Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the rainy streets of downtown Buenos Aires on Wednesday evening to mark one month since the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor who had accused President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of covering up Iranian involvement in the 1994 Argentine Israelite Mutual Association bombing, which was the country's deadliest terrorist attack, killing 85 people.
The "march of silence" was called by a group of fellow prosecutors who said their intent was to honor the memory of Nisman, and to call for justice for the 51-year-old, who was found shot in the head on January 18, a day before he was scheduled to present his case against Kirchner to Congress. It is unclear if Nisman's death was suicide or murder.
Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers Jorge Capitanich denounced the demonstration organized by Nisman's colleagues, calling them "golpistas" — or people intent on carrying out a "coup." Opposing federal prosecutors loyal to Kirchner blanketed the center of Buenos Aires on Wednesday with posters describing the march as right wing in nature.
Secretary General Aníbal Fernandez said that the only people he felt were there to pay respect to the deceased prosecutor were members of his family.
"It wasn't a demonstration coming from the point of view of paying tribute to anyone," Fernandez told reporters. "It was an opposition march."
Before Wednesday's march, officials said federal security forces attending the event would be avoiding violent confrontations.
"I have given the order that for five blocks on either side […] of where the march will be held, no federal agent will carry guns, because we recognize that there are many interests for this to not go well," Security Secretary Sergio Berni said during a radio interview on Tuesday. "I think there could be provocations."
In spite of poor weather conditions, an estimated 400,000 came out to peacefully protest. The not-so-silent demonstration was peppered with calls for "Justicia!" and many carried signs reading "Never again!"
"Military coups do not exist anymore, neither do legislative blows," Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich said. "Now the modality is of a soft blow, where the concentrated media groups further their strategy through judicial authority, with judges and prosecutors [who are] addicted to those corporate powers."
The intense criticism leading up to the Nisman memorial march showcased the deep political divisions that have permeated the structure of Argentina's government in a crucial election year. Argentine voters are set to elect a new president in October, as Kirchner is barred from running for a third term.
Organizers said they would refrain from giving interviews about the demonstration, to avoid further politicizing the event. On Tuesday, however, Raul Plee, a federal appellate attorney and one of the organizing prosecutors, said they were not "naive."
"We understand Nisman's death as a political death," he said. "The prosecutors could not remain 'silent.'"
Opposition voices in Argentina's political class have said that Kirchner's administration is behaving "unconstitutionally," since the president initially surmised that Nisman had killed himself, before judicial authorities weighed in. Kirchner later backtracked, saying Nisman may have been killed to discredit her administration.
'This is not just a fiction or an Argentine drama.'
Laura Alonso, a congresswoman with the center-right Republican Proposal (PRO) party, told VICE News hours before the march that Kirchner's statements harshly criticizing any countering voices come close to "authoritarianism." Alonzo said the Nisman case represents a "before and after" for accountability in Argentina's government.
"We deserve the know the truth," the legislator said. "This is not just a fiction or an Argentine drama."
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