BUENOS AIRES — More than 400,000 people demanding justice marched in symbolic silence Wednesday in soaking Buenos Aires to mark a month since the suspicious death of a prosecutor who was ready to accuse the Argentine president of a massive cover-up.
“I am here because I want to see justice done for someone who gave his life for the truth,” said teacher Marta Canepa, 65, among those walking the 1.7 kilometers (just over a mile) under the banner “Homage for Prosecutor Alberto Nisman.”
Drenched in driving rain and led by prosecutors and opposition figures, the rally is the first major public show of defiance in a murky case that has ignited a political firestorm in Argentina and piled the pressure on President Cristina Kirchner, 61, in her last year in office.
Among those who braved the deluge were Nisman’s two young daughters and his ex-wife, Judge Sandra Arroyo Delgado.
“The march itself is a reflection of society’s underlying demand for an end to impunity. Tension between the justice system and executive were there before, but the Nisman case has exacerbated them,” said sociologist Rosendo Fraga with pollsters Nueva Mayoria.
In a case that has posed one of the strongest challenges to the president, protesters waved Argentine flags and carried white signs with black letters that read “Justice!” and “Truth!” Many also carried umbrellas to repel a burst of summer rain.
Blanca Perez, 81, said she believed Nisman had been murdered and the government needed to account for what happened.
“If we don’t have justice, we won’t have liberty,” she said. “The government has lost control of the situation.”
Organized by several prosecutors, protesters walked from Congress to the iconic Plaza de Mayo in downtown Buenos Aires. Police didn’t immediately provide a crowd estimate, but the 10-block stretch, plus many surrounding streets, burst with people, making it one of the biggest of several marches since Nisman’s body was discovered Jan. 18.
Upon arriving at their destination, thousands stayed for more than an hour, chanting “Argentina!” and demanding action by the government. By late Wednesday, most were starting to disperse.
The 51-year-old prosecutor was found in a pool of blood the day before he was to detail to Congress his explosive accusations that Fernandez and top government officials orchestrated a secret deal with Iran to shield Iranian officials allegedly responsible for the 1994 bombing that killed 85 people at a Jewish community center in Argentina’s capital.
Fernandez has denied the allegations, but her administration has struggled to confront the growing political crisis.
The president initially suggested Nisman had killed himself, then did an about-face a few days later, saying she suspected he had been slain. Authorities now say they are investigating the possibility of suicide or homicide.
Like many Argentines, lawyer Marcelo Lopez rejected the idea that Nisman killed himself.
“I’m worried about the future of my country,” he said, holding a sign that read, “They can’t ‘suicide’ us all.”
In the lead up to the march, the main opposition parties said they planned to participate, making it a hotly contested political issue and adding to intensifying rhetoric from the government.
Fernandez has suggested Nisman was killed by rogue counterintelligence agents and have cast suspicions on Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso, who reportedly oversaw a vast wire-tapping operation before being removed by Fernandez in December.
Stiuso, who had worked with Nisman on his investigation, provided testimony on Wednesday, according to a statement from the office of Viviana Fein, the lead investigator in Nisman’s death. No other details were provided.
Fernandez and other top administration officials also have suggested that the United States and Israel have meddled with Argentina, but have not provided details.
In a speech at nuclear power plant earlier Wednesday, Fernandez referred to letters that Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said he sent Tuesday to his counterparts in the United States and Israel. Timerman said the two countries should not get involved in Argentina’s affairs, but did not provide specifics.
“Some people wanted to play dumb and look the other way,” Fernandez said of the accusations. “I urge all compatriots to read every paragraph of those letters.”
Fernandez, known for populist, fiery speeches, did not elaborate. But she did cast the apparent friction as a battle of economic interests and attempts by other countries to keep Argentina down.
“In reality, they prefer an Argentina without a nuclear plan, an Argentina that does not develop scientifically, an Argentina with low salaries and cheap labor,” she said.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman declined to comment, instead referring to a State Department statement from Tuesday saying the United States had offered assistance in the Nisman investigation. A spokeswoman at the Israeli Embassy also declined to comment.