July 16, 2020 — Buenos Aires
Ahead of the 26th anniversary of the deadly terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez reaffirmed his government’s commitment to bring to justice those responsible.
“The truth is that for Argentines, the AMIA attack is very painful. This was not an attack against the Jewish community only, it was an attack against Argentina,” President Fernandez said on an American Jewish Committee (AJC) Advocacy Anywhere program today. “The victims, many of them, were members of the Jewish community. But they were Argentines first and foremost and it hurts us as such.”
In a 45-minute conversation with Dina Siegel Vann, director of AJC’s Belfer Center for Latino and Latin American Affairs, President Fernandez discussed the AMIA bombing, Hezbollah, antisemitism, his visit to Israel, the coronavirus pandemic, and Argentina’s relations with the United States.
Fernandez shared emotionally how the bombing affected him personally. He was teaching at the University of Buenos Aires, but on the morning of July 18, 1994, one of his students did not show up for class. Paola Czyzewski., age 20, was one of the 85 killed in the explosion. Another 300 were wounded.
The president affirmed his commitment and that of his predecessors to apprehend and prosecute the individuals who planned and carried out the AMIA attack. In 2007, the Argentine government concluded that Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah were responsible.
Fernandez criticized Iran for not cooperating in the investigation and not allowing any of the five Iranian officials sought by Interpol to be extradited. “If they are eventually found innocent, they will regain their freedom and go back to Iran, and if not, they will have to be held accountable for what happened,” he said.
“What we need is to know the truth. If that truth is unattainable, justice cannot be attained,” he said.
A year ago, Hezbollah was added to Argentina’s Registry of Terrorist Organizations. “In the case of Hezbollah, there are legal actions against the organization, initiated in Argentina which have advanced, including the confiscation of resources to underwrite their activities,” said Fernandez.
“The truth is that terrorism cannot coexist with a democracy,” said Fernandez. “The international community cannot coexist with terrorism and cannot be passive against terrorism, its ideologies, and motivations.”
Argentina’s recent adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism “was easy,” he said, because it reflects “what the vast majority of Argentines believe.”
“The Jewish community is absolutely an essential part of Argentine society as a whole,” he said. “We are all Argentines, and we respect each other’s religion, place of worship, origin.”
Fernandez discussed his visit to Israel in January and meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Relations between the State of Israel and Argentina are optimal, as they should be. I always repeat the same thing: we are obliged to have very good relations because we have a very important Jewish community, and there’s no room for us not to get along. We are compelled to get along,” he said.
The occasion of his first visit to Israel was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. “That day for me personally was very moving because it put in perspective a moment in history that entailed both tragedy and freedom, the tragedy of Auschwitz and the liberation of those who suffered in Auschwitz. Any human being who witnesses this can only be moved by such a memory,” he said. Argentina was the only Latin American country that participated in the January 23 commemoration in Jerusalem.
On how Argentina has been managing the coronavirus pandemic, the president credited his country’s public health system for keeping the infection and fatality rates low –1,500 have died – compared to other countries. “No patient is left without medical assistance. This is very important to us. Our hospitals were never oversaturated. Everyone has been able to receive medical attention,” he said.
But the president cautioned on the pandemic’s economic impact. “I believe that there is a false dilemma surrounding the pandemic. The dilemma of whether to take care of health or take care of the economy. The truth is, no economy works with dying citizens.”
The president called Argentina’s engagement with the United States “a respectful relationship that must exist between two countries that have always been related and linked.”
But he noted contrasting approaches o the situation in Venezuela. “Especially in times of the pandemic, imposing an economic blockade is not a good solution because – beyond the current government of Venezuela – there are Venezuelans who suffer,” he said.
‘When problems of democratic coexistence appear in a country, members of that country must solve that problem.” He added that Argentina and other countries in the region can facilitate achieving a solution. “What I am not willing to do is to participate in imposing a solution on Venezuela.”
AJC, the leading global Jewish advocacy organization has maintained a close and collaborative relationship with Argentina and its Jewish community for more than seven decades. For 30 years, AJC had an office in Buenos Aires. AJC delegations regularly visit the Argentine capital to meet with top government officials, as well as the Jewish community. AMIA is an AJC international partner.