her televised address to question the role of an employee who lent Mr. Nisman the handgun that eventually killed the prosecutor. She detailed Diego Lagomarsino’s ties to the Clarin media conglomerate and disclosed that her Interior Ministry had denied him a new passport.Even the prosecutor investigating Mr. Nisman’s death, who has been careful to steer away from controversy in the explosive case, found it hard to hide her irritation at the president’s recent remarks.“She is free to think, like any citizen. She can think that it was a suicide a forced suicide or a homicide,” Viviana Fein said on Cronica TV. “[But] I will stick to my investigation.”Ms. Fernandez and her husband began their careers in the southern province of Santa Cruz, where Kirchner served as governor before winning the Casa Rosada — Argentina’s White House — in 2003. A lawyer and longtime member of Congress, Ms. Fernandez succeeded him in 2007. The power couple sought to alternate in the office to circumvent constitutional limits on consecutive terms.Their plan was cut short by Kirchner’s unexpected death in 2010, a year before Ms. Fernandez was re-elected with a record 54 percent of votes. For her second term, the president ditched her running mate, Julio Cobos, with whom she had had a falling out, just four months after their 2011 victory.Today, Mr. Cobos said the president is “more and more withdrawn,” and her statements on the Nisman case are “inexplicable.” Her style has weakened Argentina’s institutions and democracy, the former vice president told The Washington Times.His replacement, current Vice President Amado Boudou, has been indicted on corruption charges. On his fate, meanwhile, Ms. Fernandez has remained uncharacteristically silent.By Simeon TegelJanuary 28, 2015LIMA, Peru — Some have described it as stranger than fiction.The night before he was due to testify before lawmakers about what he claimed was a coverup of Iran’s alleged role in a devastating Buenos Aires bombing, prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead with a single bullet wound to the temple.He had been making waves by accusing President Cristina Fernández of blocking his investigation into the unresolved 1994 blast at the AMIA Jewish center that killed 85 people — often called Latin America’s deadliest terrorist attack.Her motive, Nisman claimed, was to bolster trade with oil-rich Iran unhindered by accusations that Iranian officials, including former Defense minister Ahmad Vahidi, were suspects in the case. Tehran has denied any part in the attack.Nisman’s death initially bore the hallmarks of a suicide. A gun and a single bullet casing were found by his body in his apartment, which had been locked from the inside.Still, there’s widespread suspicion he did not kill himself. Many Argentines even regard the president as a suspect in his death.Here is the cast of characters in a baffling mystery that Hollywood might have struggled to dream up.Alberto Nisman, 51, was widely regarded as a tenacious, savvy federal prosecutor. A father of two, he shook up the floundering AMIA (Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) bombing investigation when he took it over a decade ago.He swiftly pointed the finger at Tehran and issued an Interpol arrest warrant for six Iranian security officials, including Vahidi. He also unsuccessfully called for the arrest of former Argentine president Carlos Menem. Ever since, he received numerous death threats and lived under armed guard.Initially an ally of Fernández, he was even considered for the role of attorney general. But the pair grew apart two years ago when she signed a highly controversial deal to set up an AMIA truth commission jointly with Iran.Nisman, who was Jewish, subsequently alleged that a secret condition of the deal was “impunity” for Tehran over the atrocity.Differing accounts have emerged over Nisman’s final days. Some witnesses have described him as combative, while one sensed the prosecutor was “scared.”‘La presidenta’Now coming to the end of her second and final term, Cristina Fernández has been president of Argentina since 2007, when she took over the job from her late husband Nestor Kirchner.During that time, her administration has staggered from one corruption scandal to another. The Argentine economy has also been on shaky legs, prompting Fernández to clamp down on independent economists who calculated inflation at more than double the official figure, even reaching 40% last year, according to some.Meanwhile, her family’s wealth reportedly increased by nearly 1,200% while in office.While Fernández still has many devoted followers in her homeland, critics accuse her of demagoguery. For them, her handling of Nisman’s death only confirms that dark reputation.Recovering from a broken ankle, she initially only responded to the bombshell via Twitter, Facebook and her website. Surprisingly, perhaps, she agreed with her many compatriots who believe Nisman’s suicide was induced, and suggested that he was being manipulated by rogue Argentine security agents.“I don’t have proof. But I don’t have doubts either,” she wrote.Then, on Monday night, one week after Nisman’s body was discovered, she finally appeared on TV to announce that she was disbanding Argentina’s national spy agency.Sitting in a wheelchair and dressed head to toe in white, she expressed no condolences to Nisman’s family.Diego Lagomarsino, an IT expert who had been working on Nisman’s team since 2007, was the last person known to have seen him alive.Lagomarsino, 35, who had also become close friends with his boss, visited the prosecutor’s house in an upmarket Buenos Aires neighborhood on the eve of the shooting.According to his official testimony reported by local news media, it was then that Lagomarsino lent Nisman the .22-caliber Bersa pistol found beside his colleague’s body some 24 hours later. The prosecutor had requested the weapon, Lagomarsino said, out of fear for his safety as the death threats against him multiplied.The aide could now face up to six years in jail because Nisman didn’t have a firearms license.Lagomarsino voluntarily met with investigators to give his testimony shortly after Nisman was discovered dead. He has now handed over his passport and is barred from leaving the country.THE SPYNews media and administration officials say much of Nisman’s information about the AMIA bombing came from Antonio Stiusso, sometimes described as the strongman of Argentina’s intelligence agency.Before Nisman, Stiusso, 61, was the Argentine official with the greatest knowledge of the case. He is also reported to have wielded enough power behind the scenes in Buenos Aires that, on at least one occasion, he got a cabinet minister fired.He was dismissed himself last year, after stepping out of the shadows to give a magazine interview claiming that the government was scapegoating him.Since Nisman’s death, officials have been briefing journalists, suggesting that Stiusso was feeding Nisman false leads about the AMIA bombing in revenge for losing his job and the considerable power that came with it.That theory has gained momentum with at least one prominent opposition congresswoman saying Nisman told her he had been betrayed by an unnamed spy.Conflicting evidence emerging from the investigation has only fueled the conspiracies around Nisman’s death.No gunpowder residue was found on Nisman’s hands, indicating that he may not have pulled the trigger himself. On the other hand, there was so much blood at the scene that forensic scientists doubt anyone else present could have left without leaving prints.Yet, initially at least, investigators were saying Nisman’s apartment was locked from the inside, pointing to his death being a genuine