In the wake of the death of senior Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, the media is leaking fragments of intelligence wiretaps, in which those involved mentioned a middleman in Venezuela. By Joseph Poliszuk
The Nisman case has spilled over into Venezuela. Senior Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman – who was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment on January 18 – had named Venezuelan officials in his complaint containing allegations of a game of power seeking to shield a group of suspects in connection with the worst terrorist attack in Argentina's recent history.
In Nisman's nearly three-hundred-page indictment he brought before he died, the word Venezuela is repeated eight times, alongside the name of former ambassador Roger Capella, whom the late prosecutor mentioned in connection with a series of events and several government officials taking part in a crusade to exculpate Iranian citizens involved in the deadly bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in 1994.
Nisman had reported shady deals between the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Teheran in exchange for political alliances and trade relations. According to Nisman's evidence, Ambassador Capella helped foment protests nine years ago against the arrests of seven former Iranian officials and a Lebanese ordered by the Argentinean judiciary.
"Capella was the one who, in November 2006, encouraged Luis D'Elía to stage protests against the Argentinean judiciary over the AMIA case, which cost D'Elía his post in the Kirchner government," said Nisman in his complaint, which he was going to formally lodge precisely the day after his dead.
"The demonstration against the Argentinean court's ruling was carried out at the Iranian embassy; it was headed by Luis D'Elía – and supported by Iran's middleman in Argentina, Jorge Alejandro "Yussuf" Khalil - and promoted by then-Venezuelan Ambassador to Buenos Aires Roger Capella," Nisman wrote.
The Venezuelan government remained silent about this, but by December 2006 it had become clear that Capella had ruffled more than a few feathers within the Argentine political establishment. Hugo Chávez himself acknowledged this. In his first press conference as president reelected for the period 2007-2013, with nearly 63% support, a victorious Chavez announced that he would replace his ambassador to Argentina after Capella's activities annoyed the government of President Néstor Kirchner.
Chávez went on to confirm that President Kirchner had called him to express concerns about the activities Capella was engaging in within the Southern Cone. "Ambassador Capella will not return to Buenos Aires," said Chávez, in line with the Argentine media who, citing sources from the Casa Rosada (the presidential palace) in Buenos Aires, had taken as granted that Capella would be removed from the post.
The straw that broke the camel's back was the demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires. Kirchner complained to Chavez about Capella's activities and, domestically, requested D'Elía to resign from his government post as land and housing under-secretary. The name of D'Elía is repeated over 250 times in a series of facts and phone taps included in Nisman's allegations against the government of Cristina Kirchner.
We are now nine years down the line and Capella remains silent on the matter. And last week was no exception. He took our call though, yet he warned us that he would not address the issue. "The conversation ends here," he said hanging up.
Capella, who is currently not holding public office, has returned to the same private medical office in the city of Valencia, where he used to treat patients with varicose or dilated veins before serving as minister of health and social development and later as ambassador to Argentina.
Capella's commitment to Chavismo has not wavered over the years, as one can read in his columns published in pro-government websites like Misionverdad.com and Aporrea.org. "On two occasions I have been removed from political appointments, and no one has ever read a line written by me, regardless of the opinion I may have about those decisions," he wrote on June 30 last year, in a reference to the open letter criticizing Nicolas Maduro's government published by former Finance and Planning Minister Jorge Giordani, who was removed in mid-2014 by Maduro.
Diplomacy Bolivarian style
Roger Capella began his political career as a young Communist and continued in the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party, the Causa R party, and finally in Patria Para Todos (a splinter from the Causa R party) led by Pablo Medina, who remembers Capella as one in the group that did not support Chávez's first candidacy in 1998. "I was struck to note that, despite his harsh stance against Chávez, he was appointed a minister and made an ambassador in the Chávez's government," Medina says.
In 2003, Capella was designated as Health Minister, and he was criticized when in March 20, 2003 he uttered in public that health workers and doctors who had signed the recall referendum would be fired because to sign the petition was "an act of terrorism."
Two years later, he arrived in Argentina as a diplomat. Ambassador Capella soon set about giving lectures throughout colleges and universities in Argentina and holding meetings with social movements. "One of those meetings took place in the city of Tandil (eastern Argentina) on September 13," explained Argentine daily newspaper La Nación on November 16, 2006. "Facing an audience of cooperative leaders, Ambassador Capella summarized his style as an ambassador in one sentence: ‘The Venezuelan diplomacy is transforming itself from being a traditional diplomacy into an active militancy.'"
Nine years later, diplomacy Bolivarian style still haunts the Argentine political establishment. "It goes way beyond political interference," says opposition lawmaker Patricia Bullrich, who presides over the Chamber of Deputies Criminal Law Committee. On Sunday, January 18, just hours before Nisman was scheduled to testify before this very Committee, he was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment.
