A tale of two trials
The courts are now in the traditional recess of the first month of the year but beforehand in the embers of 2016 there was considerable judicial activity of the “hit and run” variety — especially at the expense of ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Jujuy social leader Milagro Sala (see other editorial). Since the trials to probe Patagonian public works contract irregularities and to re-open the accusations of late special prosecutor Alberto Nisman regarding the 1994 AMIA Jewish community centre terrorist bomb blast were both called in the same week against the same defendant (CFK), there is a tendency to place them in the same bag but this would be a grave error. The trial to be headed by Federal Judge Julián Ercolini has tangible grounds in the well-documented indications of alleged irregularities for which CFK and her co-defendants have yet to offer any direct explanation — it might well be asked why these particular irregularities but that can only be an argument to investigate all the others, not to dispute the validity of this trial.
By way of contrast, the revival of Nisman’s complaint is an institutional disaster in general and a distraction from any real progress in the AMIA case in particular. Rightly dismissed at three levels of jurisdiction as an insubstantial compilation of hearsay, gossip and press cuttings, its revival is potentially a precedent for re-opening any case, thus turning justice into a never-ending story. One prime reason for its prompt dismissal was the perception that it disrupted the separation of powers by seeking to send the agreement with Iran to court — whether good or bad, diplomatic (and all other) policy must be an executive not a judicial prerogative or there is no point in electing governments. The 85-death AMIA atrocity remains a national trauma. If a number of alleged suspects of covering up the attack — judges, prosecutors, community leaders, intelligence agents and politicians, some of them currently in the dock in a hushed trial started last year — are now violating the rule of law to re-open Nisman’s dire accusation, this country’s memory will continue to be hurt.
The big danger is justice remaining in recess beyond this month — while it may be simplistic to talk of political persecution, there is every reason to fear that justice will be subordinated to political convenience.