Tag Archive | "President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner"

The Indy Eye: 25 de Mayo Celebrations


A long weekend of patriotic celebrations culminated yesterday on the 205th anniversary of the 1810 May revolution that led to Argentina’s independence. It was a day of live music and performances, with huge crowds filling Plaza de Mayo and the surrounding areas with the blue and white colours of Argentina.

Celebrating her last 25 de Mayo event as president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner attended the traditional morning Te Deum at the Luján Basilica and then returned to deliver an early evening speech from the stage in front of the Casa Rosada. President Fernández recalled the achievements of government since her husband, the late Néstor Kirchner, became president on 25th May, 2003. “This is a collective project – it can’t depend on just one person,” said the president. “It depends on you to make it happen, to deepen it, to take it forward.”

After the presidential speech and fireworks show, the live music continued, with Plaza de Mayo still full of people until after midnight.

Our photographers were there to capture the occasion.

Activists honour some of the government's main achievements since 2003 (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

Activists honour some of the government’s main achievements since 2003 (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

Trumpets and fanfare as activist groups arrived at the celebrations (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Trumpets and fanfare as activist groups arrived at the celebrations (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

The image of President  Fernández overlooking the square (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

The image of President Fernández overlooking the square (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

The festivities also included produce from provinces around the country (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

The festivities also included produce from provinces around the country (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Activists from La Campora secured a prime spot in front of the main stage (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

Activists from La Campora secured a prime spot in front of the main stage (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

The Casa Rosada was illuminated throughout the show (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

The Casa Rosada was illuminated throughout the show (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Selling snacks to the crowds (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Selling snacks to the crowds (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Families stayed in Plaza de Mayo until late (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Families stayed in Plaza de Mayo until late (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

A photo to remember the occasion (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

A photo to remember the occasion (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

There was live music and performances from the stage on Plaza de Mayo (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

There was live music and performances from the stage on Plaza de Mayo (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

The president leads a rendition of Argentina's national anthem (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

The president leads a rendition of Argentina’s national anthem (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner spoke about the need to continue with the government's model after her term ends (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner spoke about the need to continue with the government’s model after her term ends (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

There were fireworks after the presidential address (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

A fireworks show closed the presidential address (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Posted in News From Argentina, Photoessay, TOP STORYComments (0)

The Other Buenos Aires: Villas and the Struggle for Urbanisation


Gastón walked home from his first day of secondary school on a Monday afternoon, mid-March. The 13-year-old arrived, after playing “popcorn” with friends, to discover his cat trapped in a cesspit. In an effort to save the animal, he fell in too. Neighbours tried to pull the boy out and waited more than 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. By the time it did, Gastón had died.

Residents from his Rodrigo Bueno neighbourhood, nestled in the shadow of Puerto Madero’s shiny towers, blame a lack of urbanisation for Gastón’s death. Without proper infrastructure, preventable deaths are common in the villas miserias, or shantytowns, of Buenos Aires. These neighbourhoods are home to 163,587 people, according to the 2010 census, with today’s figure estimated to be much higher. With few exceptions, they lack sewer systems, roads, reliable electricity, and hospitals.

This absence of infrastructure is more than controversial. In Buenos Aires at least, it’s technically illegal.

There are six laws that call on the city government to “urbanise” these neighbourhoods. As of 2015, none of them have been properly implemented. The most recent bill in 2009 was set to improve Villa 31, also minutes from Puerto Madero, bordering the famous Retiro train station.

That law gave the city government 180 days to start implementing urbanisation policies in Villa 31. But six years later, according to newly-elected delegate, Dora Mackoviak, little has changed.

She reclined on a blue lawn chair outside of her house, enjoying a cigarette after a long week of campaigning. Mackoviak, mother of ten, has been at the forefront of the urbanisation fight in her neighbourhood. Over the years she and her neighbours have earned the “fear and respect” of the city government.

“We have been fighting in this neighbourhood for a long time,” Mackoviak said. “We go out, we demand, we make noise.”

She’s seen countless preventable accidents like Gastón’s in her own villa. Fires, electrical accidents, open cesspits, all hazards triggered by shoddy construction. The streets in most villas are too narrow and unfit for an ambulance or car. Even if paramedics can enter, they often won’t. Instead, they wait for a police escort and add significantly to response time. Mackoviak says neighbours sometimes volunteer their own cars instead of waiting for an ambulance.

A narrow passage in Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

A narrow passage in Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Aside from preventable accidents, villa residents are also more likely to suffer from slower, less conspicuous health issues linked to a lack of urbanisation.

