Monday, April 20, 2015

On claims in the Argentine media

As a writer, it’s always nice to find that something you wrote did not just disappear into the worldwide abyss, but was actually read by someone – someone who liked it, even. So as I was sitting in my living room on Sunday night engaged in my biweekly pondering of whether or not I should quit journalism and go work at the artificial flower factory, I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat alarmed when a user of the social network “Twitter” alerted me to the fact that a two-part series I wrote for Inter Press Service back in 2013 was making the rounds in Argentina and was being cited by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (or, presumably, an intern) on her official website.

“Wait, what?” was my in-real-time response, but I’ve since pieced together and here’s the deal: That two-part series – part one; part two – concerned U.S. hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s attempts to defame Argentina as a deadbeat backer of international terrorism as part of his campaign to shake down the South American nation for billions of dollars. In 2002, the Argentine government defaulted on its debt and while it reached deals with 93 percent of its bondholders to pay them back a fraction of what they were owed, people like Singer – people who run what are called “vulture funds” that do this sort of thing all the time – bought up a bunch of those defaulted bonds and took Argentina to court in New York City, de facto finance capital of the world, where he insisted it pay all that was owed. So far he’s winning.

In addition to the legal battle, Singer has been fighting in the court of public opinion, using millions of his ought-to-be-confiscated wealth to fund a whole bunch of far-right hacks and the think tanks that employ them to link Argentina to terrorism by way of Iran. At the same time, in Argentina, prosecutor Alberto Nisman was investigating the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. Nisman was murdered in January, found in his apartment with a bullet in the head, but before he died he alleged that the Kirchner government was helping Iran cover up its role in that bombing so as not to jeopardize its expanding economic relations with the Islamic Republic. Singer, naturally, exploited this, with Nisman becoming a hero to neoconservatives and Republican lawmakers in Washington who are ever eager to allege that Iran is engaged in the same nefarious actions in Latin America as a previous generation accused deceased bogeyman, the Soviet Union; now as then, the allegations make headlines, but they rarely stand up to scrutiny.

I don’t know who carried out the 1994 bombing: Some have charged that Iranian officials, acting officially or not, ordered the attack, while others claim right-wing elements in Argentina’s intelligence service did it (the Kirchner government has accused these same alleged elements of feeding disinformation to Nisman and then killing him the night before he was set to deliver his findings to Congress, presumably an attempt at a “false flag”). What I do know is that in my reporting on Paul Singer I never uncovered any direct financial links between him and Alberto Nisman, though that appears to be the charge now being made by Kirchner and Jorge Elbaum, writing in the pro-government newspaper, Página/12 (there’s an English translation on Kirchner’s website, seemingly thanks to Google). It’s a convenient allegation, combining two problems facing the Argentine state into one neat little enemy, but it's also not one that my reporting made. I’m not saying Nisman definitely didn’t get any of that sweet Singer cash or steer some of it to his allies, just that from what I know Nisman’s crusade – he was appointed as a special prosecutor to look into the AMIA bombing by Kirchner’s deceased husband – was merely exploited by Singer and his allies in pursuit of their own, what-appears-to-be-separate agenda, not directly funded by his ill-gotten wealth.

Anyway, as far as being cited by a head of state goes, it could be worse but I don't really want it to happen again.