suicide.But that was thrown into doubt by the locksmith who opened the apartment for the police. Named by local news media simply as Walter, he told reporters a service door had been left unsecured.Subsequent reports said the door had two locks, only one of which had been used. Then some speculated that Nisman’s mother unlocked the other in a desperate attempt to find her missing son. The definitive version has yet to be nailed down.THE INVESTIGATING PROSECUTORViviana Fein is the experienced attorney probing Nisman’s death. She picked up that responsibility by being in charge of the 45th public prosecutor’s office of Buenos Aires, which has jurisdiction over his neighborhood.She appears to be keeping her options open while also fiercely maintaining her professional independence. One of her first acts, upon arriving at Nisman’s apartment, was to tell Interior Minister Sergio Berni that his presence at the scene was inappropriate.She has publicly stated there is no evidence of anyone else being present inside Nisman’s home at the time of his death, while also refusing to rule out the possibility of an induced suicide.After hearing of Fernández’s speculation about Nisman’s untimely demise, she responded: “She is free to think, like any citizen. … I’ll stick to my investigation.”IRANBehind the commotion over Nisman’s dramatic death looms the long shadow of Tehran, the main beneficiary of the Argentine government’s alleged coverup of its supposed involvement in the AMIA bombing.It seems improbable that the reformist administration of President Hassan Rouhani would do anything as crazy as knocking off Nisman while it attempts to negotiate a nuclear deal and improve relations with the West.Yet even as she focuses on potential suspects closer to home, Fein likely will at least be leaving open the long shot possibility that rogue, hardline elements in Iran’s security apparatus were involved.THE JOURNALISTThe news of Nisman’s death was broken almost immediately by Damian Pachter, a journalist for the Buenos Aires Herald and Israel’s Haaretz newspapers.Since his first tweet about the bombshell events inside Nisman’s apartment, Pachter says he has received death threats and accuses security officials of tapping his phone.Fearing for his life, he has now fled to Israel and says he will not return to Buenos Aires while Fernández remains president.As if to confirm Pachter’s fears, the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s presidential office, caused a stir by publishing details of his flight on its official Twitter account.5. ARGENTINA PROSECUTOR ALBERTO NISMAN DIDN’T TRUST SECURITY DETAIL, AIDE SAYS (The Huffington Post)By Debora ReyJan 28, 2015BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The man who gave prosecutor Alberto Nisman the pistol that killed him said Wednesday that Nisman feared for the safety of his daughters and didn’t trust the policemen protecting him.Diego Lagomarsino said at a news conference that Nisman borrowed the gun Jan. 17, the day before he was found dead with Lagomarsino’s gun by his side. The prosecutor was scheduled to appear before congress the next day to detail his allegations that President Cristina Fernandez conspired to protect some of the Iranian suspects in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center.Lagomarsino, a computer specialist and long-time acquaintance of Nisman, said he had asked Nisman why he wanted the gun. He said Nisman told him it was to protect his daughters.Lagomarsino said he reminded the prosecutor that he had police protection, and Nisman responded: “I don’t even trust my security detail.”Lagomarsino said he showed Nisman how to load and unload the pistol, and the prosecutor assured him he would not use it.“In a few weeks, I’ll give it back to you,” he said Nisman told him.A private wake was being held for Nisman at a funeral home Wednesday night, and the family planned the burial for Thursday.Iran has repeatedly denied involvement in the Jewish center bombing, and Fernandez has also rejected Nisman’s accusations of a cover-up, arguing that Argentina had nothing to gain from such a deal with the Middle Eastern country.Prosecutors are trying to determine if Nisman committed suicide or was killed. Fernandez has suggested he could have been murdered and has urged prosecutors to investigate Lagomarsino, whom she described as a “fierce opponent of the government.”Lagomarsino has been charged with illegally transferring a firearm, but has never been named as a suspect in the killing. Viviana Fein, the lead investigator in the case, said Wednesday there was no indication that Lagomarsino was responsible.Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Anibal Fernandez again focused on Lagomarsino, suggesting he had carried out “intelligence services” during protests in 2004 after a nightclub fire killed 194 people.He said Lagomarsino was seen taking pictures of people, but did not say for which agency he might have been working.During the news conference, Lagomarsino’s lawyer rejected the allegations, saying Lagomarsino was not an agent but did enjoy taking photographs.In a national address Monday night, and previously in two letters, Argentina’s president suggested that rogue intelligence operatives were behind Nisman’s death.By The EditorsJanuary 28, 2015No 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.By Mac MargolisJanuary 28, 2015When Damian Pachter left the newsroom of the Buenos Aires Herald last Friday, he might have headed to a taberna for a glass of Malbec and a round of kudos. Instead, the reporter who broke the news about the strange death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was on the run and jumping at shadows.Earlier that week, Pachter had fielded a call from a “trusted source” that Nisman, the chief investigator into the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, had been found in a pool of blood the night before in his bathroom. Since Nisman had just accused Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of stonewalling his case — and was set to tell Congress the details the next morning — Pachter immediately tweeted the news and watched the mysterious death blow up into an international intrigue. Convinced his might be the next body on the floor, he fled to Tel Aviv.If that sounds melodramatic, consider the parlous state of journalism in Latin America. The lot of reporters has suffered “a marked deterioration,” the Inter-American Press Association concluded last October. In 2014, Latin America was the deadliest region for journalists after the Middle East, with 29 reporters killed. This alone was hardly news. Through the 1970s and 1980s, after all, the Latin American military kept a lid on news, shuttering independent media and jailing or “disappearing” anyone who demurred.The menace to journalists, however, is no longer just the guy in Ray-Bans shadowing Damian Pachter through the streets of Buenos Aires. Editors might no longer print cake recipes, as they once did, to flag readers that a generalissimo was at the door. But even as democratic elections have become the rule across the hemisphere, and freedom of the press has been etched in every constitution but Cuba’s, today’s caudillos have new weapons. The tax inspector’s fines have replaced the censor’s inkpot, and lawyers are the new shock troops, slinging slander suits and copyright claims. “In this new world,” says Thor Halvorssen, founder of the Human Rights Foundation. “regimes censor by saturating the airwaves with half-truths and distractions. In Venezuela we hear a new coup plot every week.”If once autocrats stopped the presses, now they starve their critics with advertising boycotts or newsprint