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Former Argentine President Denies Bombing Cover-Up Allegations

Nov 14, 2017
Originally published on November 14, 2017 6:53 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's hear the story now of a politician once seen as one of the world's most powerful women. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner served two terms as the president of Argentina. Now she is out of power, and she's fighting to stay out of prison. Here's NPR's Philip Reeves.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Cristina Kirchner can still pull a crowd. These people are outside a courthouse in Buenos Aires cheering her on. Kirchner's come for the latest hearing in a highly contentious case. It's to do with the worst terrorist attack in Argentina's history, a bombing at a Jewish community center in 1994 that killed 85 people. Kirchner's accused of covering up Iran's alleged involvement in that attack in return for trade deals.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Spanish).

REEVES: Kirchner emerges from the courthouse and delivers her take on the accusation against her.

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CRISTINA FERNANDEZ DE KIRCHNER: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "It's an absurdity. I think the judiciary's trying to persecute me," she says. This particular case is one episode in an even larger, stranger drama. For years, that alleged cover-up was being investigated by a federal prosecutor, Alberto Nisman. Nisman concluded Kirchner was involved. He was just about to report this to Argentina's Congress when nearly three years ago he was found dead in his apartment, shot in the head. Initial investigations into Nisman's death were contradictory. Now a new inquiry, this time by Argentina's border police, has reportedly concluded he was drugged and murdered. By whom remains a mystery.

Last month, Kirchner secured a seat in Argentina's Senate. She dominates the opposition to the center-right president Mauricio Macri. Yet her support has dropped away sharply. Analysts partly blame the Nisman scandal. She's also facing a batch of corruption charges. She denies these, too. Some view all these allegations as part of Argentina's political game.

JULIETA LENARDUZZI: The judiciary is very much perceived as politically driven.

REEVES: Julieta Lenarduzzi's a political scientist at the University of Buenos Aires. She says Argentina's judiciary's generally held in such low esteem that a lot of Kirchner core supporters don't care what the courts conclude.

LENARDUZZI: If the Supreme Court says, yes, she killed Nisman, these people won't change the way they think.

REEVES: Having a Senate seat means Kirchner immune from arrest and imprisonment, although cases against her can still go forward. There's speculation that Kirchner's opponents in Congress will now try to get that immunity lifted. They did this recently to one of her former cabinet ministers, who's now in prison. Her former vice president was also detained the other day, again on corruption charges. Arresting Kirchner could be tricky.

CRISTINA DEMANE: (Through interpreter) It would cause a huge ruckus, a terrible revolt. The people will defend her.

REEVES: That's Cristina Demane. She's 62 and survives on a pension of around $350 a month. This is a working-class neighborhood outside Buenos Aires city and a traditional Kirchner stronghold. Demane is helping out at a store that sells cheese and sausage in a park. She hopes Kirchner will overcome her legal woes and come back as president.

DEMANE: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "God willing, she'll return for the good of us all. Argentina's current government doesn't help us poor people," she says. Analysts actually tend to be skeptical that Kirchner, who's 64, could ever rule in Argentina again. Yet Hernan Soto, online editor of Perfil newspaper, doesn't entirely rule it out.

HERNAN SOTO: (Through interpreter) It's not impossible. Argentina has cycles of ups and downs.

REEVES: Soto says one person does appear to believe in her comeback - Kirchner herself.

SOTO: (Through interpreter) She's very focused on it. Power is like that. When you've had the maximum power, your ambition is to get more.

REEVES: Former President Cristina Kirchner may be down, but she's not out. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Buenos Aires.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANSFIELD.TYA'S "FREQUENCES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.