Joaquín Benítez, of non-partisan government oversight group ACIJ, explained the domino effect of human rights in the villas. Lead contamination, for example, is exacerbated by flooding, and is especially dangerous for children. These healthcare problems, he said, can’t be improved without urbanisation.

“They could have access to way more rights. They’d have proper water and sanitation infrastructure.” Deaths from preventable fires, caused by unsafe electric grids, he said, wouldn’t be an issue if urbanisation laws were implemented.

Mackoviak has been waiting years for these laws to bear fruit. Meanwhile, the city positions her and her neighbours as “the bogeyman”, she said. And while stigmas and fear of the villas continue to grow, the funds for resolving underlying problems continues to shrink.

Budgetary Nosedive

This year, the amount of money allocated from the city budget for urbanisation is the lowest in recent history.

Money for “vivienda”, or housing, has steadily declined over the past ten years, with only a slight uptick in 2010. In 2015, housing will receive 2.4% of public funds, making it the lowest amount in a decade. This money is reserved for anything from urbanising villas to helping the estimated 600,000 Buenos Aires residents living in emergency housing situations. One in six people in the capital, according to ACIJ, lives in an emergency situation and would theoretically receive that aid. ACIJ projects that only 0.6% of the city 2015 budget will be allocated to villas.

Dwindling budget funds allocation to housing in Buenos Aires (Courtesy of ACIJ)

Dwindling budget funds allocation to housing in Buenos Aires (Courtesy of ACIJ)

If past is prologue, most of these dwindling funds won’t be used. The city has a deep history of under-executing on social housing spending, and over-executing on works in tourist-dwelling areas like Palermo and Puerto Madero. In 2013, only 31% of allocated housing funds were actually spent. In 2014, only 28%. Meanwhile, last year, the city government was 78% over budget for government advertising, according to the 2015 ACIJ housing report.

Julian Bokser, psychology professor at University of Buenos Aires and member of Corriente Villera Independiente, or CVI, works on improving villas without government aid. His organisation fights for urbanisation and social equality through an anti-capitalist, leftist social movement.

Bokser is well aware of the city’s under-spending, and is clear about why it happens. “They spend less than they have budgeted for, and that is a political decision, it’s not an anomaly or that something went wrong. If they wanted to do it, they would have done it already.”

Bokser works with neighbours like Natalia Molina from Villa 21-24, in Barracas, a few kilometres south of the Casa Rosada. She said they’re much better off in 2015 than they were when she was growing up. As a child, she and her family would go weeks without power, and had to walk ten blocks to get clean water. She now lives with her three kids and husband Roberto with running water, electricity, and a patio for her seven-year-old daughter and enormous white dog to play outside.

“But it is the neighbours who have built all this,” Molina said. “It’s not like the government came and said ‘there’s a plan to build a water network, there’s a plan for a power grid’.”

Any materials provided, she added, are “low quality building materials, that are not going to last through time.”

Alvaro Arguello worked on the 2009 urbanisation law for Villa 31, and is still campaigning for its implementation. He said there seems to be more money spent on patching up emergency situations than building infrastructure in neighbourhoods like Molina’s.

The number of people applying for emergency aid, or “emergency housing stipends”, according to ACIJ, rose almost 600% since 2006. In response, the city has increased the amount allocated for emergency situations by more than 200%, according to an annual report from CEYS, the Economic and Social Council of Buenos Aires. The report says that the increases in emergency funding have not resolved or reversed these temporary living conditions

Arguello explained that in the long run, it would be cheaper to build infrastructure housing than to keep paying for temporary subsidies. The increase in emergency funding, he said, feeds the cycle of poverty.

“The [housing] policy is not designed to resolve emergency situations,” Arguello told The Indy. “The local government says ‘every city in the world has a housing deficit’ which is partly true, but what is happening here is that, due to an absent state, the issue is getting worse, year after year.”

Improvised construction work in Villa 21, Barracas (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Improvised construction work in Villa 21, Barracas (Photo: Kate Rooney)

The Reasons

Arguello explained that most politicians publicly support urbanisation. But the word “urbanisation” isn’t explicitly defined in the laws, complicating discussions between parties.

“They have different visions about how to make these things better,” he said. Who will pay? Who are the recipients? What role will different people play? were some of the questions raised when negotiating the Villa 31 law.

Arguello’s colleague, Rocío Sanchez Andía, was deputy of the housing commission from 2009 to 2013, and helped organise and present the 2009 urbanisation law for Villa 31. Andía is a member of Coalición Cívica para la Afirmación de una República Igualitaria or CC-ARI, a social-liberal party founded in 2002 that does not see eye-to-eye with either city Mayor Mauricio Macri or President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Sánchez Andía does not blame the law for ambiguity. She mostly points the finger at a lack of leadership by both the city and national governments.

