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Prosecutor's Murky Death Could Impact Argentina's Elections


Today in Argentina, Alberto Nisman was buried. He'd been investigating the country's worst terror attack, a bombing at a Jewish community center that remains unsolved 20 years later, and he accused Argentina's president of a cover-up. He was found dead earlier this month with a bullet to the head. The way Argentines view Nisman's murky death could greatly affect the country's politics. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was at the funeral in Buenos Aires.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Flanked by policemen on motorbikes, the car carrying prosecutor Alberto Nisman's body is now driving into the Israelite Cemetery of Buenos Aires in front of me, where he will be laid to rest in a private ceremony for family and friends. But Nisman's death has caused a very public political crisis in Argentina.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Protesters chanted for justice as the procession went by. Opposition lawmaker Patricia Bullrich was in attendance.

PATRICIA BULLRICH: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "This is a sad day, a day when all Argentines have to reflect because what has happened is very serious and very grave," she said. "There are many questions surrounding Nisman's death - was it murder? If so, who did it and why?" Unfortunately right now in Argentina, depending on your political viewpoint the answers you come up with are very different, says Martin Bohmer, a professor of law in Buenos Aires.

MARTIN BOHMER: We Argentines are in a very difficult moment that the Nisman case shows, which is, nobody actually believes anything.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Argentina is politically polarized. There's been 12 years of the leftist Kirchners in office. Nestor came to power in 2003 and he was succeeded by his wife Cristina Fernandez, the sitting president who's in her second term. Elections for a new leader take place in October. By law, President Kirchner cannot run again.

BOHMER: Everybody wants to take advantage of this moment, that's the point. Everybody's using this death as a political pawn, you know?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The government says forces allied to the opposition killed Nisman. The opposition says it was the government, who either don't have control of their own intelligence services, or worse, did the deed themselves.

JORGE CASTRO: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "What the polls show," says Jorge Castro, a political analyst, "is that up until now, the two sides - Kirchnerism on the one side and the opposition on the other - are heavily consolidated. The Kirchner block has somewhere between 33 to 37 percent of the vote." He says, "for the leftists to win outright, they will need votes from groups outside their power base in the lower classes. That means courting the middle class. Those are the ones," says Castro, "who are more engaged with the Nisman saga." In August, primaries will choose who are the main presidential contenders for each party. The governor of the province of Buenos Aires, Daniel Scioli, seems to the one whom Cristina Kirchner wants to succeed her.

CASTRO: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "So during this crisis, Scioli is adopting a non-confrontational attitude, non-polarizing," says Castro, "so he can distance himself from the position of Cristina Kirchner." Nisman's death plays into the wider context of that coming power grab. The president wants to ensure her political legacy. The opposition wants to change the direction of the country, shift away from the alliance with countries like Venezuela, and get Argentina back in the good graces of the international markets. Martin Bohmer says the tragedy of Argentina's current political climate is that whatever becomes of the investigation into Nisman's death, people have already made up their minds here.

BOHMER: The drama is not that we don't know, it's that we'll never know. Because even if we knew, people wouldn't trust it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Buenos Aires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sundayand one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcastUp First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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