The President of Argentina is living in an alternate reality — one that once upon a time seemed to bare some resemblance to the world we live in, but no longer.
In a speech on Sunday Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner completely detached in two ways. First, she speculated wildly about Israel’s connection to terrorist attacks in Argentina.
Second, she claimed the economy was on the upswing — something one Financial Times journalist was only too happy to call her out on.
In her speech, Fernandez said that Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who was found dead in the apartment just before he was to testify that the government had helped to cover up Iran’s involvement in a decades-old terrorist attack, had actually complimented her in documents found in a safety box in his apartment.
She also asked Israel to answer questions about the attack Nisman was investigating — against a Jewish center in 1994 — and another attack against the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992.
“Those documents say the exact opposite of what he said in his report… The case should be called Nisman vs. Nisman,” said Fernandez. “Which Nisman do you believe, the one who accusations without proof in on January 14, 2015 or the Nisman … who uplifted my actions in the United Nations, who recounted … every single one of my speeches and recognises that textually is it not the best to get the accused to sit in front of a judge in Tehran and be interrogated because if they’re not interrogated there can be no justice?”
She went on to say that she didn’t believe Nisman wanted to accuse her at all — that in fact he only wanted to bring the case to the international stage and was using her name to do so.
Nisman’s death worsened an already tenuous political and economic situation in Argentina. Inflation is high, capital flight is rampant, and the head of Fernandez’s cabinet just left her administration.
In this climate, his death crossed an invisible line. Argentines remember vividly the violence and lies of dictatorships past, in which people disappeared and children were taken from parents who dared to question the government.
Fernandez is not a dictator — she’s out of office at the end of 2015 — and despite her attempts has not been able to change the constitution to run again. Still, the Nisman case is still a terrifying flashback to those times.
He died after looking into a bombing that killed 84 people at AMIA, a Jewish center in Buenos Aires.
No one has ever answered for that catastrophe, and it’s becoming more and more likely that no one will ever answer for Nisman’s death either. Last week an Argentine judge ruled that the country would not investigate the Fernandez for the latter incident.
And so, to put the Argentine collective consciousness at ease, Fernandez pointed to Israel.
“In 1992, the Israeli embassy was attacked, 29 people died, 249 were injured,” she said in her speech. “This was an attack on the territory of Israel, because the embassy is Israeli territory itself. It’s always caught my attention, and I still can’t understand why the state of Israel is upset over the attack on AMIA and not one on its own embassy.”
It’s unclear what she meant by that, but that’s the point. The Fernandez tactic is to obfuscate, to sow the seeds of conspiracy theories in Argentina’s fertile ground. Since Nisman’s death theories have abounded — connecting his murder to things as far fetched as Charles Manson and Nazis.
That’s what corruption in society does, it makes it impossible to trust and thus impossible to find truth. Fernandez’s rhetoric capitalises on that chaos.
Nisman is hardly the only example of that in her speech either. Argentina’s economy is in horrible condition and investors have been shying away for years, in part because The Republic has been recalcitrant about paying its debts.
When Joseph Cotterill, a journalist for the Financial Times, tweeted at the president, sarcastically congratulating her for the fact that the Argentina’s bonds are finally trading above par, she responded with more fiction in her speech.
She said that the bonds were increasing in value because of the country’s resilience after it was ruled in “selective default” of payment to bondholders last fall.
Cotterill had the perfect response.