“If we have organisations that are fighting and are willing to move forward, what’s missing? Political will,” she said. “There’s no decision to abide by the urbanisation law, no decision to abide by the constitution.”

She said that the city and federal governments have “different outlooks and different administration styles” but are able to work together when it comes to clearing real estate.

In 2014 for example, city police and national gendarmerie joined forces and bulldozers, to demolish homes of informal settlers, leaving 1,800 people homeless. They had moved onto the state-owned land six months earlier, demanding urbanisation after they say the government failed to deliver on a 2005 law to develop nearby Villa 20.

Security forces watch on as hundreds of families were evicted from 'Villa Papa Francisco' in 2014 (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

Security forces watch on as hundreds of families were evicted from ‘Villa Papa Francisco’ in 2014. (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

The razing came one week after the murder of 18-year-old Melina López nearby, allegedly by villa residents. This informal settlement, provisionally named Villa Papa Francisco, was outside of areas covered by the existing urbanisation laws, thereby removing protection against eviction.

There were attempts at dialogue for months but the city’s Social Development Minister, Carolina Stanley, later said they were not willing to “negotiate with those who break the law”. The possibility of economic aid to settlers was quickly also out of the question, and their homes were razed to the ground.

Election Time

The neglect of the villas seems to cool down during elections. Macri ran his 2007 campaign on the promises of 10km of subte lines per year, one policeman on every corner, and urbanising the villas. He projected that in ten years, you could urbanise the entire capital.

“These settlements should be gradually urbanised and integrated into the rest of the city,” Macri said in his 2007 campaign. He pledged “open streets so you can have access to an ambulance, rubbish collectors, and the police”, as well as the extension of sewer and water utilities, land rights, and to build permanent housing.

Daniel Filmus and Pino Solanas, opposition candidates in the last mayoral race, published a 2011 evaluation of Macri’s promises. It painted a significant shortfall for housing. “From his promise of 40,000 homes, only 350 were built,” Filmus said in the assessment.

The city government points to steps it has taken to urbanise, even if it is not what neighbours envisioned. Last August, more than 200 volunteers gathered to “urbanise” the Cildañez neighbourhood, or Villa 6, in southern Buenos Aires. The group, according to the Buenos Aires government website, painted 140 houses, planted 350 trees and 600 plants. A “citizens pact” was signed, a commitment from residents and the government to work together in the transformation process.

“If we all work together, we can make a better future for all, especially for our kids, convinced that they can have more opportunities than we had,” Macri said at the event.

Yet this brand of urbanisation is not what neighbours have historically blocked streets and protested for. Molina recalled events like the one in Cildañez in her own neighbourhood, but never a permanent solution.

“The solution is not fixing a lane or putting cement and covering a hole, and that’s it. That’s not urbanisation,” she said. “Because the officials come in, they make promises at election time, they come round to buy some votes, and then they disappear and the problems remain.”

Six existing urbanisation laws for villas in Buenos Aires have not been implemented (Courtesy of ACIJ)

Six existing urbanisation laws for villas in Buenos Aires have not been implemented (Courtesy of ACIJ)

Stigmas and Incentives

Molina supposes that the lack of commitment to urbanising reflects a lack of support for the residents. She said there is a myth about villas, a dearth of understanding that is shaped by people who have never been there. For years, she has felt unable to integrate into a city “that puts you in a different dimension and that excludes you, based on the fact that you live in a villa.

“There’s more than what the media shows,” she says, referring to the dominant stories about gangs and drugs. “Here we also have people who want to better themselves, who do so every day, despite us not having a dignified wage.”

She used to blame herself: “Maybe I don’t make enough of an effort, that’s why I live the way I live, or maybe I deserve this?” she remembered. But doubt shifted. She found an answer, and it was not to leave her neighbourhood.

“I realised there’s another reality worth fighting for. That’s the reality I will continue to build together with my neighbours to be able to leave a better place, a better future for my children and for the children of all the villa residents,” Molina said.

It is a misconception that people are always looking for a way out of the villas, she explained. There is a culture, a physical and emotional closeness, that does not exist in other parts of the city.

“You can say ‘well, I’m off somewhere’ and I know my neighbour knows I’m gone, and he will look after my house,” she said. “Here you know most of your neighbours – maybe in the city you may live next to someone for 50 years and don’t know that person, maybe in the same building.”

But even if they do not want to leave the villas, some residents fear that eventually, they will be forced to. Mackoviak says Villa 31, with its prized location for real estate, is especially vulnerable.

