Argentina’s History of Assassinations and Suspicious Suicides

tags: Argentina, Alberto Nisman

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... The persistence of state-connected violence and intrigue in Argentina goes way back. As in other Latin American nations, criminal mafias flourish. They often have links to security forces and roots in the military dictatorship that ended in 1983.

Manipulation reaches extremes capable of causing paranoia. Consider the practice known as an “operetta:” Police team up with hoodlums for robberies, split the loot, then ambush their partners and claim a victory against crime. During a wave of robberies of upscale nightspots in Buenos Aires in 1998, stick-up men killed a police officer guarding a restaurant. It turned out the killers were serving prison sentences. Guards ran a scheme in which they sneaked inmates out long enough to commit robberies, then return with the perfect alibi: They were officially behind bars.

Tactics and terminology of the “dirty war” linger. During the dictatorship, uniformed police assisted death squads by withdrawing from the area around a target and establishing a perimeter to create a “liberated zone.” Argentines still use that phrase to describe police involvement in mafia activity. Breakdowns in Nisman’s security 2013 it took his bodyguards 10 hours to enter his apartment after he failed to answer phone calls 2013 have led to talk of “a liberated zone.”

Looking back two decades, the phrase could describe the landscape in which the terrorist attack that Nisman investigated took place.

After President Carlos Menem, the son of Syrian immigrants, was elected in 1989, he had friendly relations with Middle Eastern governments that included Syria and Iran, launching a nuclear cooperation venture with Tehran. A whirl of scandal soon engulfed Menem’s government. Mafias with Middle Eastern links infiltrated government ministries, the judiciary, security forces, border agencies and transport firms to launder money and smuggle arms, drugs, contraband and people. 

The notorious Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian arms trafficker now serving a 30-year sentence in the United States for terrorism, illegally received an Argentine passport in record time and, according to Kassar’s testimony to a Spanish judge, wore a jacket and tie for the photo borrowed from President Menem himself. Presidential relatives and top officials fell in corruption cases in the 90s involving Kassar and a shadowy Argentine tycoon of Syrian descent named Alfredo Yabrán.

A “suicide” in 1990 has gotten new attention after Nisman’s death. Police found Brigadier General Rodolfo Echegoyen, a customs chief who investigated Yabrán, with a bullet in his head and a suicide note nearby. Police forensic experts eventually determined that someone else fired the .38-caliber pistol that killed the general. Yabrán later shot himself (though some people don’t believe it) as police prepared to arrest him for ordering another death that shocked the country: the killing of a news photographer by corrupt cops who tried to pin it on a band of petty criminals. ...

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