In Argentina, Alberto Nisman’s mysterious death is once again making headlines. On Thursday, prosecutor Ricardo Sáenz declared in the Buenos Aires Criminal Appeals Court that Nisman was murdered and recommended that the case be pursued as a murder investigation under federal jurisdiction. This is the first time a judicial official has affirmed what many suspected, though has been shrouded in mystery, since it occurred more than a year ago: Nisman was likely murdered and did not commit suicide.
At the time his body was discovered, Nisman had been the lead prosecutor investigating the 1994 AMIA bombing and had just presented findings that he alleged implicated President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and others in covering up the investigation of the bombing. Shortly before he was to present his evidence before Congress, he was found dead, prompting many theories of how and why he died, a “mystery” that was understood to be the result of a suicide (or “forced suicide”) or murder, with important political stakes associated with each version of events. Nisman’s ex-wife, Sandra Arroyo Salgado (also a federal judge) had been claiming it was a murder since last March, while official investigators had not reached any conclusions. The claim that this was murder by Sáenz represents an important shift, even though the presiding judge has indicated there is nothing definitive to prove murder.
Can this be a turning point that can lead to establishing accountability for Nisman’s death? Having a court official make the claim that it was murder is an important shift in the history of this case, a history that has been plagued by impunity; a point noted recently by Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti.
Yet, there is more work to be done. The focus should now be on fully pursuing and investigating this death in a way that might change this narrative, offering a possibility for truth and justice, that has, until now, remained elusive.
Claiming murder is not the same as establishing it through a trial, or holding someone accountable for that crime. And if the past is any indication that may well take some time. At stake is not just who killed Nisman, but what this death will ultimately mean for Argentina’s democracy and rule of law.