Cleared of cover-up charges, Argentine leader comes out swinging during annual address

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez argues in her annual address she has been a forceful advocate for the resolution of the investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing in wake of being cleared of cover-up accusations.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (MARCH 1, 2015) (REUTERS) – Argentina’s scandal-hit president came out swinging with a fiery speech about justice on Sunday (March 1), 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 centre. Prosecutor Alberto Nisman said Fernandez conspired to whitewash the bombing in order to complete a grains-for-oil deal with Tehran.

Days after levelling 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 her critics.

“To those who called on me to speak about the AMIA (case), I have spoken of the AMIA since ’94, I have been (working on) AMIA since ’96 when I denounced the ex-judge Galeano (referring to Jose Galeano who was assigned to investigate the case) and all those covered up and did not allow the truth to be known. I have spoken of the AMIA case with the families since ’96, supporting them and helping them. I have spoken of the AMIA and I will continue speaking in the United Nations, demanding justice as no other Argentine president has ever done. I do talk about AMIA.” the two-term president shouted during her final annual address to Congress.

Fernandez said fault for the lack of progress in solving the 1992 bombing lies with the local justice system “and the intelligence services that covered up, and covered up, and did not permit the truth to be known.”

Fernandez has said former counterintelligence chief Antonio Stiuso manipulated Nisman into making the cover-up allegation in order to smear her, and was then involved in his death.

On Thursday, Judge Daniel Rafecas “discontinued” the case brought by Nisman against Fernandez. Rafecas told Reuters the evidence presented “was exactly the opposite of what Nisman claimed.”

In her address, she made clear her willingness to engage Nisman’s charges.

“I read the entirety of the complaint (referring to the complaint by late prosecutor Alberto Nisman) as well as the ruling of Judge Rafecas. I am not going to speak about the ruling of Judge Rafecas because the ruling speaks for itself. But I have to speak, I cannot avoid it, of the discovery – that I did not know and no Argentine knew – of the documents that were in the strongbox of Dr. Nisman and those which Dr. Rafecas referred to in his ruling,” she said.

In her speech, Fernandez also referred to the evidence as documents found in Nisman’s apartment.

“There are two signed documents signed by Dr. Nisman, one dated December 2014 and the other dated January 2015. These two documents say exactly the opposite of what was said in the complaint,” she said.

She added that the newly discovered evidence left her with a lot of questions.

“Which Nisman am I left with? With the one who accused us of a cover up or with the one who directed himself to me – because he directed himself to the “holder of the executive power” – recognising to me all that we had done, all that we had said so that I could make a presentation to the Security Council (of the United Nations)? What exactly happened? What happened in the period between the time that Prosecutor Nisman left for vacation and returned, that instead of presenting the documents that he had to give to the Security Council, he presented the complaint?” she said.

In her address, the president then underscored the wider context of the AMIA case to demonstrate how many parties beyond her government have stakes in its history and resolution.

“I am not referring only to internal questions. Because as in the previous case (referring to the AMIA attack), this does not end with the local connection. It is clearer and more evident than ever that AMIA continues to be a crux of national and international politics because at this very moment, if anyone is not aware, the United States is negotiating a nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran – with strong opposition from a sector of the Republican Party, with strong opposition from Israel which is emphatically opposed and has caused an interdict between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the visit of Israel’s president to the Congress. Nobody has related at all this together?”

Fernandez is barred from running for a third term in October’s election, in which a new president along with governors of 22 of Argentina’s 24 provinces will be chosen.

Polls show the cover-up allegations and Nisman’s death have damaged Fernandez’s popularity, already strained by a weak economy, and may hurt government allied candidates in the October vote.