droughts, as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has done — two among many tactics that last year earned Venezuela a lowly 116th place among 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’s ranking of press freedom. And if a publisher buckles under the pressure, no worries: mysterious angel investors stand ready to rescue failing brands. So it was with Ultimas Noticias, a troubled 70-year-old daily, handed over late last year to a brand-new shell company, based in Curacao and controlled by the scion of a British industrialist. Never mind that the new owners had no track record in media or that Venezuela has a constitutional ban on foreign ownership of media.Not surprisingly, the life support came with a new mission more congenial to Bolivarian sensibilities. Some 50 of Ultimas Noticias’s staffers have since resigned. Philip Bennett and Moises Naim, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, called this stealth censorship.For a time, media champions saw the Internet as a way around the censors, but the government soon caught on, taking down Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages and posts they found offensive. “I’m afraid the Internet will be no exception when it comes to intolerant leaders,” says director of Human Rights Watch’s Latin American division, Jose Miguel Vivanco.Fernandez has pursued her own counteroffensive, defying court rulings that the government can’t divert advertising away from critical media outlets, designating newsprint as a commodity of public interest and giving the government the right to take control of its production. She’s also mastered another genre: repression through reform. In 2009, she marshaled her Peronist majority to pass the tendentious Law on Audiovisual Communication Services, designed to break up media “monopolies,” namely her archenemy, Clarin. The Supreme Court backed the law in 2013, forcing Clarin to divest several of its holdings. Argentina is also one of the few countries in the region that still has no Freedom of Information law. Another Fernandez pearl: the rule by the Financial Investigations authority that holds news outlets criminally liable if they “terrorize” the public.That may be one reason why Damian Pachter isn’t going back to Argentina anytime soon. That, and the guy in the Ray-Bans.By Taos TurnerJanuary 28, 2015Vaca Muerta in Argentina is One of World’s Largest Shale Formations.BUENOS AIRES—Argentina’s YPF SA and China’s Sinopec signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday aimed at eventually partnering to develop oil-and-gas projects in the South American country, people familiar with the matter said.A YPF official confirmed that Miguel Galuccio, the company’s chief executive, had signed the MOU in Beijing with Sinopec Chairman Fu Chengyu .Sinopec, which is already Argentina’s fourth-leading oil producer, has no experience in unconventional oil in the country. A potential partnership could entail YPF helping Sinopec develop its conventional output while the Chinese company would invest alongside YPF to raise shale oil production. In 2010, Sinopec agreed to buy Occidental Petroleum Corp. ’s unit in Argentina for $2.45 billion, part of a broader push by Chinese companies to expand and diversify their oil resources in South America.Though lower oil prices have led some companies to cut back on investment plans, oil prices in Argentina are decoupled from the international market. A barrel of oil in Argentina now goes for $77 or more compared with just under $50 for Brent crude, the global oil benchmark. Meanwhile, Chinese investors are taking a longer-term look at Argentina’s massive Vaca Muerta formation, thinking about how valuable it could be for them a decade or more from now, people familiar with the talks between Sinopec and YPF said.YPF has already partnered with Chevron Corp. and Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd., or Petronas, to develop shale oil in Vaca Muerta. YPF has been aggressively courting international investors to boost unconventional energy output at Vaca Muerta, which is considered one of the world’s top shale oil-and-gas prospects.In September, Petronas agreed to partner with YPF in a deal that could lead the companies to invest up to $9 billion over the next decade. Since 2013, YPF and Chevron together have invested more than $3 billion in Vaca Muerta, located in windswept Patagonia.In October, Mr. Galuccio met with Mark Albers, senior vice president of Exxon Mobil Corp. , to discuss jointly developing shale oil and gas. Exxon is one of a number of companies, including Royal Dutch Shell PLC, that are already investing in unconventional energy in Vaca Muerta.Argentina ranks second in the world, behind China, in potentially recoverable shale-gas resources, with 802 trillion cubic feet, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report. Argentina ranks fourth world-wide in shale-oil resources, with an estimated 27 billion barrels.Argentine officials are hopeful that Vaca Muerta could do for Argentina what fracking did for U.S. oil and gas production. However, that could require up to $200 billion in investment, analysts say.By Eliana RaszewskiJan 28, 2015BUENOS AIRES, Jan 28 (Reuters) – Argentina’s YPF on Wednesday signed a preliminary agreement with China’s Sinopec to enter a new joint venture exploring for oil and gas in the South American country, the state-run Argentine energy firm said.“The Memorandum of Understanding, signed today in Beijing, reflects the intentions of both parties to form a joint venture that will cover different market segments, upstream and potentially downstream,” YPF said in a statement.The new joint venture would target both conventional and shale oil and gas resources, it added.January 28, 2015Argentine state-controlled energy company YPF said it signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday with China’s Sinopec pertaining to the eventual development of conventional and non-conventional oil and gas projects in the South American nation.Signed in Beijing by YPF CEO Miguel Galuccio and Sinopec Chairman Fu Chengyu, the agreement expresses the companies’ intention to form a joint venture in the areas of exploration, drilling, production, refining, regasification, distribution and sales, the statement said.The MOU is a “great step forward” that opens new possibilities for the long-term development of Argentine oil and gas resources within the “particular context” of the recent plunge in global crude prices, Galuccio was quoted as saying.Sinopec and YPF agreed last August to “re-launch exploration and development activity” in the La Ventana area of the massive and highly promising Vaca Muerta shale formation, located in southwestern Argentina.The Chinese company’s local unit, Sinopec Argentina Exploration and Production, and YPF also have begun a technical audit of some areas of Vaca Muerta that could be potentially explored and developed.YPF has already signed similar agreements with U.S. oil supermajor Chevron and Malaysia’s Petronas for the development of Vaca Muerta, one of the world’s largest reservoirs of non-conventional hydrocarbons.By Charles Newbery28 January 2015Buenos Aires (Platts)–28Jan2015/1104 am EST/1604 GMT Argentina’s state-run energy company YPF and China’s Sinopec signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday to work together on new oil and natural gas projects in the South American country, YPF said.The companies will look to develop projects for conventional and unconventional exploration and production, as well as downstream projects, YPF said in a statement.The focus will be on pooling resources “to maximize potentials in the entire value chain,” YPF said.The companies are already