Supporters rally for embattled Argentine president
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Tens of thousands of supporters rallied Sunday, March 1, for Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, days after a judge dismissed allegations brought against her by a prosecutor who died mysteriously.
Seeking to seize the spotlight from a mass rally last month in memory of late prosecutor Alberto Nisman, whose death unleashed a crisis for Kirchner's government, the president's supporters flooded the streets around Congress for her final opening address before the legislature.
With balloons and giant puppets of Kirchner's late husband and predecessor Nestor (2003-2007), tens of thousands of supporters gathered with banners bearing slogans such as "Cristina is the people."
Kirchner, 62, will step down on December 10 after the elections. She is battling to salvage her remaining months in office – as well as the legacy of the presidential dynasty that began with her late husband – from the scandal that erupted when Nisman was found dead in his bathroom on January 18.
The prosecutor had accused the president of shielding Iranian officials from prosecution over the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish Center, which killed 85 people, the deadliest such attack in Argentine history.
He died on the eve of Congressional hearings where he was to present his findings that Iran ordered the bombing via Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and that Kirchner then protected those involved in exchange for oil and trade benefits.
Kirchner got a boost Thursday, February 27, when Judge Daniel Rafecas dismissed the case against her, assailing Nisman's allegations – which a new team of prosecutors had formally revived – as unfounded.
Kirchner briefly addressed the allegations in her more than three-hour speech to the opening session of Congress, saying the accusations were a "shame for all Argentines."
And she responded indignantly to signs held up by opposition lawmakers calling for justice in the bombing at the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA), which happened 13 years before she took office.
"Don't come talking to me about AMIA," she said.
"21 years have passed (since the bombing) and not a single person has been convicted, not a single one sent to jail."
Fiery debt dispute rhetoric
Striking a triumphant tone, Kirchner played to her supporters on another divisive episode in her presidency: Argentina's legal battle against hedge fund creditors which rejected the country's effort to restructure its debt.
The messy lawsuit in a New York federal court forced Argentina into default last year, but Kirchner declared victory in the country's battle to write down the debt left over from its devastating 2001 economic crisis.
"Argentina is the only country in the world that has reduced its external debt," she said.
"Never again will governments have to take out debt to pay debt," she added.
She said the "vultures" who bought defaulted Argentine bonds on the cheap and sued the government for full payment were "internationally recognized bloodsuckers" – rhetoric that has proven extremely popular with her support base.
Outside Congress, supporters followed her speech on giant screens, regularly bursting into applause.
The rally for Kirchner came 11 days after tens of thousands of people marched in silence to demand justice over Nisman's death.
That march drew as many as 400,000 people, municipal police said, though federal police put the number at 50,000.
Since Nisman's death, initially labeled a suicide, suspicion has fallen on Kirchner's government of orchestrating his murder.
The president has suggested the prosecutor was manipulated by disgruntled former intelligence agents who then had him killed to smear her.
Kirchner has clashed with the intelligence service over her sweeping overhaul of the agency, which passed Congress Thursday, February 26, bringing its wire-tapping powers under executive control, among other reforms.
Nisman had based his accusations against Kirchner on hundreds of hours of wiretaps.
Kirchner's Peronist party has not yet picked a candidate for the October 25 vote to succeed her. – Rappler.com