Prosecutor Nisman’s Untimely Death Highlights a Divided Argentina

October 10, 2016

For the last month, following the suspicious and polarizing death of 51-year old Public Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, Argentina has played host to vicious accusations and fierce insults in an environment of palpable social division that has emerged over the past few years.  Nevertheless, on February 18 the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands who braved a summer downpour in order to participate in the “March of Silence” in homage to the late Nisman restrained themselves and helped realize what organizers had hoped would indeed be a peaceful demonstration honoring Nisman and demanding answers surrounding his untimely death.1,2  The thousands of protesters unwaveringly commanding the rain-soaked streets of Buenos Aires in solidarity was however, representative of a more widespread dissatisfaction with and distrust in the national government.


The restlessly pacifist throng of Argentines walked its planned route from the Capitol building to the Plaza de Mayo, pausing for a moment of remembrance in front of the prosecutor’s office along the way.  Skeptical of Nisman’s death and overtly critical of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s handling of the occurrence and her corrupt government in general, the group of protesters made their point, through a silent demand for justice, temporarily leaving all conspiracy theories behind.2


Nisman’s controversial and mysterious death on Jan. 18 remains the subject of an open investigation by authorities who, despite having an initial autopsy reveal that there was no proof of outside involvement in the supposed suicide, continue to leave the case as open and suspicious.3   In truth, almost no Argentine currently believes that Nisman committed suicide, and, given the context of his unfortunate and mysterious passing, it is easy to understand why.4


The former government prosecutor was found dead, with a gunshot wound to his head, in his bathroom at his residence on January 18, just days before he was set to present a case for an official investigation into a potential cover-up commissioned by President Fernández and carried out by her Minister of Foreign Affairs, Héctor Timerman, amongst others.  Long a subject of dubiousness, the relevant case, which had to do with the tragic 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association in which 85 people perished and many more were injured, eventually drew Nisman as lead investigator.3  With Fernández vehemently denying any involvement in a cover-up of any sort throughout, Nisman, also moving to freeze some $23 million in assets, had asserted that the government avoided punishing at least two known Iranian conspirators in the 1994 tragedy in order to further “Argentina’s commercial political, and geopolitical interests.”3  Alleging that Foreign Minister Timerman plus other officials in the Kirchner government had spared the Iranian officials credited with the deadly 1994 attack in exchange for a grain-for-oil swap with the Tehran government, Nisman never had the chance to present his case, and the public has demanded answers.4


Further amplifying the fervor of the situation surrounding this tragedy has been the tone that officials of the executive branch in the presidential Casa Rosada, headed by President Fernández, have used since Nisman’s passing.  Now over a month removed from Nisman’s death and with the new prosecutor overseeing the case, Gerardo Pollicita, having officially indicted the Argentine leader amongst others, continuing the open investigations of his fallen contemporary, there still has not been one word of condolences offered for Nisman by the President.5,6  In fact, Fernández has seemingly suggested that she is in fact the victim of what is a broad government destabilization effort in which Nisman’s death was merely part of the means to unseat her and her government.  Argentina’s chief executive has gone so far as to attach the label of “golpistas” to the five members of the judicial branch that organized Nisman’s ‘Silent March’, insinuating that they have intentions of overthrow and subversion.4  While Fernández has continued to insist that she and her administration had absolutely nothing to do with any sort of cover-up operation surrounding the 1994 terrorist attack and has asserted that her recent indictment has “no judicial value” nor “importance,” the line between an ‘us’ and an ‘them’ has become all the more unmistakable.


Despite the fact that judge and ex-wife of Prosecutor Nisman, Sandra Arroyo Salgado, pleaded to an open audience held in the Senate on February 12 that those examining the case “stop politicizing” the investigation, it appears that her request has fallen upon deaf ears.4  Affirming that she is “not pro-government or opposition” and instead firing to Congress that “The search for truth and justice are part of the politics of an entire state,” Arroyo Salgado could not possibly be content with the dynamic of sharp division that continues to pervade the difficult situation, much of which has been recently catalyzed by President Fernández’ comments both in discourses and on social media.7,8  Having already dissolved her government’s existing intelligence agency – the Secretariat of Intelligence (SI) – in favor of a newly created one – the Federal Intelligence Agency – a week after Nisman’s death nearly a month ago, the President has only continued to shed doubt upon others in her own government, underscoring the powerful divide between government supporters and those who supposedly oppose it.3  Citing Nisman’s death and elevating suspicion of the prosecutor’s death in the process, Fernández dissolved the SI because she claimed that it “[had] not served the national interests.”3  Most recently, the morning following her indictment, Fernández perfectly highlighted the ‘government v. destabilizers’ dynamic that has emerged as a result of this conspiracy when her Facebook account read, “You know what?  The hate, grievances, injustices, and slander we leave to them.”4


Although first and foremost what should simply be considered a tragedy, Prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s mysterious and untimely death has provided Argentina with exactly the catalyst necessary to accentuate the sharply potent political and judicial class divide that has permeated within the country for several years now.  Nisman’s controversial death itself and all of the events surrounding it have perpetuated and most definitely propagated further an acute sense of dissatisfaction and distrust in an increasingly muddled Argentina.  Whether or not true justice is served and the truth is ultimately uncovered in the Nisman death case and/or the cover-up investigation that he helped to engender, the events of these past five-plus weeks have left Argentina in an angry state of skepticism and chaos just about as intense as the mid-summer sun under which the country sizzles right now.


1) “Argentina: el silencio fue multitudinario [video].” Available at:


2) Peregil, Francisco. “Thousands join silent march in Argentina to remember prosecutor.” El País: Edición América – in English. Available at:


3) Chappell, Bill. “Argentina’s President Dissolves Intelligence Agency, Citing Prosecutor’s Death.” GPB News. Available at:


4) Peregil, Francisco. “El ‘caso Nisman’ agrava la fuerte polarización política en Argentina.” El País: Edición América – Internacional. Available at:


5) de Carlos, Carmen. “Cristina Kirchner, imputada por la denuncia que hizo Alberto Nisman antes de morir.” Internacional. Available at:


6) “Argentine president facing probe in cover-up of Iran’s alleged involvement in 1994 attack.” Fox News Latino. Available at:


7) Tejas, Aditya. “Alberto Nisman Death: Ex-Wife Criticizes Probe, Calls For International Commission To Take Over.” International Business Times. Available at:


8) “Arroyo Salgado: Do not politicise Nisman’s death.” Buenos Aires Herald. Available at:



About Author(s)

Kevin Kerr
Kevin Kerr is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Spanish with a related minor in Portuguese as well as a second minor in Linguistics while also obtaining a Certificate in Latin American Studies from CLAS. After taking some time to travel and work throughout the world, specifically Latin America, post-graduation, he has aspirations of working and studying in the International Business/Economics or Public Health fields.