eyeing ventures for developing Vaca Muerta, the nation’s, and one of the world’s, largest shale plays, it added.Argentina “must develop its resources and it needs the long term to do so,” YPF CEO and chairman Miguel Galuccio said in the statement after signing the deal with Sinopec chairman Fu Chengyu in Beijing. “It is essential that projects continue to develop the industry in a sustainable way despite the ups and downs in prices.”Argentina is trying to rebuild oil and gas production after a 20% decline over the past decade, an effort that could slow as companies cut spending due to a more than 50% plunge in global crude prices over the past seven months.YPF is one of the few producers bucking the trend in Argentina, with its oil production rising 8.7% and gas by 12.5% in 2014 compared with 2013.By comparison, national oil and gas production dropped by 1.7% and 0.8%, respectively, in the first 11 months of 2014, year on year, according to the latest Energy Secretariat data.YPF’s increase comes as it invests about $7 billion/year to squeeze more out of maturing conventional reserves and develop Vaca Muerta, where it is working with Chevron on a project producing about 35,000 b/d of oil equivalent, mostly light crude.It is also working with Dow Chemical on a gas project at the play, and will begin in February a $550 million investment with Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas to develop shale oil there.YPF said it already is working with Sinopec on developing the La Ventana block in the western province of Mendoza, where $300 million will be invested on exploration and infrastructure to boost output.YPF is the biggest producer in Argentina, accounting for 43% of the 530,000 b/d crude output and 30% of the 114 million cu m/d of gas, according to the Argentine Oil and Gas Institute, an industry group. Sinopec trails in fourth place for oil production, with a 5.9% share, and lower in the ranking for gas, with a 1.7% share.28 January 2015NEW YORK, Jan 28 (Reuters) – A new program for Argentina’s biofuel makers to qualify for biodiesel credits will not prompt higher flows of fuel imports from the South American country, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday, rebutting the U.S. industry’s criticism of the move.EPA on Tuesday said it approved the alternative tracking method, which will give Argentine biodiesel producers a second way to show that soy used in their biofuel is grown on fields that were not deforested.The program ensures a third-party auditor will service as the “active eyes and ears on the ground” to ensure producers satisfy the Renewable Fuels Standards program, said Byron Bunker, the Director of Compliance at EPA’s Transportation and Air Quality office.Argentina already ships biodiesel to the U.S. market, but the move stoked concerns from U.S. producers that the move will encourage increased imports and threaten their market share.“We don’t think this change is going to answer the question of whether you import from Argentina or not,” Bunker said.The program ensures “rigorous” oversight that the beans are grown on Argentina’s soil and on agricultural land that has not been deforested, he said.An industry group on Tuesday slammed the decision, saying that it will result in less oversight and record imports from Argentina.13. U.S. NUCLEAR SCIENTIST WHO OFFERED TO HELP VENEZUELA BUILD NUCLEAR BOMBS GETS 60 MONTHS (Washington Post.com)By Terrence McCoy29 January 2015In 2008, a gray-haired nuclear scientist in his 70s took a seat at a small table and laid out an elaborate plan to help Venezuela become a nuclear-armed power.“You’re a member of the Venezuelan government, right?” scientist Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni of Los Alamos National Lab asked the man beside him, sliding something across the table. “This is a nuclear warhead,” Mascheroni said, according to video released on Wednesday. “I know how to design this.”“Now picture the following scenario: Picture that Venezuela could have 40 nuclear weapons,” Mascheroni continued, according to a sentencing memorandum presented by the government. “Just 40 — with missiles, and it’s 2020. The United States would not invade Venezuela.”“You build let’s say 40 or 30 ok? You have your stockpile,” he added. “Now one day there are problems. The United States or this or that. … and Venezuela says, very clearly, ‘We are going to have one test just to let the world know what we got.’ One psssssst there in the middle of the Pacific or wherever.”Mascheroni said one could be used to knock out New York City’s electricity: “We blow this on top of New York. Nobody dies from the explosion, but we destroy all the electric power in New York with an electromagnetic pulse. The bottom line in all of this is there are some things that I can deliver for sure in 10 years. For instance, I can deliver a bomb.”He would build the country a bomb, he said, and advised exploding it “to let the world know what we’ve got.”But Mascheroni didn’t know everything about this conversation. The man he was sitting across from wasn’t an agent of Venezuela’s government, which claimed it had no idea of Mascheroni’s plans. He was an FBI agent. And those comments, played Wednesday in an Albuquerque courtroom, sparked an international scandal that ultimately got him arrested for communicating America’s nuclear secrets. In U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on Wednesday, he was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison after pleading guilty .His wife, Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, who worked at Los Alamos until 2010, pleaded guilty as well in connection with the conspiracy, and was sentenced in 2014 to a year in prison.“This case demonstrates the consequences that result when those charged with protecting our nation’s secrets violate the trust placed in them by the American people,” Randall Coleman, assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, said.But Mascheroni, who was born in Argentina and became a naturalized U.S. citizen, no longer considered himself American. “I’m not an American anymore,” he said. “That is it.”After his arrival in the early 1960s to get a doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley, he signed up with Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1979. He was dismissed in the late 1980s amid allegations he was spying for Argentina, which he vehemently denied.He launched a years-long campaign to clear his name, wrote the Scripps Howard News Service in 2000, during which said he had been called everything from a crackpot to a prophet. “I didn’t choose this life, but I am not planning on losing,” Mascheroni told the outlet. “I am doing everything I can, now, to win.”The story read like a prophesy of things to come for Mascheroni. He had a grandiose view of his work, saying his ideas about fusion would revolutionize nuclear reactors and would facilitate blasts that were both small and controlled. He was desperate for someone to listen, and according to the government, even badgered members of Congress. He threatened to go “to work for a foreign power if he did not get the congressional hearing for which he was fighting,” the memorandum said. He even e-mailed the Venezuelan embassy in Washington just to let them know he was available, traveling to it at one point.At trial, his lawyer portrayed him as a little crazy. He is a “difficult and obnoxious individual who has only a tentative relationship with reality,” his defense attorney said on Wednesday, according to the Albuquerque Journal. “He is narcissistic, dishonest, insufferable, obsessive and a foreigner. Thankfully, none of those traits are proper basis for imposing sentence.”Prosecutors did not agree, noting that they discovered “stolen secret documents at his home.” The information he “sought to give away belongs to the American people.” Despite his efforts to “portray himself as such, defendant is not a feeble, ill man.”Dressed in a green prison uniform at his sentencing, Mascheroni shouted that District Judge William P. Johnson was biased against him.The judge disagreed, telling the protesting Mascheroni, “I’ve heard enough.”By Silvio Canto, Jr.January 29, 2015There are two stories dominating Latin America newspapers these days. From Mexico City to Buenos Aires, these two stories are consuming interest like nothing I’ve seen before.Down in Argentina, the death of Alberto Nisman has become a major scandal for President Cristina Fernandez. Mr. Nisman was due to speak to the Congress on Monday and shot dead the Sunday before.Down in Mexico, the disappearance of 43 students has many Mexicans up in arms. The anger is also rooted on the fears that the cartels have way too much influence over politicians and the law.What do these two very different cases have in common?The answer is a lack of transparency in how the two stories have been communicated or explained to the citizens.In Mexico, the attorney general is facing more and more questions as to how the bodies were disposed of, as explained by Fausta Rodriguez Wertz:Indeed, the students’ parents reject the government’s theory, and are accusing the government of trying to close the investigation.The case has generated a great deal of controversy, as there are contradictory statements from witnesses, but lack of definitive forensic evidence.Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto declared yesterday, “I’m convinced that we should not remain trapped in this instant, this moment in Mexico’s history, of sorrow, of tragedy and pain. We just can’t dwell here,” which of course is very convenient for him.For people like myself, the Iguala case shows Mexico as a failed state when it comes to justice and the rule of law – not a country one wants to maintain an open border with.Down in Argentina, the Fernandez government is fighting allegations that the Iran connection to the 1994 terrorist attack is being covered up, as Andres Oppenheimer posted a day ago:Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman made headlines before his mysterious death last weekend by accusing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of trying to cover up Iran’s role in the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, but there was another — more important — leader who was at the center of the deceased prosecutor’s probe: Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani.In several telephone conversations and e-mail exchanges I had with Nisman over the past three years, the prosecutor told me that Rouhani was among the top Iranian officials who had “participated in the decision” to bomb the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The attack left 85 dead and 300 wounded, and was the biggest terrorist bombing in the Western hemisphere before 9/11.Again, these two incidents point out the importance of transparency and credibility. Both governments insulted the public’s intelligence with quick explanations, such as “suicide” in the case of Mr. Nisman.
Ninety-five percent of the terrorist fatalities in the world since 2000 have occurred in developing countries, the overwhelming majority of those in just five countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria). And the Pentagon has reported that, among our military men and women, suicide has now surpassed war as a cause of death.
7. ARGENTINA POLITICS: REPORTS HIGHLIGHT THE PROBLEM OF CORRUPTION (Economist Intelligence Unit – ViewsWire)By Samuel RubenfeldDecember 18, 2014The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Thursday it is “gravely concerned” about Argentina’s commitment to fighting bribery.Argentina has no law to punish companies for foreign bribery or to prosecute its citizens who commit it overseas, the OECD said in its latest peer review report. Complex economic crime investigations face widespread delays, the judicial system is compromised and few companies have anti-foreign bribery measures beyond limited codes of ethics, the OECD said.“Urgent action is needed to address these grave concerns,” the OECD said in a statement. “As a result, Argentina will be evaluated again by the end of 2016 to assess progress.”The OECD gave Argentina a list of recommendations to fix its problems, including implementing a new criminal procedure code, reducing judicial vacancies, seriously investigating foreign bribery cases, and encouraging companies to adopt effective measures to prevent and detect foreign bribery.By Saijel KishanDec 18, 2014Brevan Howard Asset Management, the $37 billion investment firm run by Alan Howard, is planning to start a hedge fund to focus on Argentina, as investor speculation mounts that the country can overcome default.The firm has raised $25 million for its Brevan Howard Argentina Fund, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. A spokesman for the firm declined to comment on the fund.Brevan Howard was part of a group of investors holding restructured Argentinian bonds in 2012 when Paul Singer’s Elliott Management persuaded a U.S. court to block payments to the debt. Singer, who bought the original defaulted bonds and sued for full repayment, said in November that he will pursue sanctions on the South American nation for evading the court order.Speculation increased this year that Argentina will resolve the dispute once a bond clause it says precludes a settlement expires this month and a new president is elected. Argentina, which defaulted in 2001 and this year, has failed to reach agreement with Singer and other so-called holdout investors, and instead is planning to sell bonds that will be governed by local laws.During the jockeying other investors have raised money anticipating resolution. Redwood Capital Management started a $160 million fund focused on Argentina in October, a month after Gramercy Funds Management opened a $175 million fund. Owl Creek Asset Management and Bienville Capital Management also recently started pools that specialize in South America’s second-biggest economy.Brevan Howard was started by Howard in 2002 with four members of a proprietary fixed-income trading desk at Credit Suisse Group AG. The hedge fund firm is based in St. Helier on the island of Jersey.By Daniel Cancel and Pablo GonzalezDec 18, 2014Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), the largest U.S. energy company, said it successfully drilled its second shale oil and gas well this year in Argentina.The Invernada X-3 well, located in the Vaca Muerta non-conventional deposit in Neuquen province, is producing 448 barrels of oil and 1 million cubic feet of gas a day, Exxon said today in an e-mailed statement. Irving, Texas-based Exxon owns 85 percent of the venture with provincial energy producer Gas y Petroleo del Neuquen SA controlling the remainder.Exxon, which has interests in about 900,000 acres in Vaca Muerta, is among foreign energy companies including Chevron Corp and Royal Dutch Shell Plc developing shale fields in the Belgium-sized deposit that holds at least 23 billion barrels of oil, according to a 2012 survey by Ryder Scott. At 30,000 square kilometers, Vaca Muerta is almost twice the size of the Eagle Ford shale formation in Texas.