Sunday, March 15, 2015

A new - and more than dubious - charge against Argentina over Venezuela and Iran

Haaretz is carrying a JTA (Jewish Telegraph Agency) story that makes me wonder if the US government isn't actively collaborating in some kind of "regime change" operating in Argentina, Iran's 'deal' with Argentine president: Campaign funding for quiet about bombing 03/15/2015.

Since Argentine President Cristina Fernández' constitutional term ends this year and she's leaving office, there's wouldn't seem to be any obvious urgency about ousting her from office.

But politics doesn't always operate rationally, to put it mildly. The experience of the kirchmerismo policy of CFK and her late husband and predecessor as President Néstor Kirchner has been a major challenge to the neoliberal "Washington Consensus" economic model, and a successful one. The vulture funds' fight over Argentina's debt, most visibly lead by hedge fund zillionaire Paul Singer, one of the largest individual contributors to the Republican Party, has give the well-heeled vulture funds interest group particular reason to attack and discredit Cristina, even this late in her final term.

In Argentina, the opposition is scattered and divided, currently looking an uphill fight against whatever candidate Cristina's Peronist Partido Justicialista and its electoral coalition the Frente para la Victoria (FpV) put up to succeed her. The two major media monopolies of the newspapers Clarín and La Nación are both furious at CFK for legislation she sponsored limiting their ability to expand their monopolies.

On top of all this, American and Israeli hawks wanting a war with Iran are very concerned to keep as a propaganda point the as-yet-unproven claim that Iran was behind the deadly 1994 bombing attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The prosecutor investigating the AMIA case, Alberto Nisman, died in January of an apparently suicide after bringing a formal charge against CFK for allegedly trying to block the investigation of Iranian suspects in the AMIA bombing. The charge itself was obviously frivolous, and the Argentine courts quickly tossed it out. (I've blogged on this numerous times since January.)

But the opposition has seized on this case and run with it despite the frivolity of the Nisman's charge against her. Conservative members of the judiciary have taken an unusual, highly public role in solidarity with the political opposition using this issue as a pretext. CFK and her supporters have taken to calling this faction the Judicial Party. And at least some part of the Nisman gambit against her was encouraged and facilitated by anti-CFK members of the intelligence services (SI), which until the last few weeks has not faced a major reform and has been known to harbor people still sympathetic in some way to the military dictatorship of 1976-83. Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso, an SI holdover from the days of the dictatorship, has received particular attention in this regard in 2015.

Daniel CancelPablo Rosendo Gonzalez report for Bloomberg Business, Argentina Calls Ex-Spy to Testify: Challenge Is Now Finding Him 02/09/2015:

In his only known interview, conducted by phone with the weekly news magazine Noticias and published Dec. 16, Stiuso said he planned to retire when he reached 65. The same day the magazine was sent to newsstands, Fernandez removed the top officials at the intelligence agency, including Stiuso, though he wasn’t named publicly. The new head of intelligence, Oscar Parrilli said Feb. 5 that Stiuso retired on Jan. 5.
The Haaretz report from the JTA wire tells a tale involving three Venezuelans now evidently cooperating with the Obama Administration in their regime-change operation against Venezuela, which the Administration has official declared "unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." They claim that Iran channeled funds for CFK's 2007 Presidential campaign through Venezuela in exchange for protecting Iranian officials from investigation and prosecution in the AMIA case.

Three problems leap out from the first paragraph of the story. The charge that Cristina was protecting Iranian suspects was central to Nisman's formal accusation thrown out by the Argentina courts, and there is no evidence for it. Nisman's specific charge was that CFK and her Foreign Minister had asked Interpol to remove their "red alerts" on several Iranian suspects. But the head of Interpol during that period said not only did they not push Interpol to drop the red alerts but, on the contrary, had continually pushed Interpol to locate them. Which is consistent with the very public position Cristina took in Argentina and before the United Nations.

The second problem is that the alleged Venezuelan connection with the non-existent effort by CFK to shield Iranian suspects was not part of Nisman's charge. This is the first time I've seen it broached.

Third, it ties in with a previous charge involving a fact, that a US-Venezuelan businessman, Guido Antonioni Wilson, was caught bringing 800 thousand US dollars into Argentina in August of 2007 undeclared. This case became a propaganda point against Venezuela, allegedly showing their interference in other Latin American countries. The incident came at a time that Argentina was in an important negotiations about energy imports from Venezuela. This is a 2007 New York Times report on the incident: Alexei Barrionuevo, Cash-Stuffed Suitcase Splits Venezuela and Argentina 08/14/2007.

