miércoles, 20 de febrero de 2013

Opinion: The Argentine and Iranian Tango

One cannot help but ask why, after 18 years of mishandled investigations, corruption charges, and cover-ups, are Iran and Argentina discussing the 1994 AMIA Terrorist Attack.


The Iranian and Argentine governments recently signed a bilateral memorandum of understanding, establishing a "truth commission" to investigate the 1994 terrorist attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The announcement came as a shock to the victims’ families, since the Argentine government had previously officially accused Iran of orchestrating the attack; a charge Iranians have repeatedly denied.
One cannot help but ask why, after 18 years of mishandled investigations, corruption charges, and cover-ups, is this “truth commission" taking place now? Following the attack, Iran’s role has been primarily to obstruct the investigation. They have never admitted their culpability and would never extradite its leading citizens to face trial in Argentina. Instead, the Iranian government has used their money and influence to take advantage of corrupt Argentine officials in an attempt to derail the pursuit of justice. Meanwhile, Argentina has mostly paid lip service to their stated desire to find and punish the perpetrators; behind the scenes machinations clearly demonstrate a political infrastructure only too happy to accept Iranian trade and bribes in exchange for complicity in the murder of Jewish citizens of Argentina.
What possible endgame do the Iranians and Argentines hope to achieve in these negotiations that will both satisfy critics of Argentina’s horribly bungled investigations, and absolve the Iranian government of blame? What are the political and economic interests involved? Who stands to gain from this initiative? And to what effect, if any, will these talks have in bringing the perpetrators of the bombing to justice?

The Attack

The suicide bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) and Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA) building left eighty-five people dead and hundreds wounded in the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentine history.
The Argentine government launched an investigation into the attack and unsurprisingly, the trail of evidence led unequivocally to Iran and Hezbollah.
Two years earlier, the Islamic Jihad Organization, believed to be tied to Iran, claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina. In a sign of things to come, the investigation into this attack, with its 29 dead and over 250 wounded, led to no arrests.

Mishandled Investigation

The story of the Argentine investigations following the attack, read like many of the political scandals plaguing the Latin American continent.
The Justice in charge of the original investigation was later impeached for destroying incriminating evidence and offering to bribe a witness. A former investigator claimed that he had been kidnapped, tortured and warned not to proceed with his investigations. Argentine courts later implicated then-President Carlos Menem, who is of Syrian descent, of sabotaging the investigation and destroying crucial evidence. Reports rumored that Iran had deposited USD10 million to a Swiss-bank account belonging to Menem.
Menem, along with his brother and a number of state security officials, are set to stand trial in Argentina for “perverting the course of justice.” As of now,  no trial date has been set.
In 2005, a new chief prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, took over the case and Argentina had enough evidence to officially accuse the Iranian government for orchestrating the attack and using its proxy Hezbollah to carry it out.
The evidence implicated former Iranian President Akbar Rafsanjani, his former foreign minister, former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and former intelligence minister, among others.
Nisman's evidence was so credible that Interpol upheld Argentina’s request and issued “red-notices” for these Iranian nationals. Iran has refused to extradite any of their citizens to Argentina, or to any other third-party country.

Recent Bilateral Developments

During a visit to Syria in 2010, Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman allegedly told Iranian-ally and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Argentina would suspend the AMIA/DAIA investigations in exchange for strengthened economic ties.
A leaked Iranian cable reportedly quoted Iran's Foreign Minister stating, “Argentina is no longer interested in solving those two attacks, but in exchange prefers improving its economic relations with Iran.” Timerman denied these allegations.
In September 2012, at the UN General Assembly, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner used her limited time at the podium to announce that Argentina and Iran would for the first time, hold bilateral meetings relating to the AMIA/DAIA terrorist attack. The announcement and its platform caught many by surprise, as it came when much of the world was focused on isolating Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
Their respective foreign ministers met for initial talks at the UN in New York and followed-up with meetings in Geneva. In January 2013, both Timmerman and his Iranian counterpart signed a memorandum of understanding on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The memorandum led to the establishment of the Truth Commission, which will be made up of foreign legal experts "to analyze all the documentation presented to date by the judicial authorities of Argentina and Iran." According to the memorandum, the commission’s mandate is solely to present recommendations about how the case should proceed within the legal and regulatory framework of both parties.
Victims’ families are shocked that the “alleged” perpetrator of the crime, Iran, is an active participant in the investigation and gets to decide the composition of legal experts.

