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Argentine Prosecutor Was A Divisive Figure In Life And In Death


Argentina buries a prosecutor today. His mysterious death came just after he made accusations against Argentina's government. He was found with a bullet to his head. He said the president was involved in covering up the bombing of a Jewish center in 1994. And as we're about to hear, the story reaches back even farther than that. We begin on the streets of Buenos Aires with NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.



LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Shouting for justice and lighting candles, protesters stood outside Alberto Nisman's wake last night. Jose Abel came to voice his outrage.

JOSE ABEL: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "There's an institutional crisis in this country. We want what happened to Nisman to be made clear," he says.

It's still anything but. In death, Nisman has become a hero for many people, a symbol of the fight for justice. But in life, he was often a divisive figure in a country which is already highly polarized along political lines.

CARLOS ESCUDE: He was a brilliant man. He was a sensitive man. He was also a man who worked for the American embassy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Carlos Escude, a political scientist here who worked in the 1990s with Argentina's Foreign Ministry. The proof Escude and others who believe he was taking direction from Washington offer are a series of cables released by WikiLeaks. The U.S. government denies that and says they only provided technical assistance when it was asked for. The cables show Nisman had many meetings with embassy officials over the years. In one in particular, they ask him to focus his attention on the perpetrators of the terrorist attack and not on the local mishandling of the earlier investigations. That's been interpreted as a directive to focus on Iran as the culprit of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association. Again, Carlos Escude.

ESCUDE: The American government was not interested in anything except the Iranian dimension of the affair.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But others who knew him say neither was Nisman. Many of the people we spoke to used the word obsessive to describe his belief that Iran was behind the attack.

PABLO GITTER: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Nisman was an obstacle to finding out the truth about the bombing," Pablo Gitter says. Gitter belongs to one of the groups representing the family of the victims. And he contends locals planned and carried out the attack. He felt Nisman ignored other leads in the case - the Syria connections and those who stood to gain in Argentina, for example. Recently what made Gitter and his group furious was Nisman's salvo against the government, which Gitter felt was yet another distraction if the main goal of finding those responsible.

GITTER: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gitter says he met with Nisman in December. "We told Nisman you are doing the same thing by playing politics with the Argentine government as you did with Iran. This isn't the way forward," Gitter says he told them.

Nisman, though, had his ardent supporters who felt he galvanized the investigation when he took it over 10 years ago. Up until then, it had been marked by incompetence and wrongdoing. Patricia Bullrich is an opposition lawmaker who knew Nisman.

PATRICIA BULLRICH: He was always thinking about what he was doing. He was always concentrating in the investigation. I know that the Jewish community here in Argentina, they trust him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: By that she means the main Jewish groups. Jorge Knoblovits is the secretary general of the Delegation of Argentine Israeli Associations. They believe the evidence shows Iran was behind the night 1994 bombing. He says Nisman's death must be honored by continuing the case of which he was such a big part. This bombing, he notes, has been unresolved for 20 years.

JORGE KNOBLOVITS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I want this to end," he says, "with the judgment of those responsible." Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Buenos Aires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.