“They want to evict us from this place because it’s very sought after, it’s the most expensive part of the city,” she said, adding that she is worried about her area becoming “Puerto Madero 3”.

Modern towers loom over Villa 31, which is located on a valuable patch of land (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Modern towers loom over Villa 31, which is located on a valuable patch of land (Photo: Kate Rooney)

The start of this process, ironically, could be setting up title deeds for villa residents.

By handing over land rights without proper infrastructure and support, ACIJ’s Benítez says people living on this valuable state-owned space might be incentivised to sell their property. In places like Villa 31, a stone’s throw from the Four Seasons and luxury restaurants in Puerto Madero, this brand of urbanisation could be lucrative for real estate developers.

“If the villa is located in an area that is very valuable to the urban space, it will start to get gentrified,” Benítez said.

There are also those within the villas who oppose idea of urbanisation. Those sitting on their hands are landlords who profit from a recent boom in population, as internal and international migrants relocate to Buenos Aires.

The number of people living in villas grew by more than 50% between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. The actual amount is likely much higher than reported, since many residents are recent immigrants and are not documented. More people meant a bigger demand for housing, and a huge opportunity for landlords. They unofficially rent to multiple families, and control the price of housing. Some of these landlords own 20 homes, and run an unregulated, lucrative system, which CEYS called “predatory” in their 2015 annual report. The urbanisation laws would bring regulation to the villas, and one new house per family, ruining profits for some landlords.

Walls Rising

Mackoviak could barely be heard over nearby drills as she spoke to the Indy in CVI’s abused women’s shelter. Villa 31 has been buzzing with construction lately, but again, not in a way locals hoped for. A four-metre wall is slowly being built on the side facing the upmarket Recoleta neighbourhood. It will separate the villa from a nearby highway and train tracks.

Mackoviak’s room is less than 90 metres from the tracks. Construction workers line both sides of the tracks, just feet from the only bus stop.

“In a couple of months it’s going to be like the Berlin Wall. We’re going to have a wall we can only cross using that bridge, and that’s it,” Mackoviak said.

There is already a wall on one side of the highway, at least one metre tall, with a fence on top. Mackoviak described it as a way to keep them out of Buenos Aires society, rather than integrate them. She wonders why they would build a wall instead of a park.

“It looks like you’re a prisoner when you get close to the wall and you’re behind the fence looking at the cars drive by,” she said. “Like if you were in a jail looking out from the other side.”

The justification was safety. “We’re going to make this bigger so the trains can go through here, we don’t want any accidents,” she said quoting the city government’s logic.

“That’s a lie. There has never been an accident in that crossing… there’s always people’s lack of care and they’re not going to stop accidents from happening just by putting up a wall or a pedestrian bridge.”

The train tracks running alongside Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

The train tracks running alongside Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Moving Forward

Julian Bokser of CVI laughs when asked about his hope in the urbanisation laws, almost spitting out his coffee at the CVI-owned La Dignidad café in Villa Crespo. He explained that many people, especially foreigners, expect something to happen because a law exists.

“That’s not the way it works here,” Bokser said. “The law was an achievement, but our hopes don’t lie solely on what happens with legislation.”

Bokser says the CVI is not hanging around. The group often shoulders the physical and financial burden of rebuilding villas, working with residents, building everything from nurseries to healthcare centres, and a shelter for abused women in Villa 31. He says they focus on the small improvements. They exist, he said, so people can fight for change.

Bokser, to put it lightly, is not optimistic for upcoming presidential elections. Macri, the current city mayor blamed for his inaction, is running for president in October. Macri’s PRO party could not be reached for comment on his record with villas, or his campaign platform regarding the issue.

But Benítez of ACIJ held on to hope through public awareness.

“It’s slowly taking a more important place in the public agenda,” he said. “More people are becoming aware that they are people that have rights.”

 

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Judge Rafecas Rejects AMIA Cover up Case Against President


President Fernández was accused of an alleged cover up in the AMIA bombing case. (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Fernández was accused of an alleged cover up in the AMIA bombing case. (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas today dismissed the criminal case against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner over an alleged plan to cover-up any Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre.

The accusations were made by prosecutor Alberto Nisman in January, just a few days before he was found dead in his Puerto Madero apartment. On 13th February, prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita took on the investigation and requested that President Fernández and other high-ranking members of her administration be formally charged with attempting to divert the criminal investigation into the AMIA attack.

According to Nisman’s accusations, Argentina would shield Iranian suspects in the AMIA case in exchange for increase trade in oil and grains.