Motivating Factors

Thus the question remains, what is the reason for this bilateral commission? The bottom line: these negotiations do not serve the intended purpose. Argentina and Iran are using these negotiations as a mechanism to buy time, while continuing topursue their own political and economic agendas at the expense of due justice.
Although relations between Argentina and Iran have remained tense throughout these 18 years, it has not stopped them from engaging in significant bilateral trade. In 2007, Argentina exported USD319 million in goods to Iran. In 2011, Argentine exports to Iran totaled USD1.068 billion, making Argentina, Iran's second largest trading partner in Latin America.
Iran, significantly isolated and sanctioned by numerous global players, is looking for allies who can help ease their economic difficulties. Iran’s currency has been hard hit by UN economic sanctions. Coincidentally, the week that Iran proposed initial talks with Argentina was the same week that the value of the Rial fell to the lowest levels ever recorded.
Argentina wishes to emerge from the economic and diplomatic shadow cast by its neighbor and competitor, Brazil. Brazil has increasingly become a player on the world stage, recently attempting to broker a resolution to the Iranian nuclear imbroglio. Argentina wants to see itself as a more valuable participant in global politics and is looking to expand its ties across continents.
Meanwhile, Iran has been expanding its presence in South America through friendships and high-profile visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Brazil. It views Latin America – with its weak judicial systems, rampant corruption, widespread anti-American sentiment, and left-leaning governments seeking to battle US hegemony – as an ideal staging ground for its illicit activities.
Additionally, Argentina is also one of the 35 states that sit on the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors. Iran's nuclear ambitions have been a major source of IAEA activity and Iran needs all the allies it can find there.

Domestic Politics in Iran and Argentina

Survivors of the AMIA attack and victims’ relatives founded Memoria Activa, a grassroots advocacy group committed to bringing the perpetrators to justice. Their initiatives have gained support across the country and significantly increased their political capital. Each year, thousands of people and international leaders hold a vigil to mark the anniversary of the attack. President Kirchner is walking a fine-line domestically, attempting to make progress in solving the case, while simultaneously expanding Argentina’s trade and political influence in the Middle East.
Iran itself is plagued by political and economic turmoil. The populace is suffering as a result of international sanctions, while grievances toward government policies are growing. In order to counter this, the Iranian government needs to show that it is not completely isolated from the global community by flaunting its relations with other countries. Furthermore, Iran wishes to shed its terror-sponsoring reputation as a way to improve its global standing. These are the considerations that drive Iranian policy in Argentina.
While struggling with competing interests, it seems unlikely that Iran will hand over its high-ranking government officials to Argentina. Instead, Argentina will tout the negotiations as a sign of positive progress, while in reality, it will simply continue to mislead the victims of terror by providing them with false hope for a just resolution.

Cynthia Ferman

Israel Research Fellow - Office of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat
Jerusalem, Israel ( September 2012 – Present ) 
The Israel Research Fellowship, formerly known as the Legacy Heritage Fellowship, is an internationally recognized year-long fellowship that funds promising young leaders from around the world to work in Israeli public policy, think tanks and government offices.
  • Visiting fellow in the Mayor’s Foreign Affairs & International Media Section
  • Responsibilities include spearheading new initiatives involving East Jerusalem outreach tours for the diplomatic corps and journalists
  • Providing international journalists with accurate information and access to relevant sources
  • Identifying and matching strategic city projects with philanthropic organizations
  • Briefing visiting political leaders, diaspora representatives, philanthropists and religious leaders
  • Composing press releases and speeches for the Mayor
  • Published anaylsis in the Jerusalem Post and Fair Observer relating to negotations between Iran and Argentina following the 1994 terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish community center
Global Institute Fellow - PresenTense 
Jerusalem, Israel ( June 2012 – August 2012 )

