Nisman: Rethinking Memory and Justice

In my latest post for Latin America Goes Global, Nisman: One Year Later,” I reflect on the one year anniversary of the death of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of the AMIA (the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Society)–the worst terrorist attack in Argentina’s history, still unsolved and in a state of impunity.   One year ago today, on the eve of presenting evidence that allegedly implicated government leaders of colluding to avoid investigating Iran’s role in the bombing (a charge Kirchner’s government denied), Nisman was found dead in his apartment, a “mysterious death” that also resonated with broader questions about the rule of law.  There were many theories about who killed him (or whether he killed himself), and whether his allegations were legitimate or part of a plot against the president.  But, a year later, his death remains with more questions than answers, and now, a new leader at Argentina’s helm.

With Mauricio Macri inaugurated Argentina’s new president in December 2015, he has instituted several economic reforms in stark distinction to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s policies.  The question, now, is what kinds of changes he will implement in relation to human rights.

Under Néstor Kirchner, and then, Cristina Kirchner’s rule, changes to the juridical landscape coalesced with important cultural changes.  The amnesty laws that had protected the perpetrators of human rights abuses under the dictatorship were repealed, thereby opening the door for trials critical to holding those responsible accountable (including the historic ESMA mega-trial).  But the juridical processes intersected with social changes underway.   The ESMA, for instance, became the ex-ESMA, a Space for Memory, where important organizations (like the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) and institutions (like Memoria Abierta) became located.  At the ex-ESMA, Memory stands as a literal pillar (Memoria) together with Truth (Verdad) and Justice (Justicia) — intersecting to shape a certain narrative about contemporary Argentine values.

And yet, memory cannot stand on its own.  The memorial calendar grows all the time in Argentina — March 24th commemorating the coup that brought in the dictatorship, July 18th commemorating the AMIA bombing, among so many other dates.

As Nisman’s death adds yet another anniversary to Argentina’s memorial calendar, as I wrote in “Nisman: One Year Later,” the question is not whether Nisman will be remembered, but to what ends, and what meaning his death will take on.  This anniversary, as all anniversaries, should be taken as an opportunity to reflect on the evolving relationship between memory and justice in Argentina, and the future of human rights.


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