Judge Rafecas ruled that the accusations did not meet the “minimum conditions” to warrant further investigation. He stated that two main elements on which the cover up hypothesis was based – the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Iran and Argentina’s supposed efforts to remove Interpol’s ‘red notices’ for the Iranian suspects – were not supported by facts.

Approved in 2013, the MoU with Iran, which included plans to create a Truth Commission to investigate the AMIA bombing, was deemed unconstitutional in 2014 and never implemented. Meanwhile, days after Nisman’s formal accusation, Interpol’s ex-Secretary General Ronald Noble stated that the Argentine government had not requested the removal of ‘red notices’ for six Iranian suspects even after signing the MoU.

According to a statement by the judge: “It is clear that neither of the two alleged crimes cited by Prosecutor Pollicita in his petition hold up. The first (the creation of a Truth Commission), because the supposed crime never occurred, and the second (the removal Interpol’s “Red Notices”) because the evidence gathered emphatically rejects the prosecutor’s version of evens, and also leads to a conclusion that no crime was committed.”

Prosecutor Pollicita is now able to appeal the decision by Rafecas.

Story in development…

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Prosecutor Seeks Charges for President over AMIA Cover Up


President Fernández faces formal charges for alleged AMIA cover up. (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Fernández faces formal charges for alleged AMIA cover up. (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

A federal prosecutor has today requested that a judge formally charge President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other high-ranking members of her administration with attempting to divert the criminal investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing.

Gerardo Pollicita’s petition to the court is based on the accusations presented by special prosecutor Alberto Nisman just four days before he was found dead in his apartment last month.

In the document, President Fernández is accused of masterminding a plan to cover up the role of Iranian officials suspected of being involved in the AMIA attack, which killed 85 and injured hundreds.

Also accused are Foreign Affairs Minister Héctor Timerman, Frente para la Victoria legislator Andrés Larroque, and social leaders close to the government.

Pollicita requested that an investigation be carried out “with the aim of proving, based on evidence to be collected, the existence of the fact and, consequently, (determine) if those responsible are to be criminally punished.”

However, Pollicita did not request that the president and other accused members of the government be summoned for questioning, as Nisman had done in his complaint.

The judge in charge of the case, Daniel Rafecas, must now decide whether to accept Pollicita’s request to go ahead with the investigation.

Judge Rafecas will cut short his holiday and return to Buenos Aires this weekend to take on the case.

‘No Evidence’

Earlier today, the legal body representing the Executive presented the same court with a 67-document including what it claimed was important material evidence relating to the accusation filed by Nisman on 14th January.

The report concludes that: “There is no evidence, not even circumstantial, that proves the existence of conduct attributable to the President or officials of the federal government that constitutes the crimes presented in the [Nisman] accusation, or any others included in the Criminal Code.”

This morning, Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich described the accusations against the president as a an attempt at a “judicial coup”.

A ‘silent march’, led by prosecutors demanding protection and justice, will be held on 18th February, one month after Nisman’s death.

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President Announces Bill to Overhaul State Intelligence Services


President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces reform of intelligence services (Photo via CFKargentina)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces reform of intelligence services (Photo via CFKargentina)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced yesterday that she was sending a bill to Congress to reform the country’s intelligence services.

Speaking to the nation in a TV broadcast, the president said the existing Intelligence Secretariat (SI) would be dissolved and replaced by a new Federal Intelligence Agency with “completely different governing principles”.

“This is a debt in our democracy that all governments have carried since 1983,” said President Fernández, who appeared in a wheelchair due to a broken ankle suffered last month.

The new Federal Intelligence Agency will be led a director and assistant director that are appointed by the Executive but require approval from the Senate to start performing their duties. Both positions will have a mandate of four years.

Meanwhile, control of the current System of Judicial Observations, which is responsible for tapping phones, will be transferred to the Public Prosecutor Ministry. The president said this was because the ministry operates uniquely outside of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government.

Other reforms in the proposed bill include: a ban on interactions between public officials and intelligence agents, unless conducted via the director or assistant director of the agency; the creation of data protection banks to ensure that private information is gathered and stored only when necessary; prison sentences of up to ten years for those who illegally intercept communications; and criminal charges for any public official or employee who makes contact with intelligence agents outside of institutional channels.

The proposal comes a week after the sudden death of AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman, which the government, including President Fernández, has linked to recent personnel changes made in the SI. The president also claimed yesterday that the Intelligence Secretariat was behind a “bombardment” of accusations against the Executive since the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Iran as part of the investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing.

“I will not bow to extortion, or intimation,” said Fernández. “I’m not afraid – they can say what they want, or make the accusations they want. I’m not interested whether judges call me to court, or prosecutors make accusations about me, I’m not going to change my mind one bit.”