“This second find adds value to our exploration program in Vaca Muerta,” Stephen Greenlee, president of Exxon’s exploration company, said in the statement. “Our second well is flowing at levels that make it one of the best in the formation and complements those obtained at our first well.”The Invernada well is located 20 kilometers from Bajo del Choique, the first well discovered in May, and was drilled at a depth of 15,374 feet.Exxon Senior Vice President Mark Albers met with Miguel Galuccio, the Chief Executive Officer of state-run YPF SA, in October where the two discussed opportunities for working together in Argentine shale projects.Exxon, with a market capitalization of $381 billion, rose 0.9 percent to $89.85 a share at 2:50 p.m. in New York. The company’s shares have fallen 11 percent in 2014.YPF, the country’s largest energy producer and company, is producing 35,000 barrels a day at the Loma Campana venture along with Chevron in Vaca Muerta making it the second largest non-conventional field in the world outside the U.S.Argentina, which posted a record $6 billion energy deficit last year, is depending on the development of its non-conventional resources to curb imports to improve its trade balance and preserve international reserves.By Pablo GonzalezDec 18, 2014YPF SA (YPF) fell the most among global energy company peers on speculation that a reduction in Argentine gasoline prices will curb profit and planned investments.The country’s state-run oil producer, which controls 58 percent of gasoline distribution, slumped 2.6 percent in Buenos Aires, the biggest decline among 15 competitors tracked by Bloomberg. The peer group rose an average of 1.4 percent.Under a proposal being discussed with federal and provincial authorities, YPF would reduce prices by as much as 7 percent at its service stations in return for tax breaks and other incentives, four people with knowledge of the talks said yesterday asking not to be named as talks are private.“This news won’t help the stock at all,” Walter Chiarvesio, who covers YPF at Banco Santander SA (SAN)’s Argentine unit, said by telephone from Buenos Aires. “If it’s forced to cut gasoline prices in pesos, profit will fall and investment will be reduced, unless the federal government and the provinces help to mitigate the reduction.”The company, based in Buenos Aires, declined to comment in an e-mail. The stock also fell as crude slumped to the lowest in more than five years on concern a supply glut will worsen.Pump prices in Argentina have surged this year as President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government seeks to boost oil investments. YPF has raised prices in pesos by 42 percent. Gas station sales rose 62 percent in the third quarter.By Nishant Kumar and Carolyn CohnDecember 18, 2014LONDON, Dec 18 (Reuters) – Brevan Howard, one of Europe’s biggest hedge fund managers, has launched a fund to invest in Argentinean assets, a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission showed.The hedge fund firm, which managed more than $34 billion at the end of October, has started to market the fund to external investors. A Brevan Howard spokesman declined to comment on how much the fund aims to raise or who will manage the fund.Argentinian debt is trading at 86 cents on the dollar, according to Thomson Reuters data, after the country defaulted on its debt in July following a legal battle with a small group of U.S. junk debt specialists.Argentina has been battling with hedge funds who are seeking full payment of debts after its $100 billion default in 2002. Other creditors had previously settled for less.Argentina says it cannot pay the holdouts until the Dec. 31 expiration of a clause that prevents it from paying them on better terms than it pays holders of restructured debt.December 18, 2014U.S. energy super-major ExxonMobil said Thursday it has made a new shale oil and gas discovery in the massive Vaca Muerta formation in southwestern Argentina.Exxon said in a statement that it made the find with the La Invernada X-3 well, which was drilled to a depth of 4,686 meters (15,364 feet).The well, operated by ExxonMobil Exploration Argentina and drilled at the La Invernada block in the southwestern Argentine province of Neuquen, produced a flow rate of 448 barrels of oil and 1 million cubic feet of gas per day in an initial test.“Analysis of additional information and studies is being conducted to completely evaluate the discovery,” the company said, adding that “more wells must be drilled before decisions can be made” on commercial viability.After 60 days of output, the well has produced a total of 31,400 barrels of oil equivalent.This latest find was made at a spot 20 kilometers (12 miles) from an earlier Exxon discovery, announced in May, at the Bajo del Choique block.“This second discovery adds value to our exploration program in Vaca Muerta,” ExxonMobil Exploration Company President Stephen Greenlee said.7. ARGENTINA POLITICS: REPORTS HIGHLIGHT THE PROBLEM OF CORRUPTION (Economist Intelligence Unit – ViewsWire)18 December 2014On December 18th the OECD published a damning report describing Argentina as seriously non-compliant with key articles of the Anti-Bribery Convention. The report comes shortly after the publication of the latest Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International (TI), a non-governmental corruption watchdog, showed a deterioration in Argentina’s global ranking. The latter will have been influenced by a series of corruption scandals involving the president’s inner circle. More fundamentally, the poor performance of the relevant institutions in charge of fighting corruption has contributed to a perception of impunity that feeds into corrupt practices. Although most of the candidates gearing up for the October 2015 presidential election have promised to fight corruption, its deep institutional roots do not encourage optimism.The OECD’s anti-bribery working group has criticised Argentina for its failure to pass legislation to punish companies for foreign bribery; for widespread delays in investigations into economic crime; and for executive contact with-and disciplinary processes against-judges and prosecutors, which threatens judicial independence. The group has called on the government to promptly implement a new criminal procedure code, reduce the large number of judicial vacancies, and seriously investigate and prosecute all foreign bribery cases as appropriate.Meanwhile, in TI’s Corruption Perception Index, Argentina ranks 107th out of 175 countries, with a score of just 34 (out of 100). This represents a drop of one place in the ranking since 2013, and places Argentina below a host of Latin American peers, including Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Mexico. TI has highlighted gaps between anti-corruption laws and actual enforcement that result in a lack of accountability and an environment of impunity, and has called for Argentina to implement comprehensive access-to-information laws, increase sanctions for political and campaign-financing violations, give anti-corruption institutions a more robust mandate, and make them more independent and proactive.A series of scandalsCorruption perceptions have been raised by a series of scandals in recent years surrounding high-ranked government officials-including the vice-president, Amado Boudou, who is currently facing charges of abuse of power-along with businessmen thought to have close links with the family of the president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Corruption has been a long-standing problem in Argentina’s history. Many corruption scandals came to light in the 1990s during the administration of Carlos Menem (1989-99). Subsequently, in the early years of the administration of the former president, Néstor Kirchner, (2003-07), further scandals came to light, including a bribery case involving a swedish construction firm, Skanska, and the Federal Planning Ministry during the construction