Raúl Kollmann reported on the case in 2012 for Página/12, Antonini podría recuperar media valija 12.06.2012:

Los sucesivos jueces nunca dieron por acreditado que el principal funcionario que venía en ese avión, Claudio Uberti, supiera que Antonini traía ese dinero. Uberti era titular del Organo de Control de Concesiones Viales (Occovi), pero en verdad casi ejercía de embajador en el tema más acuciante de ese momento: las negociaciones por la importación de combustibles desde Venezuela. En el expediente no se encontraron pruebas sólidas de un vínculo entre Uberti y Antonini, y se convalidó que el venezolano fue subido al avión por pedido de Uzcátegui, funcionario de Pdvsa. Los jueces y fiscales argentinos que actuaron en el expediente pidieron la extradición de Antonini y también de Uzcátegui, pero ni Estados Unidos ni Venezuela accedieron. Es más: el gobierno norteamericano informó oficialmente el mes pasado que no extraditaría a Antonini. Venezuela nunca contestó.

En Estados Unidos, el caso derivó en un sonado juicio en el que allegados a Antonini fueron acusados de ser agentes del gobierno de Hugo Chávez. Fue un proceso que sirvió en esencia para hacer publicidad contra la administración venezolana y, curiosamente, se le aceptó a Antonini la excusa de que el dinero no era de él sino que eran fondos de Chávez para la campaña presidencial de 2007 de Cristina Kirchner. La hipótesis era todavía más asombrosa si se considera que Chávez llegó a la Argentina al día siguiente del vuelo en el que aterrizó Antonini, y si ése era el objetivo, habría traído los fondos en los dos aviones de su comitiva, que tenían protección diplomática y no serían revisados. Otro dato que evidencia que el dinero era de Antonini es que el empresario registraba giros anteriores de Montevideo a Miami por cifras millonarias, y lo cierto es que en aquella oportunidad estuvo 48 horas en Buenos Aires para luego irse a Uruguay.

{The successive judges [in charge of the case in Argentina] never said on the record that the principal [Argentine] functionary that traveled in this place, Caludio Uberti, knew that Antonini was carrying this money. Uberti was the head of the Organo de Control de Concesiones Viales (OCCOVI), but in reality was almost acting as the Ambassador [to Venezuela] in the most urgent theme of that moment: the negotiations for the importation of fuel from Venezuela. in the documentation, no solid proof was found of a connection between Uberti and Antonini, and it confirmed that the Venezuelan [Antonioni] was placed on the flight at the request of Uzcátegui, official of PDVSA [the Venezuelan state oil company]. The judges and prosecutors that handled the documentation requested the extradition of Antonini [from the United States] and also of Uzcátegui [from Venezuela]. In addition: the American government made an official notification last month [May 2012] that it would not extradict Antonini. Venezuela never responded.

In the United States, the case stemmed from a much-discussed case in which intimates of Antonini were said to be agents of the government of Hugo Chávez. It was a trial that served in essence to make publicity against the Venezuelan administration and, curiously, accepted Antonini's excuse that that money was not his but rather from fund of Chávez for the 2007 Presidential campaign of Cristina Kirchner. The hypothesis was even more astonishing when one considers that Chávez arrived in Argentina the following day after the flight in which Antonini landed, and if that were the objective, he [Chávez] could have brought the funds in the two place of his retinue which had diplomatic protection and would not have been searched. Another datum that indicates that the was was Antonini's is that the businessman registered previous flight from Montivideo to Miami with sums of million, and it is certain that in that opportunity in Buenos Aires for 48 hours to later go to Uruguay.}
This is a reminder that incidents like this, once they get incorporated into a propaganda narrative against an "unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States" can keep popping up for years, even decades, as an ostensible reason for taking controversial actions. In this instance, there is a possibly-true but unproven claim about a 1994 terrorist attack (AMIA) in Argentina newly married to a nearly eight-year-old chestnut about Venezuelan meddling in Argentine politics used as a propaganda club against Argentina's current President. From the Haaretz story:

The Brazilian magazine Veja on Saturday reported that the deal, brokered by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, also provided the Iranians with nuclear know-how.

“I need you to broker with Argentina for aid to my country’s nuclear program. We need Argentinians to share their knowledge on nuclear technology; without this collaboration it is impossible to advance our program,’ Ahmadinejad told Chavez on Jan 13, 2007, according to the testimony of three former Chavez Cabinet members who now live in the United States and are collaborating in crime investigation.

“Don’t worry about the expenses required for this operation. Iran will support everything necessary to persuade the Argentines. I have another issue. I need you to discourage the Argentinians from insisting that Interpol capture the authorities of my country,” added the Iranian president, according to the report. Chavez agreed.

The Treasury Venezuela bought $6 billion in Argentina’s bonds to cover its debt in 2007 and 2008. The Argentine government also received cash for the agreement. One of three former Venezuelan officials said that the famous suitcase of Guido Antonioni Wilson, containing $ 800,000 which he brought into the country without claiming, came from the Iranian regime and was bound for the presidential campaign of Cristina Kirchner and that Chavez was just the middlemen.
This story is very shaky to put it mildly. The charge that Argentina was collaborating with Iran is one that I've not heard before and haven't researched. Politically, though, that seems to be an escalation of diplomatic hostility by the US against Argentina for this story to emerge in this fashion, however shaky its factual foundation is.

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