The initiative was applauded by ruling party legislators, but some opposition candidates criticised the president’s message.

“The State Intelligence cannot be corrected with a law, but with a change of government,” said presidential hopeful Ernesto Sanz, of the Radical (UCR) Party.

“There is no substantial change,” declared PRO Senator Gabriela Michetti. “Phone tapping by the judiciary will now have to go through [Public Prosecutor] Alejandra Gils Carbó, and we all know by now who Gils Carbó responds to and about the problems of keeping the Public Prosecutor’s Office independent of the Executive.”

Meanwhile, former Supreme Court judge Raúl Zaffaroni said the initiative “takes the bull by the horns”. He added: “judging by the development of the current Intelligence Secretariat, any change will be positive.”

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Nisman: Investigation Continues into AMIA Prosecutor’s Death


Prosecutor Viviana Fein is leading the investigations into Alberto Nisman's death (Photo: Claudio Fanchi/Télam)

Prosecutor Viviana Fein is leading the investigations into Alberto Nisman’s death (Photo: Claudio Fanchi/Télam)

Investigations are continuing into the sudden death of special AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman, a day after protests broke out across Argentina.

Nisman’s body was found locked inside his apartment in Puerto Madero on Sunday night. An initial autopsy yesterday indicated that he had died from a single gunshot to the head. The bullet came from the .22 calibre gun found near the body, and there were no indications of third party involvement.

In developments today, the prosecutor investigating Nisman’s death, Viviana Fein, told local media that no traces of gunpowder had been found on Nisman’s hands. Fein added that this was common with a gun of that calibre and that “this does not prove that he did not fire the gun,” as the autopsy suggests.

Fein said she will be taking the testimony of the two police officers that were on duty on Sunday as part of a team of ten assigned to protect the prosecutor. Fein will also speak to Nisman’s relatives and ex-wife, who arrived in the country earlier today.

Also today, officers conducted a search of Nisman’s office in order to take any computers or other items that could support the investigation.

Reactions and Protests

Many people reacted angrily to the news of Nisman’s death, with protests staged across several Argentine towns and cities last night.

“We’re protesting because the Kirchnerist government has set a new record for corruption and hostility,” Pablo Pampin, a health insurance employee who took part in the protest in Plaza de Mayo, told The Argentina Independent. “On Wednesday a prosecutor accuses the president of a cover up in the AMIA case and on Sunday he is found dead. He allegedly committed suicide, but the question is why he did? What did they threaten him with?”

Meanwhile, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner released a statement lamenting the death of Nisman, saying that his suspected suicide prompted “first stupor and then questions”.

“What was it that leads a person to make the terrible decision to take their own life?” President Fernández wrote in a message published on her official Facebook page. “In the case of the suicide(?) of the prosecutor in charge of the AMIA case, Alberto Nisman, there is not only stupor and questions but a story too long, too hard, and above all very sordid: the tragedy of the worst terrorist attack carried out in Argentina.”

In her message, President Fernández recalled the alleged cover up in the original investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing, the trial for which includes as suspects ex-president Carlos Menem and former judge Juan José Galeano, and which is expected to begin later this year.

“Today, more that ever, we cannot allow them to do the same with the trial over the cover up as they did with the original case. We will discover who carried out the [AMIA] attack when we know who covered for them.”

The president concluded her statement with several unanswered questions about Nisman’s behaviour in the days before his death that she said must be investigated by the judiciary.

Secretary General for the Presidency, Aníbal Fernández, also spoke about question marks over Nisman’s accusations against the president last week, after the prosecutor had returned early from holidays to present the lawsuit.

“Why was he so desperate to return [to Argentina] in those terms? It doesn’t make sense,” he told reporters this morning. “He was made to come back and present the suit,” Fernández said, adding that the incident was linked to “top-level structures like the Intelligence Secretariat.”

‘Truth and Justice’

In other developments, members of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires have called for a march to the AMIA centre on Wednesday to demand “truth and justice”.

Reacting to yesterday’s shock revelation, the AMIA and the Delegation of Israeli Associations in Argentina (DAIA) released a joint press statement calling Nisman’s death “a blow for the AMIA case”.

“[We will] redouble their commitment to clarify what happened in the attack and bring those responsible to justice. The AMIA and DAIA demand that the special prosecution unit continues to work so that the physical disappearance of Nisman does not signify the death of a case that left 85 fatalities and hundreds injured.”

Lead image by Claudio Fanchi, via Télam.

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President Fernández Accused of Cover Up in AMIA Bombing Case


The aftermath of the AMIA bombing in 1994 (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia).

The aftermath of the AMIA bombing in 1994 (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia).

A prosecutor investigating the 1994 AMIA bombing yesterday accused President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other high-ranking officials of an alleged cover up to protect Iranian officials suspected of being involved in the attack in exchange for economic benefits.

Alberto Nisman, who has been investigating the case since 2004, called for President Fernández and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman to be questioned over the alleged “criminal plan” to distance Iran from any involvement in the attack. He also asked the court to place an embargo for $200m in assets.

The accusations are also directed at Frente para la Victoria (FpV) legislator Andrés Larroque, pro-government social activist Luis D’Elía, and Fernando Esteche, the leader of the leftist political movement Quebracho.

In 2013, the Argentine government signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) with the Iranian government, which denies any involvement, to jointly investigate the bombing. The MoU did not advance as it was not ratified by the Iranian Parliament and then declared unconstitutional by an Argentine Federal Court, but Nisman says the accord was designed as part of a plan to open up commercial ties between the two countries.

The prosecutor claims Argentina’s desire to import oil from, and sell grains to, Iran was the motivation for the MoU and cover up. He says Timerman’s failure to convince Interpol to drop the ‘Red Notice’ warrants it had issued in 2007 for six Iranian suspects was behind the collapse of the alleged deal.

Nisman claims that the decision to create the cover up came directly from President Fernández, with the others accused of executing the plan. “There is a huge amount of information,” said Nisman yesterday. “What surprises me is the impunity with which they [the accused] talked, the impunity to say ‘nothing will happen to me’.”

The prosecutor said that the new accusations were based on evidence from phone conversations between Argentine and Iranian officials since 2011.

Questions

Nisman’s presentation was quickly criticised by the government, with Secretary General for the Presidency, Aníbal Fernández, calling the accusations “ridiculous”. Other criticisms centred on Nisman’s close ties with the US Embassy, as evidenced by numerous diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, and with some members of the Argentine national intelligence service, SI (ex-SIDE).

In addition, the judge in charge of the case, Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, called into question the reliability of the new accusations. He said that he had not been consulted by Nisman about the new line of investigation, adding that he had only found out about it in the media.

Canicoba Corral said that the telephone conversations referred to by Nisman were not authorised by him and questioned whether they would be legally admissible as evidence. “I’m going to study whether the prosecutor is performing his duties or if he has deviated from them,” the judge said in a TV interview with CN23.

Canicoba Corral also criticised Nisman for presenting the 300-page writ yesterday to Federal Judge Ariel Lijo, who is also investigating Vice-President Amado Boudou for alleged corruption, rather than consulting with him as the judge leading the AMIA case.

The AMIA bombing was the worst terrorist attack in Argentine history, killing 85 people and injuring a further 300. So far no-one has been convicted for the attack.

 

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Government Announces Cabinet Shuffle


Aníbal Fernández will return to the executive as secretary-general for the presidency. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Aníbal Fernández will return to the executive as secretary-general for the presidency. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Public Communications Secretary Alfredo Scoccimarro, has announced changes in the cabinet following the resignation of Intelligence Chief Héctor Icazuriaga earlier today.

Scoccimarro said that position as head of the intelligence office will be taken up by Oscar Parrilli, while Senator Aníbal Fernández will occupy Parrilli’s current role as secretary general for the presidency.

Before becoming a senator in 2011, Fernández served as justice minister and cabinet chief during President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s first term. He was also interior minister in the Néstor Kirchner administration.

Opposition parties called the changes a “desperate” response to legal complications affecting high-ranking members of the government, including Vice President Amado Boudou.

Parilli is due to be sworn in by the president this evening, with Fernández to follow on Thursday.

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Congress Approves New Criminal Procedure Code


Legislators approve a new Criminal Procedure Code (Photo: Fernando Sturla/Télam)

Legislators approve a new Criminal Procedure Code (Photo: Fernando Sturla/Télam)

Legislators in the lower house of Congress approved changes to the Criminal Procedure Code after a lengthy debate last night.

The Chamber of Deputies sanctioned the reforms with 130 votes in favour, compared to 99 votes against and two abstentions. It had already been approved by the Senate.

The new code establishes an accusatory system, where prosecutors lead criminal investigations and judges rule on them, to replace the existing inquisitorial system, where judges do both. Other reforms include the introduction of time limits on the completion of criminal investigations and trials, and sanctions for prosecutors and judges who fail to meet the new deadlines. The new code also expands the conditions whereby suspects may be held in custody while awaiting trial.