of a gas pipeline in the country.Many of the scandals that have emerged recently have their roots in the early years of Mr Kirchner’s government (the former president, who died in 2010, was married to Ms Fernández, and was closely involved in the running of her administration). In recent years, a number of journalists have investigated the businesses of associates of the Kirchners. Most high-profile has been the case of Lázaro Báez, a businessman whose construction firm received a substantial share of public contracts awarded during Mr Kirchner’s presidency, and who was accused in 2013 by a well-known journalist, Jorge Lanata, of being a frontman for Mr Kirchner in a series of money-laundering operations for which Mr Baéz is now being formally investigated (he denies all allegations, which he claims are politically motivated and intended to discredit the government).The vice-president and the problem of impunityAnother case that has dominated the headlines in the past year is that of Mr Boudou, who has become the first vice-president in Argentina’s history to be formally charged with a crime while in office. On December 11th a federal court ruled that Mr Boudou will face a public trial for alleged irregularities in the purchase of a car in the 1990s. He is also being investigated for abuse of power while serving as economy minister during Ms Fernández’s first term of office, in a case centring on his links to Ciccone Calcográfica-previously the official printer of Argentina’s bank notes-and that company’s public contracts and tax dealings. Opposition politicians have called for Mr Boudou’s impeachment, but he has retained the tacit support of the president, probably because his impeachment would further weaken an already feeble government, which now has less than a year remaining in office. As a sign of this support, Mr Boudou was with the president in early December during a demonstration for the 31st anniversary of the return to democracy in Argentina, at which Ms Fernández, in a speech, accused judges of harassing members of the executive.In her speech, Ms Fernández also defended the attorney-general, Alejandra Gils Carbó-considered by the opposition to be a close ally of the president-against criticisms of discretionality in appointments made under her watch. Critics of the new criminal procedure code argue that it gives more power to the attorney-general, and fear that, once Ms Fernández leaves office in December 2015, Ms Gils Carbó will reject investigations against members of the administrations of the president and Mr Kirchner. In fact, it is possible that Ms Fernández could face questions over her business affairs after leaving office. In November a judge, Claudio Bonadío, ordered a judicial raid of the offices of Hotesur, a hotel owned by the Kirchner family, citing alleged irregularities in the hotel’s affidavits.The agency in charge of controlling companies’ affidavits is the Inspección General de Justicia (IGJ). However, reflecting the lack of political independence in agencies charged with combating corrupt practices, the IGJ is headed by a member of La Cámpora, an extreme left-wing faction of the Peronist party, which has become a key base of support for Ms Fernández in her second term. The problem of political bias in institutions remains the key obstacle to eliminating perceptions of impunity in the public sector, which persists despite the many corruption scandals that have come to light in Argentina over the years.By Eliana Raszewski18 December 2014BUENOS AIRES, Dec 18 (Reuters) – Argentina’s government wants to cut gasoline pump prices to ease the burden on consumers in light of the plunge in international oil benchmarks, sources familiar with ongoing government talks with state-controlled energy firm YPF say, but will need to avoid scaring away investment in domestic oil production.To reduce pump prices Argentina may have to lower the government-fixed price for crude oil produced locally, a move that could discourage oil companies from investing in production in Argentina at a time the country faces an energy import bill of $7 billion a year.Argentina is counting on developing its vast Vaca Muerta shale resource, which covers an area the size of Belgium, to secure eventual energy independence. Doing so will cost up to $200 billion over 10 years, YPF says.“A cut in the price of gasoline is being evaluated,” said one market source familiar with the economy ministry’s negotiations with YPF.To minimize any cut in the local price of crude, the government could offer tax breaks to cushion the impact of lower pump prices on producers, the source said.Another source, in the economy ministry, confirmed the government was “studying the international situation, the state of the (energy) industry and, among other things, the price of gasoline”.Motorists in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, pay 12-13 pesos ($1.40-$1.52) per litre at the pump. Prices have jumped by as much as 60 percent this year, analysts say, helping to drive one of the world’s fastest inflation rates.In December 2013, the South American country’s leftist government set the price of locally produced crude at $84 per barrel to keep prices low. Before that, the local price was even lower, at $72, industry analysts said, compared with an average for Brent on international markets of around $110 a barrel from 2011 to 2013.But oil producers that were taking a hit in Argentina are now better placed. On Thursday, global crude prices were around $60 as traders bet the market would resume a six-month rout on worries about a supply gut.“Argentina offers prices that are disconnected from the international market and, as long as the government keeps the price of its oil where it is, interest will remain in Vaca Muerta,” said an executive of a foreign oil company present in Argentina.Energy giants Chevron Corp, Petronas, Royal Dutch Shell <RDSa.L and Total have dipped their toes into developments in Argentina, but restrictive trade and currency controls unsettle them.By Charles Newbery18 December 2014Buenos Aires (Platts)–18Dec2014/249 pm EST/1949 GMT ExxonMobil has made its second discovery of unconventional oil and natural gas at Argentina’s giant Vaca Muerta shale play, the company said Thursday, adding that the well was among those showing “the best” yields in the play thus far.The find is in the La Invernada block in the southwestern province of Neuquen, where it drilled the La Invernada X-3 well to a depth of 4,686 meters (15,374 feet) and horizontally for 3,280 feet.The first test from the well showed oil flowing at an average rate of 448 b/d and gas at 1 million cu f/d (28,317 cu m/d) on a 12/64-inch choke, ExxonMobil said in an emailed statement.The company said it is studying the test data and carrying out additional studies to determine whether to put the well into commercial production.Before that, it said, its local unit ExxonMobil Exploration Argentina “must drill additional wells.”It added that the initial tests show that La Invernada X-3 is among the “wells with the best yield in Vaca Muerta,” producing a total of 31,400 barrels of oil equivalent over 60 days.ExxonMobil is the operator and 85% owner of La Invernada, with the remaining stake held by its partner, Neuquen’s state oil company Gas y Petroleo del Neuquen (GyP).They are also partners on Bajo del Choique, an adjacent block where ExxonMobil made its first discovery at Vaca Muerta in May, at a well drilled about 12 miles from this second find on La Invernada.