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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Nisman: the international hit

For anti-government protesters, the death of special prosecutor Alberto Nisman fit into a pre-defined political narrative in which the president was directly responsible for his death.
By Nicolás Tereschuk
Guest columnist

Foreign media are pushing a dangerously simplistic narrative of prosecutor’s death

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government has suffered a political hit from special prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s dead.

This obvious interpretation does not seem to be that clear for the hundreds of anti-Cristina protesters, mainly from the richest neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires, who demonstrated on Monday in Plaza de Mayo and in front of the Olivos presidential residence.

It also did not seem obvious to some social media users, who were quick to embrace the hashtag #cfkasesina (#cfkmurderer). They think, they say, that Cristina killed Nisman. The Argentines who hate Cristina, hate her even more now.

Some of them were likely never aware of many details in the AMIA bombing investigation.

But the scandal comes handy. Will Nisman’s death — interpreted as a convenient situation for the accused of a cover-up plot or as a link between politicians and violence — frame the next presidential campaign and determine the decisions of independent voters? Or will the usual issues such as employment, consumption and urban services make the difference in the end?

Beyond the borders though, Cristina’s government is suffering huge international consequences due to Nisman’s death. There has been an enormous amount of international media coverage compared to the normal attention Argentina gets in global news media. And most of it is displaying a very simple narrative: the prosecutor who had accused the president of horrific crimes — including the word “Iran” — is now dead. As a reader or viewer you may not know where Buenos Aires is. You may not have heard about Cristina Kirchner. But you certainly can understand the extremely simple narrative. The good guy accusing the bad guys about something related with Iran is now dead.

A foreign reader or viewer won’t know that many legal experts and independent journalists think that the prosecutor’s allegations were weak. Also, they would be kept in the dark that former officials are already being charged for a cover-up that included accusing Iran, a thief and some police officers for the bombing. As a foreigner, you cannot know that the head of the CELS, Horacio Verbitksy said that “Nisman’s accusation against Cristina lacks substantiation, just like his accusation against Iran for the AMIA attack.” You may not be aware that former Interpol chief Ronald Noble declared that Nisman made “false allegations” when he said that Argentine officials asked him to get rid of the “red alerts” against Iranian citizens.

The only thing you know is that the person who accused the president of terrible charges is now dead. And that is certainly awful news — within a simple, plain and powerful narrative — that leads to a huge negative impact for the Argentine government.

Imagine you were one the three million viewers who tuned in to CBS This Morning on Tuesday and you saw anchor Charlie Rose introduce a news segment about Argentina.

In the three-minute segment the State Deparment correspondent in Washington, DC, Margaret Brennan, said that news of Nisman’s death “shocked” US officials. She also spoke with Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD), who said he was Nisman’s friend and that he had worked with the prosecutor on issues “related to Iran.” Dubowitz told CBS that Nisman had “many enemies” and that he had recently warned his allegations against the president could end with him being “killed.”

Again, the narrative presented is simple, plain, direct — and shocking. As a viewer you are unlikely to know that Dubowitz is the head of what online magazine Salon called in a 2013 news story “Washington’s premiere hawkish think tank” financed by well-known Republican businessmen.

This news comes at a time when there are other stories making the rounds across the world containing the word “Iran” that involve the highest levels of world power. US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron said last Friday in a news conference that more sanctions against Iran would be negative for diplomatic efforts with Tehran regarding its nuclear programme.

Obama warned Congress on Monday in his State of the Union address that he will veto sanctions if the Republican majority goes ahead with them. In response to that statement, Republican Speaker John A. Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress next month. Meanwhile, tensions between Israel and Iran have been increasing. Last Sunday Hezbollah fighters were killed in Syria by an Israeli airstrike. Tehran warned this week that there could be a retaliation. Iran’s Defence Minister, at the same time, signed a cooperation treaty with his Russian colleague.

On Thursday, the Washington Post published a statement signed by Laurent Fabius, France’s minister of foreign affairs and international development, Philip Hammond, Britain’s foreign secretary, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s federal minister for foreign affairs and Federica Mogherini, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, titled Give Diplomacy with Iran a Chance, which backed Obama’s position.

The same day, Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency denied in a statement something US Secretary of State John Kerry had said: its chief, Tamir Pardo, warned US senators against a bill that would hit Iran with sanctions if ongoing nuclear talks fail to secure an agreement on the country’s nuclear programme.

It would be stupid to think the world works through relatively simple cause-effect mechanisms, with simple and shocking narratives. That there are clearly “good guys” and “bad guys.” We live in a complex, interconnected, always changing environmnet that is filled with grey areas and shadows.

In order to make sense of shocking situations though, the first thing that must be done is to put all the pieces of the puzzle on the table.

*Nicolás Tereschuk is a political scientist and author of the blog artepolitica.com.

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