The law approved last night included more than 40 modifications of the original bill presented by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on 21st October, including a controversial proposal to permit the deportation of foreigners caught committing a crime.

Whilst the original bill sent by the Executive proposed the possibility to deport foreigners who are caught committing a crime and do not have the proper migratory documents for up to 15 years, the version approved into law does not take into account the migratory situation of the accused. However, those who are in Argentina legally can request to serve their sentence in the country. This clause applies to crimes which carry a penalty of over three years in prison, and as long as the right to family reunification is not affected.

Despite these changes and a broad consensus over the need to update the Criminal Procedure Code, opposition parties voted against the government-backed bill, arguing that it could give the executive branch increased power over the judiciary.

During the long debate, members of the ruling Frente Para la Victoria (FpV) party praised the reforms as a means of creating a more transparent, efficient, and democratic judicial process. Opposition legislators, however, expressed concerns over extended powers given the the federal public prosecutor, Alejandra Gils Carbó, and the planned expansion of personnel at the Public Ministry.

“We agree that an accusatory system is more effective, but the only thing that will be implemented with this new code is an increase of more than 1,700 positions in the Public Ministry,” said Manuel Garrido, of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR). “We are handing important powers to a ministry that has no public oversight, because a bicameral commission to perform that function was never incorporated.”

Pablo Tonelli, of the opposition PRO party, added that: “we need complementary measures for this code to come into effect successfully: a law of implementation, a new criminal code, a law for the Public Ministry, the juvenile criminal regime, and another for the execution of sentences.”

The law will now need to be signed by President Fernández, though it is not yet known when it will come into force.

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President Fernández Defends New Civil and Commercial Code


President Fernández holds up a copy of the new Civil and Commerical Code, which will come into force in Argentina in 2016. (Photo: Raúl Ferrari/Télam)

President Fernández holds up a copy of the new Civil and Commerical Code, which will come into force in Argentina in 2016. (Photo: Raúl Ferrari/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last night promulgated the country’s new Civil and Commercial Code, while also stating that reforms to the Criminal Procedure Law would be sent to Congress “within days”.

The updated Civil and Commercial Code was approved by Congress last week, more than two years after the reform bill was initially presented.

“Though the Constitution is obviously the most important legal instrument of a nation, this is the most important instrument that deals with people’s daily lives, their personal and commercial rights,” said President Fernández in a national address yesterday.

The president said the new law, which combined the Civil and Commercial Codes for the first time in the country’s history, was an “authentic cultural product of Argentina”, replacing the previous version based on European law. “It does not belong to any political party or government, it is the Civil and Commercial Code of democracy,” she said.

President Fernández also addressed the subject of debts and legal tender, an issue that has caused controversy with some claiming the wording of the new code could allow dollar-denominated debts and deposits to be converted into pesos.

“All of these affirmations and headlines to frighten people about how their deposits would lose their value or be paid back in pesos, or that no one could sign a contract… please, this is absolutely out of place,” she remarked.

Article 765 is at the centre of the debate, as it states that a debtor can fulfill his/her payment obligations with the equivalent value of legal currency (the peso).

However, President Fernández said that this would not override several other articles in the code that guarantee the validity of a contract and ensure that banks must respect the currency agreed upon with clients when accepting deposits or issuing loans.

Aside from the issue of currency, the president also highlighted changes to family law within the code, including changes to rules governing divorce, adoption, same-sex marriages, civil unions, and assisted fertilisation.

The new code will come into force on 1st January 2016.

Criminal Procedure Law

The second part of the president’s 50-minute speech was dedicated to the forthcoming reform of the country’s Criminal Procedure Law.

“In the next few days we are going to send Congress a new Penal Code bill, which will transform the existing system from an inquisitorial system to a more agile accusatory system,” declared Fernández.

This means that prosecutors will investigate a case, defense lawyers will act on behalf of the accused, and judges will reach a verdict. In the current system judges fulfill the duel role of investigating and ruling on cases.

President Fernández yesterday claimed that reform was necessary to update the “dysfunctional” existing law. “As I’ve said many times it’s not about being tough or soft on crime, it’s about having the adequate instruments and resources.”

Today, Justice Minister Julián Alvarez added that the main focus of the new law would be to reduce delays in the country’s judicial system. “The timings are going to change. Today it takes an average of four years to bring a case to trial, when it needs to be six months or a year at most, as it is today in Chile.”

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24th March marks the anniversary of the 1976 coup that brought Argentina's last dictatorship to power, a bloody seven year period in which thousands of citizens were disappeared and killed. Many of the victims passed through ESMA, a clandestine detention centre turned human rights museum

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