"This is, as Prosecutor Nisman said, a criminal conspiracy to cover up Iran's involvement and to dissociate the eight Iranian officials accused of the AMIA terrorist attack," Bullrich said. "D'Elía set up a parallel diplomacy aimed at putting forward a different hypothesis from the one the Argentinean judiciary had arrived at," she added.
In the same vein, Venezuelan opposition lawmaker William Dávila said he would request an investigation in the Committee on Foreign Policy, Sovereignty and Integration of the National Assembly into allegations tying Venezuela and former Ambassador Capella to the Nisman case.
"This is not a case of political naïveté. It is part of a strategy that is being repeated in the rest of the embassies," Dávila says. "When a government forges alliances with anti establishment movements it may end eventually supporting terrorist causes."
"A political circus"
Contrary to those who demand accountability for Capella's actions as an ambassador to Argentina back in 2006, official spokespersons for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) contend that the case has been greatly exaggerated. "It's a political circus," says lawmaker Saúl Ortega, the vice president of the Foreign Policy Committee of Venezuela's National Assembly. "It is clear that these speculations have been put forward by Zionism in Argentina. I am sure that there is no interference, because I know Ambassador Capella and in no way he would get involved in the internal affairs of another country."
According to Ortega, the Argentine Government has shown a serious commitment to this case, just as ultimately it is in its best interest that the truth be known. "The truth of the matter is that the prosecutor never formalized his complaint," he says. "If he failed to do it in 10 years..."
But as there are more questions than answers to this story, Patricia Bullrich, a Congresswoman from Argentina's opposition PRO (Republican Proposal) Party fears that the Argentine government has its hands in the case.
While Bullrich emphasizes that the Venezuelan government had nothing to do with the car-bomb explosion in the headquarters of the Israeli Argentinian Mutual Association (AMIA) on July 18, 1994, which left 85 people dead, she does not rule out that former President Hugo Chavez played a part in brokering the controversial memorandum of understanding that Argentina and Iran signed in January 2013, which provided the basis for Nisman's accusations.
Not surprisingly, individuals in the Venezuelan territory allegedly involved in the case have recently resurfaced in the Argentine media spotlight again. In the wake of the death of senior Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, new wiretapped conversations have been leaked to the media; in one of them two of the implicated individuals refer to a middleman in Venezuela.
"Too bad you didn't come. I was with this person, the Iranian I have to introduce you to. The one in Venezuela, the one who does all there," said the secretary general of the At-Tauhid mosque in Argentina, Jorge Alejandro "Yussuf 'Khalil, in a telephone conversation with Luis D'Elía, who at that moment was undersecretary of land and habitat and the leader of the so-called piqueteros (picket organizations).
"We believe that the memorandum with Iran is the result of a geopolitical and ideological agreement," says Bullrich. "Iran gained access to Latin America aided by Chávez; the goal had always been to create a power pole. The fact is that for Argentina to participate in this power pole, the AMIA case had to be solved, as it was inconsistent with an ideological agreement with Iran. The memorandum implied an alignment with the Venezuela-Iran axis and this is why the Kirchner government had to radically change the hypothesis the Argentinean judiciary had arrived at regarding Iran's role."
The Bolivarian diplomacy causes outrage in Paraguay, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru and Argentina
This is not the first time that the Bolivarian diplomacy's interfering with the internal affairs of other countries in the region has caused outrage. Kenneth Ramírez, president of the private Venezuelan Council of International Relations, recalls that then-Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro was declared "persona non grata" in Paraguay three years ago, after being accused of meeting with Paraguayan generals.
Ramírez also mentions the case of the expulsion order of the Venezuelan embassy staff in Honduras in 2009; also allegations of interventionism in Bolivia on the part of then Venezuela's ambassador, Julio Montes in 2006; and the concerns in Peru about social assistance programs, such as the so-called "ALBA houses" acting as a Trojan horse.
Regarding the Nisman case, Ramirez is rather cautious. While it is true that a former Venezuelan ambassador to Buenos Aires is mentioned in Nisman's complaint, the cause of the prosecutor's death has not been ascertained yet. "What we have is an indirect connection at some point in time, through Capella, and the rest is circumstantial, there is no further evidence of Venezuela's involvement in this whole affair," he says. "However, we must point out that all this again affects our image internationally, and does cast doubt on the sensitivity of the Venezuelan socialist governments regarding Jewish communities".
The problem, according to Ramirez, is that Venezuela ceased to have a State foreign policy in classical terms, and has gone on to outline an international strategy to defend interests and ideological preferences of the governments of Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro.