Iran in Latin America
The Trump administration has seriously turned up the heat on Venezuela, slapping sanctions on the country's vice president as a drug "kingpin." The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Feb. 13 officially named Tareck Zaidan El Aissami as a "Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker" under terms of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act) of 1999. The order charges that El Aissami received pay-offs from a trafficking network linked to Mexico's Zetas narco-gang. Under the order, US nationals and corporations are barred from doing business with El Aissami, and all his assets within the country are frozen.
President-elect Donald Trump is reported to have named the former chief of the Pentagon's Southern Command, Gen. John Kelly, as his choice for secretary of Homeland Security. As SouthCom chief, Kelly oversaw counter-narcotics operations throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean from late 2012 until his retirement in January 2016. He was a notorious hardliner, which resulted in policy clashes with President Obama, the Washington Post tells us. As Homeland Security chief, he will oversee the 20,000-strong Border Patrol, with responsibility for drug interceptions along the 2,000-mile frontier with Mexico.
Argentine federal judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral on Oct. 20 called upon authorities in Iraq to arrest Iranian diplomat Ali Akbar Velayati, accused of being an intellectual author of the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish community center. Velayati was Iran's foregn minister at the time of the attack on the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA). The bombing, which left 85 dead and some 300 injured, is considered the deadliest anti-Semitic attack carried out anywhere since World War II. The team of special prosecutors on the AMIA case formally petitioned Canicoba Corral to seek the arrest warrant when it became aware of Velayati's arrival in Baghdad. Because Velayati is not currently the subject of an Interpol "red notice," any arrest and extradition process will need to be processed through bilateral agreements between Argentina and Iraq. The prosecutors maintain that Velayati oversaw an August 1993 meeting of Iran's Supreme National Security Council where the decision to undertake the bombing was arrived at. (Buenos Aires Herald, Oct. 21; InfoBae, Oct. 20)
Argentine lawyer and federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman was the victim of murder according to Criminal Appeals Court Prosecutor Ricardo Sáenz in a Feb. 25 decision. The declaration is the first time a judicial authority has suggested the death as a homicide since the mysterious tragedy in January 2015. Sáenz recommended that the case be handed to federal authorities and investigated as a murder. The prosecutor wrote that he agreed with the assassination theory that Nisman's family presented in a complaint to the appeals court in Buenos Aires and that all the evidence points to Nisman's death as a murder, not a suicide. Judge and Nisman's former wife, Sandra Arroyo Salgado, also maintains that the case be handed over to federal authorities in order to fulfill their role as the country's institution for investigating the suspicious death of a public servant. The court will evaluate Sáenz's findings on March 18.
A federal judge in Argentina on Feb. 26 dismissed charges against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, who had been accused of covering up Iranian involvement in the deadly 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA). Judge Daniel Rafecas concluded that there was "no legal basis" to pursue the charges, which had been prepared by special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, just before he was found dead in his apartment last month. Rafecas also dismissed related charges against lawmaker Eduardo "Wado" de Pedro and two leftist leaders close the the government, Luis D'Elía and Fernando Estreche. (BBC News, InfoBAE, Feb. 26)
Organizers are claiming that up to half a million marched in the pouring rain in Buenos Aires Feb. 18 to demand justice in the case of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who was found dead in his apartment exactly one month earlier, just after he had filed a criminal complaint charging that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman (among others) had conspired to cover up Iran's role in the deadly 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building. Although slogans against the government were not heard, the "silent march"—called by a group of prosecutors—was seen as a direct challenge to Fernández de Kirchner's administration. Members of Nisman's family, including his eldest daughter, also attended the march. Opposition parties such as the left-wing Broad Front UNEN and centrist Radical Civil Union (UCR) had a visible presence, but prosecutors who had taken on figures close to the Fernández de Kirchner government won the loudest applause, despite the official "silent" nature of the march. Significantly, the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Police—under Mayor Mauricio Macri, who was also at the march—put the figure of attendees at 400,000, while the Federal Police—under Security Secretary Sergio Berni, a member of Fernández de Kirchner's cabinet—estimated only 50,000. (Buenos Aires Herald, BBC News, Feb. 19; InfoBAE, Feb. 18)
Argentine federal prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment late on Jan. 18 with a gunshot wound to his head. Nisman had filed a 289-page criminal complaint on Jan. 14 charging that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and eight others, including two Iranians, had acted to cover up the alleged role of the Iranian government in the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires. The bombing, which left 85 dead and some 300 injured, is considered the deadliest anti-Semitic attack carried out anywhere since World War II. Nisman's death came the day before he was to testify to the National Congress about the charges.
While the US media focused on the late Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman's Jan. 14 charges against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, many people have been accused over the years of blocking the investigation into the deadly 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building. The people suspected include a former president, a judge, an intelligence chief, and officials of two foreign governments. After an inquiry that has gone on for 21 years under several different governments, Argentine prosecutors have still not won a single conviction in the case.