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Thousands call for justice at memorial for slain Argentine prosecutor

Candlelight vigil organized by Jewish community honors AMIA bombing investigator Alberto Nisman on anniversary of his killing

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Crowds gather around Sara Garfunkel (C), mother of late Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman, as she holds a candle during a vigil on the first anniversary of her son's mysterious death in Buenos Aires, on January 18, 2016. (AFP Photo/Eitan Abramovich)
Crowds gather around Sara Garfunkel (C), mother of late Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman, as she holds a candle during a vigil on the first anniversary of her son's mysterious death in Buenos Aires, on January 18, 2016. (AFP Photo/Eitan Abramovich)

BUENOS AIRES — A year after the mysterious death of Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman, thousands turned out Monday to pay their respects in Buenos Aires in a ceremony marked by a single word: justicia.

A candlelight vigil organized by the Jewish community was held at sundown at Buenos Aires’s Plaza Alemania, a wooded park in the northern neighborhood of Palermo.

Ariel Cohen Sabban, president of the Argentine Jewish umbrella group DAIA, said that Nisman’s shooting death, originally ruled a suicide but which many are calling an assassination, “constitutes a new attack that conspires against the possibility of advancing justice” over the 1994 AMIA bombing that left 85 dead and a Jewish community traumatized.

Nisman, who had identified the Hezbollah suicide bomber and traced the AMIA bombing to Iran, was investigating due to testify against then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s alleged coverup of Iranian responsibility on the day after he was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment.

Alberto Nisman gives a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on May 20, 2009. (AFP/Juan Mabromata)
Alberto Nisman gives a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on May 20, 2009. (AFP/Juan Mabromata)

“The tragic death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman marked a sinister turning point in our recent history,” Sabban said. “We want to know how the gun went off and who did it.

“How is it possible that a year of investigations led to absolutely nothing?”

The recent change in government — Mauricio Macri replaced Kirchner in December — was “a very special moment, of hope, and which reopens a new horizon,” Sabban said.

Envoys from European embassies and, more significantly, several ministers from the new government paid their respects — a stark departure from the previous administration’s neglectful treatment of the Nisman murder investigation, refusal to express condolences to the family, and posthumous accusations that Nisman used public funds to hire prostitutes.

Thousands hold up candles at Buenos Aires's Plaza Alemania at a memorial ceremony for allegedly murdered Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman on January 18, 2016. (Ilan Ben Zion/The Times of Israel)
Thousands hold up candles at Buenos Aires’s Plaza Alemania at a memorial ceremony for allegedly murdered Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman on January 18, 2016. (Ilan Ben Zion/The Times of Israel)

The country’s vice president, Gabriela Michetti, stood beside Nisman’s mother Sara Garfunkel as the crowd honored her slain son, and told the La Nacion newspaper that the new government, which took office in December, would do everything in its power to solve the case.

A day earlier, Macri visited Nisman’s daughters and offered his condolences, a symbolic gesture meant to convey the new administration’s determination to allow an independent investigation of the prosecutor’s murder.

Nisman’s body was found four days after he sued then-president Kirchner, charging that her government covered up Iran’s role in the 1994 attack on the Jewish center.

Nisman’s lawsuit accused the government of establishing a “parallel communication channel” with Iran in order to “transmit and implement the orders established by the President (Kirchner) and, in that way, reach the illicit objectives,” including establishing trade relations.

Buenos Aires's Plaza Alemania lit with candles for Alberto Nisman on January 18, 2016. (Ilan Ben Zion/The Times of Israel)
Buenos Aires’s Plaza Alemania lit with candles for Alberto Nisman on January 18, 2016. (Ilan Ben Zion/The Times of Israel)

His death was discovered just hours before he was to present the evidence to Argentine lawmakers at the National Parliament. He was found dead in his apartment, a .22 pistol by his side, and associates of Kirchner said his death was a suicide.

Those gathered at Plaza Alemania a year later didn’t seem to buy it. Cries of “justice!” and “yes, it’s possible” rang out at intervals from the crowd and posters reading “CFK, who killed him?” — referring to Kirchner by her initials — were held aloft.

Thousands gather at Buenos Aires's Plaza Alemania for a memorial ceremony for allegedly murdered Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman on January 18, 2016. (Ilan Ben Zion/The Times of Israel)
Thousands gather at Buenos Aires’s Plaza Alemania for a memorial ceremony for allegedly murdered Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman on January 18, 2016. (Ilan Ben Zion/The Times of Israel)

“Nisman’s death directly affects Argentine democracy,” journalist Joaquin Morales Sala told the crowd from a stage decorated with Nisman’s now-familiar visage.

“Nisman wasn’t killed once, but thrice,” Sala said. “When his mother found his lifeless body in his apartment. When they slandered and insulted him when he was dead and denied him the right to defense. And the third time was when some judges refused to investigate the grave charges he made against the then-government.”

Waldo Wolff, a member of Argentina’s lower house of parliament with Macri’s Republican Proposal party and a former colleague of Nisman’s, told The Times of Israel that to honor Nisman’s memory, the new government must empower an investigation into the prosecutor’s death and not hinder it like the Kirchner administration.

“As far as we’re concerned, we’ll do as much as we can to give the public an answer,” Wolff said.

Argentinians light candles at Buenos Aires's Plaza Alemania at a memorial ceremony for allegedly murdered Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman on January 18, 2016. (Ilan Ben Zion/The Times of Israel)
Argentinians light candles at Buenos Aires’s Plaza Alemania at a memorial ceremony for allegedly murdered Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman on January 18, 2016. (Ilan Ben Zion/The Times of Israel)

JTA contributed to this report.

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