The PresenTense Global Summer Institute unites Jewish innovators from around the world to develop and launch ventures that improve the Jewish community, Israel, and the world.  Fellows are given intensive training where they are taught practical skills for social start-up development; each Fellow is selected based on their solicited project and how it will address local problems with community-backed solutions. Alongside the tested PresenTense curriculum, Fellows are partnered with experienced mentors, coaches, and teachers for high-level support and guidance.
    • Launched: http://www.lesstalkmorepeace.org
    • Less Talk, More Peace aspires to bring volunteers with transferable business expertise to teach multicultural Israeli classrooms.
    • By offering free business development workshops to disadvantaged Israeli communities, LTMP strives to not only help participants improve their individual business skills, but also facilitate new business opportunities and points of access across insular networks.
Public Affairs Assistant - U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires
U.S. Department of State, Buenos Aires, Argentina (June 2010 – May 2011)
  • Created comprehensive social media strategy in conjunction with U.S. foreign policy goals, helping increase U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires’ online outreach to the second-largest Department of State social media community
  • Designed and managed monthly interactive webinar series targeting youth audiences; grew to the top 3% of global Embassy-driven webchat programming
    • I received the U.S. Department of State Franklin Award for                                        Outstanding Service for my social media initiatives at the Embassy.
  • Speech writer, VIP visitor liaison, and Embassy outreach representative targeting students and at-risk youth
  • Compiled and synthesized daily press report for U.S. Government senior staff in Argentina and Washington, DC
  • Provided research and logistical support for senior staff between U.S. and Argentine government, private sector, and civil society
Office of Public Diplomacy Assistant
Various Bureaus – U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC (October 2008 – June 2010)
  • Conducted cross-regional research and support for senior staff in the Bureau of International Information Programs.
  • Worked in conjunction with the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations in a multifaceted capacity on the U.S. – Brazil Joint Action Plan, a highly visible bilateral agreement promoting ethnic equality.
  • Helped coordinate a two-day bilingual conference featuring ministerial-level steering group and over 100 international participants for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
  • Assisted in identifying partnerships between the State Department, intergovernmental agencies and academia
  • Initiated knowledge management practices by designing internal SharePoint sites and coaching bureau employees on how to use them
Georgetown University Student Ambassador
Georgetown University Office of Alumni Affairs, Washington, DC (September 2008 – June 2010)
  • Selected as one of twenty students from across all Georgetown University schools to serve a liaison between the University and alumni
  • Identified opportunities for reengagement and financial gift contributions
Short-Term Consultant in conjunction with Georgetown University’s Global Marketing Strategies Course
Agora Partnerships, Washington, DC (October 2009-December 2009)
  • Created business marketing, product and exporting strategies for a small-medium enterprise in El Salvador to enter the U.S. market
  • Formed brand, pricing, advertising and distribution strategies in baked goods industry
  • Identified key target segments and markets; conducted on-site market research
Office of International Visitors Internship - Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs
U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC (February 2008 – May 2008)
  • Conducted research and analyses of policies, grants, proposals and concept papers for the IV executive staff
  • Served as office representative in meetings on establishing social networking strategies for the ECA Bureau
  • Took proactive initiatives to reduce expenditures for the International Visitor’s Program
Consumer Market Research Internship in Global Business Consulting Firm
McGinn MSL, Arlington, VA (October 2007 – February 2008)
  • Conducted research and forecasts of media and consumer trends for Fortune 100 companies
  • Monitored cultural influencers, trends and how specific issues were portrayed in the mass media
  • Created and maintained databases relating to market and media data
  • Identified and targeted bloggers and social media force  multipliers on behalf of client’s new media strategy
Student Government Director of Student Lobbying
Florida Atlantic University Student Government (January 2007 – May 2007)
  • Responsible for advocating student concerns on behalf of 27,000 students
  • Organized and led a legislative impact mission to the Florida Legislature for 30 students to lobby on behalf of FAU
  • Coordinated an interactive gathering between FAU congressional representative Ron Klein and FAU students
  • Delegate to the Florida Student Association, a student interest group that lobbies the Florida Board of Governors, Florida Department of Education, Florida legislature and the Florida Governor’s Office
Political Campaign Internship
Ron Klein for Congress, Pompano Beach, Florida (August – November 2006)
  • Canvassed over 1000 constituent homes, motivating, speaking and increasing voter turnout
  • Liaison between the Ron Klein Campaign and the Florida Atlantic University student body
  • Recruited and increased student volunteers to participate in the congressional campaign
  • Helped defeat a 26-year incumbant representative
Marketing Internship in Spanish Television Production Company
Acento Producciones SL, Madrid, Spain (February – May 2006)
  • Applied a learned language in a professional working environment
  • Assisted in obtaining and maintaining sponsors for the production of the Spanish television series Superhuman
  • Collaborated in many different facets that were necessary to ensure a successful production
Student Government Director of Community and Media Relations
Florida Atlantic University Student Government (July 2005 – January 2006)
  • Served as the FAU student body spokesperson to the public media
  • Disseminated press releases and generated pitch calls to various media outlets
  • Organized numerous events to increase FAU Student Government visibility on campus
Assistant to Executive Account Director at Public Relations Firm
Pantin/ Beber and Silverstein Partnership Public Relations (Summer 2005)
  • Worked exclusively on McDonald’s Southeast Owners & Operators public relations
  • Created newsletters, layouts, proposals, media kits and news clippings
  • Assisted in organizing and executing client media tours, product launches and on-site public events
  • Assisted in organizing media tours and public events for product launch of McDonald’s Fruit and Walnut Salad
Linguistic Abilities
  • English (native speaker) • Portuguese (native speaker) • Spanish (fluent) • French (beginner level) • Hebrew (in progress)
Additional Information
  • Dual Citizen (U.S. & Brazil)
  • Top secret U.S. security clearance
  • Recipient of the Department of State Franklin Award for Outstanding Service
  • Mastery of Microsoft Office software bundle for both PC and MAC operating systems
  • Strong research background and a passion for understanding consumer behavior, analytics and trends
  • Toastmasters International and Society of International Development member
  • Traveled extensively throughout five continents
  • Competitive kickball, domino and checkers player


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