As US imperialism is finding it increasingly difficult to stamp its authority onto its own backyard, Latin America is making the global news headlines on a regular basis. Along with Venezuela and Brazil, Argentina is one of the countries on the South-American continent that is currently featuring most prominently.
At first glance, the various stories concerning Argentina may seem totally unconnected. The vulture-fund case has been dragging on for some years now, while Argentina is but one of many countries affected by the HSBC tax-avoidance and money-laundering scandal. And the recent death of an Argentine prosecutor, while suspicious, has no apparent connection to the world of finance.
However, all these cases in one way or another show us a country whose current leadership stands on the front lines against decaying US imperialism. The progressive national-bourgeois Peronist leadership of President Cristina Kirchner, and of her predecessor and late husband Néstor Kirchner, allied to popular movements at home and with progressive and revolutionary forces throughout Latin America, as well as with China and Russia, has pursued a programme of progressive reforms and national development that have improved living conditions for many Argentineans, earning widespread popular support from the popular masses, but the bitter hatred of both the comprador bourgeoisie and imperialism.
And it is just this comprador and often racist bourgeoisie which in the very recent period, across South America, has become louder and louder, the more it is pushed back by progressive forces – louder in slandering those who stand up to them and louder in calling for US intervention and a return to the bad old days of fascist military juntas, torture, disappearances and death squads.
Alongside violent and sabotaging elements in Venezuela, and hundreds of thousands marching in Brazil demanding that the army step in to save them from ‘communism’, US imperialism’s comprador lackeys have now seized on the suspicious death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman. But before we come to the details of this case, let us present some background information as to why Argentina specifically is in the crosshairs of imperialism.
The vultures return to Argentina’s skies
Since Argentina defaulted on its foreign debts in 2001, after which it agreed to major restructuring and write-offs with the majority of its bondholders, a small number of creditors have been holding out, and suing the country for the full amount, plus interest.
Many of these creditors are so-called ‘vulture funds’, which only bought up Argentine bonds in the wake of the country’s collapse with the explicit aim of extracting the maximum profit as quickly and aggressively as possible. Last summer they were handed a major victory by a New York judge, who ruled that it was illegal for Argentina not to pay the vultures, while paying the rest. (See ‘Vulture funds swoop on Argentina, Proletarian, August 2014)
Since New York is one of the world’s major international financial centres, and since the US displays an obsessive zeal, and considerable ingenuity, in enforcing its arbitrary legislation and rulings extra-territorially, this ruling was by no means insignificant.
In the meantime, some financial institutions have declared Argentina to be in default, although Argentina has denied this and has in fact been paying some of its non-vulture bondholders. In a recent speech to the Argentine congress, President Kirchner highlighted the progress made under both her own and her late husband’s leaderships, and declared that:
“Never again will our governments indebt themselves to pay other debts. If we acquire any new debt it will be for development projects, but not for the gains of the international financial system. We have ended Argentina’s debt.” (‘Christina Fernandez: “We have ended Argentina’s debt”‘, teleSUR, 1 March 2015)
Now a number of latecomers have joined the vultures’ lawsuit and some major institutions of US finance capital have found themselves caught between the two warring parties: Citigroup was ordered on 12 March to stop handling bond payments, which up until now had been going ahead under the assumption that they were not covered by the previous ruling, as they were not issued under US law.
The honourable judicial representative of US imperialism, Mr Judge Griesa, has now, after some legal nitpicking, ruled otherwise and Citigroup found itself caught in a dilemma. If they ignored the ruling and handled the money, they would have been in big trouble at home. If they refused to process the payments, they would stand to lose their banking licence in Argentina altogether.
Faced with this insoluble contradiction, the bank announced on 17 March that it would be exiting its custody business in Argentina as soon as possible. There is no doubt that the Citigroup’s directors and major shareholders will be extremely unhappy at the loss of good profit-making business, however. Contradictions within the imperialist camp continue to sharpen as the crisis bites deeper. (See ‘Citigroup to stop Argentina bond payments amid turmoil’ by Jonathan Stempel, reuters.com, 17 March 2015)
Challenging HSBC looters
Earlier this year, investigative journalists made public leaked information (which had been passed to various tax authorities) that proved that the HSBC bank had helped thousands of clients to evade tax through its Swiss branch. Responses from affected countries have varied: Swiss police have raided HSBC’s offices, France is close to bringing criminal charges, while Britain’s HMRC has recovered a token amount of £135m.
Argentina, however, has proceeded in a somewhat bolder fashion:
“The head of Argentina’s tax authority has demanded that HSBC repatriate $3.5bn (£2.3bn) in funds that it says HSBC helped its clients move offshore … As part of his briefing, Mr Echegaray further revealed that on 8 March, at the request of the Argentine tax authority, police raided HSBC’s Argentine branch in search of documents.” (‘Argentina demands HSBC repay $3.5bn in offshore funds’, BBC News Online, 9 March 2015)
However, through the raid it was found that most of the relevant paperwork had been stored in the safe hands of a company called Iron Mountain. Of course, the warehouses of the company in question had just conveniently burnt to the ground under suspicious circumstances. Now authorities are investigating this case, which involves others beside HSBC.
“The Financial Information Unit of Argentina is investigating a conspiracy between Iron Mountain and its major clients – international financial companies such as banks HSBC, BNP Paribas and JP Morgan – to destroy documentation involving economic crimes, by causing a fire in the company’s warehouses.
“According to José Sbatella, the head of the unit, ‘They have come to justify the lack of documentation by saying they lost it in the fire. However, this does not explain why these companies have not filed any lawsuits against Iron Mountain for this.’” (‘Argentina: HSBC embroiled in deliberate fire cover-up’, teleSUR, 10 March 2015.
US imperialism in Latin America
All this must be borne in mind when looking at the final part of the picture: the present government of Argentina is one committed to national sovereignty and development, and is not scared to stand up to imperialism, its vulture funds and its parasitic banks.
But, of course, it has not always been that way, as geopolitical analyst Mahdi Darius Nazemroaza has pointed out: “Argentina has been going through a process similar to the post-1999 years, after Boris Yeltsin stepped down and Vladimir Putin took his place in the Kremlin as the president of the Russian Federation. While it has been struggling to throw off the foreign yoke, the Argentine federal government in Buenos Aires has been consolidating its economic and political power.” (‘The politicisation of the AMIA investigation: pretext for regime change in Argentina?’, strategic-culture.org, 9 February 2015)
And, just as in Russia, in Argentina, too, members of the old regime and comprador elements loyal to US imperialism have opposed these developments. Of course, the USA has a long history of direct and indirect meddling, oppression and exploitation in Latin America. Even before the twentieth century began, the US had militarily intervened there numerous times: Argentina (1890), Chile (1891), Haiti (1891), Panama (1895), Cuba (1898), Puerto Rico (1898) and Nicaragua (1894, 1896, 1898 and 1899).
When it comes to the last century, of course, the incidents are too numerous to list – it was one long period of US domination and bloodshed. Most recently, the US declaration that revolutionary Venezuela supposedly constitutes “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” creates a real and present danger of military aggression against that heroic country.
The death of Nisman
Now, the suspicious death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman has provided the country’s comprador bourgeoisie and its foreign backers with new ammunition with which they are attempting to undermine the government.
Since 2003, Nisman, who himself had strong zionist connections and pro-Israel links, had been investigating the 1994 bombing of a jewish centre in Buenos Aires, which housed not only the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) but also the Argentine Delegation of Israeli Associations (DAIA), a pro-Israeli lobby.
Only hours before Nisman was due to give testimony to the Argentinean congress, he was found dead in his flat with a gunshot wound in his head. While the investigators have classed the death as suspicious, they have repeatedly stressed that they have no evidence to suggest that it was not suicide. However, this has not stopped people on both sides of the political spectrum, as well Nisman’s family, from declaring it to have been murder. (See ‘Nisman family say Argentina prosecutor was murdered’, BBC News Online, 5 March 2015
But amidst the welter of claims and counter-claims, the key question to be asked is this: who stands to gain from Nisman’s death? The comprador opposition was quick to accuse Kircher and her government of conspiring to kill the prosecutor.
From the beginning it has been asserted by these elements that the 1994 bombing was carried out by members of the Lebanese Hizbollah, aided by Syria. In 2006, the narrative was changed: now Iran was the supposed co-culprit.
According to the proponents of this fairy tale, President Kirchner and others were apparently aware of Iran’s involvement but decided to sweep it under the carpet in exchange for a mutually beneficial trade deal between the two countries involving oil and agricultural produce. Now that, according to this trite fable, Nisman was close to uncovering the whole conspiracy, he had to be taken out. All good pulp fiction stuff.
And, indeed, Nisman did seem to have written the ‘kiss-and-tell’ pot-boiler, in the form of a report of more than 300 pages However, observers have pointed out that this report seemed to appear out of nowhere under suspicious circumstances. Others say that Nisman was fed false information by rogue SI (Intelligence Service) members – holdovers from previous reactionary regimes. The former SI chief, Antonio Stiusso, has recently re-emerged as a chief suspect in Nisman’s death.
President Kirchner herself, who has been exonerated of any charges of covering up the alleged Iranian involvement in the bombing, believes “that two US hedge funds which are involved in a long legal dispute over Argentina’s debt may have orchestrated the case”. (‘Judge dismisses case against Argentine president over jewish center bombing cover-up’, RT, 26 February 2015)
Despite the attempts of the right wing and imperialism to pin the blame for Nisman’s death on the president or her supporters, any infant could see that killing him could only serve to make him a martyr and lend credence to his otherwise baseless allegations – allegations which the Argentinean judiciary have since found to be lacking in any evidence, even of a circumstantial nature.
The whole thing smacks of a US-inspired plot to implicate two opponents of US interests – the governments of Iran and Argentina – at the cost of offing a non-entity. And, if unreformed elements of the Argentinean security services, once champions in the death-squad league and up to their necks in the Nazi ‘rat run’ from Europe, were pressed into service to do the dirty work, then, for them, the fact that Nisman was jewish was yet another bonus.
For her part, President Kirchner responded to Nisman’s death by announcing legislation to at last dissolve the old security service.
It is also interesting to note that Nisman’s death is but one of a recent pattern whereby opponents of regimes in imperialism’s cross hairs are killed in mysterious circumstances – only for this to be used to facilitate attempts at ‘regime change’.
Besides the well-publicised case of Boris Nemtsov in Russia, there have been strikingly similar incidents in both Mozambique and Tajikistan, whilst in Venezuela, President Maduro revealed a similar attempt, spoiled only by the intended victim being safely incarcerated on treason charges. And all these five cases, on four continents – same play, different cast – in practically the same month! Clearly the hand of Langley, Virginia, home to the notorious CIA, cannot be ruled out.
Whatever the final judgment in the Nisman case, the whole reaction to it carries a clear lesson. Everywhere the lackeys of imperialism are quick to jump at the slightest opportunity to bend a story their way in order to whip up opposition and distrust of legitimate governments that dare stand up to them.
And as imperialists have a track record not only of forging false evidence, but also of conspiracies, subversion, murder, and every type of chicanery known to humanity, we cannot but situate Nisman’s death within the context of the fact that the Argentinean government and people are battling US-led imperialism on a number of fronts – and that same US-led imperialism is hell bent on attempting to turn back the progress tide in Latin America, presently focused on Venezuela above all, along with Brazil and Argentina. .
The popular masses of Latin America, and their progressive governments, are presently standing firm in the face of an onslaught by imperialism and reactionaries and they deserve our firmest support and solidarity as well as that of the entire working-class movement.
US imperialism will certainly not just sit back and watch its long-standing South-American backyard slip out of its grasp and towards the bright dawn of independence and social progress, so the danger of not only subversion and sanctions but also of invasion and war is very real in the coming period – as the leaders of such revolutionary governments as those of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua are well aware.
Equally, to really and sustainably consolidate their progressive and revolutionary gains, the working people of Latin America and their revolutionary leaderships have, at the end of the day, to follow the road of their Cuban comrades-in-arms – the road that is the continuation of the October revolution in the western hemisphere; the road that leads to the establishment of socialism and proletarian dictatorship.
It is precisely this struggle that is being played out in Venezuela today and doubtless in other countries of the continent in the not too distant future.
Hands off Argentina!
Hands off Venezuela and Latin America!
The people united and armed will never be defeated!