“This second discovery adds value to our exploration program in Vaca Muerta,” Stephen Greenlee, president of ExxonMobil Exploration Company, said in the statement. “Our second well is flowing at levels that positions it as one of the best in the formation and it complements the successful initial results in our first well.”For his part, Neuquen Governor Jorge Sapag called the find “promising,” adding in the statement that he is hopeful that both discoveries “will open a new road for new and greater oil and gas production.”Most of the companies working in the Vaca Muerte are still in the test phase. Only Argentina’s state-run YPF, in a partnership with Chevron, is in the production phase, with output averaging 35,000 boe/d.ExxonMobil is focusing on the upstream in Argentina after selling its downstream business — a refinery and service stations — in the country last year. It has secured about 900,000 net acres in the shale oil and gas plays of Neuquen both on its own and through partnership deals with YPF, G&P, Brazil’s Petrobras and Canada’s Petrogas Americas.In October, Sapag said ExxonMobil and GyP plan to drill 10 exploratory wells at Vaca Muerta in 2015 before doing a first pilot production project as a transition to mass-scale development.By Dovid MargolinDecember 18, 2014After the fall of Argentina’s military junta, a rabbi raises Argentina’s first menorah, bringing hope to millions.BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—It was late 1984, and Argentina’s brutal military junta had fallen barely a year earlier. Yet as Chanukah approached, Rabbi Tzvi Grunblatt was determined to erect his country’s first public menorah.Over the course of its seven-year stretch of power, the junta had spearheaded a campaign of terror against its opponents known as the “Dirty War.” At its height, thousands of dissidents and others had disappeared, kidnapped off the streets during the day or arrested as part of midnight raids in their homes. Today, the precise fate of thousands of victims remains unknown.While the junta fell following its lopsided loss during the Falklands War, it had successfully instilled a culture of fear in Argentina. And now that Grunblatt wanted to construct a large Chanukah display in the center of Buenos Aires, many in the Jewish community were anxious and concerned about possible repercussions.“People were very afraid during that time,” remembers Grunblatt, an Argentine who returned with his American-born wife, Shterna, in 1978 to direct Chabad Lubavitch of Argentina. “They said there was no way it would not bring anti-Semitism. There was one influential Jewish-community board member who said if it stands for 24 hours, he would put on tefillin.”Leaning back in his chair, Grunblatt closes his eyes and thinks for a moment, recalling how the scenario played out. He opens his eyes and smiles. “He didn’t keep his promise.”“There was one man who supported me, the late Mr. David Goldberg,who was the president of DAIA”—an acronym for Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas, Argentine Jewry’s umbrella organization—“at the time. He told me not to listen to anyone, and that we should do it.”That year, the menorah went up. It was not knocked over; it stood there without incident, and, in fact, drew accolades from throughout the newly re-established democracy.The lighting ceremony itself wound up drawing thousands of participants, with greetings read from President of the Republic Raúl Alfnosin. Press coverage beamed images of the historic event to hundreds of thousands of more people around the country, and an editorial in La Nación—one of the country’s largest daily newspapers—hailed the menorah-lighting as a sign that the era of fear Argentina had just experienced was finally coming to an end.“People were shocked,” says Grunblatt. “The menorah was like a revolution here. They had never seen such an open display of Yiddishkeit before. The next year, in 1985, the community embraced it with open arms, and that’s how it’s been ever since.”‘Chanukah on the Map’While among American Jews Chanukah has long been one of the most observed holidays, Grunblatt explains that until recently, the holiday was hardly known by large segments of Argentina’s Jews largely due to its child-centric nature. And being that the country lies in the Southern Hemisphere, it falls over the summer, when families are out and about, and kids at camps or away from home.“In Argentina, Chanukah usually begins right after the school year ends,” he says. “Because of that, most children didn’t really learn about it much in school or celebrate it there because they were on summer vacation. Chanukah wasn’t very widely known in Argentina, and no institution had any big programs for the holiday.”Grunblatt credits the campaign started by the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—to spread awareness and the message of Chanukah with bringing holiday observance back to Argentina. “Today, all of the [Jewish] institutions have a menorah, and they all do Chanukah events. Because of Chabad, Chanukah here is on the map.”Armando Reler, who served as executive director of Maccabi in Argentina for more than 20 years, agrees with Grunblatt’s assessment. “Chanukah for a lot of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires was playing football at Maccabi,” he explains. “Once in a while, someone might pull out a menorah and light it, but not much more than that. Later, when Chabad began lighting a menorah at the largest football stadium here, it was the Jews who were the most surprised!“People were also afraid to show their Jewishness in public. Because of what Chabad has been doing, people realized that it’s possible to not only be Jewish, but to be Jewish publicly.”In addition to the central menorah put up each year, others now dot the massive city all over, placed there by the more than two-dozen Chabad centers that have opened in the last three decades.Honoring the 30th AnniversaryThe event was scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 17, but as the 8 p.m. starting time approached, rain started falling in buckets on Buenos Aires.“We all thought it would have to be postponed to the next night because of the rain,” says Rabbi Mendy Gurevitch, director of the Wolfsohn-Tabacinic Jewish Day School and Community in the city’s Belgrano neighborhood. “It poured hard for 15 to 20 minutes, and then it suddenly stopped. People came from everywhere; it was a beautiful event.”Under dark yet clearing skies, the menorah-lighting once again took place at La Plaza Republica Oriental del Uruguay on Buenos Aires’ central Libretador Avenue. As usual, the event was joined by dignitaries: The chief of cabinet ministers of Buenos Aires Horacio Rodríguez Larreta was on hand, and Israel’s ambassador to Argentina, Dorit Shavit, kindled the menorah.“The menorah-lighting has become a central part of Chanukah for the Buenos Aires Jewish community at large, and 2,000 people attend regularly,” explains Rabbi Levi Silberstein, one of the event’s organizers. “This year, there was a big campaign to honor the 30th anniversary, and the crowd was double the size.”A special logo to mark the anniversary was designed and a social-media campaign, which will last throughout Chanukah, was launched. As a 20-piece philharmonic orchestra played, a film with highlights of the last 30 years was shown, reflecting the great changes the Argentine Jewish community has seen in the last three decades.Why does Grunblatt feel it so important to mark this milestone?“Sometimes, an organization can make a successful event once and then let it become a part of the past,” he explains. “To do something on this scale every year—not for any political or financial reason, but simply to mark a Jewish holiday—is something that should be celebrated. This menorah event has had a great impact not only on Jewish life in this country, but on all of Argentina.”