When Alberto Nisman, Argentina’s public prosecutor, was found dead with a bullet to his head on January 18, suspicions of foul play spread like wildfire.
Nisman’s supposed suicide occurred just hours before he was to present a report to Congress charging that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was conspiring to cover up Iran’s alleged involvement in the 1992 bombing of a Jewish community centre.
Many Argentines did not take the charges seriously, but Nisman’s death was another matter altogether, and from the start, Fernandez has added fuel to the fire.
Rather than address the nation immediately to express her condolences and attempt to clarify that she was not responsible for Nisman’s death, as many Argentines suspected, she said nothing.
Then she made comments on Twitter, making the whole thing about her.
Nisman’s charges against her and his subsequent death were part of a plot by disgruntled ex-intelligence operatives to discredit her, she insisted.
By the time she finally spoke in person, promising a full investigation, the storm had turned into a hurricane.
Clearly on the defensive, she and her ministers have lost no opportunity to attack Nisman’s legacy, accusing critics in the Judiciary – including judges, prosecutors and journalists – of trying to destabilise her government.
Even Fernandez’s staunchest foes are asking themselves what has happened to her once famed political shrewdness.
When several prosecutors called for a march on February 18 to call for justice for Nisman, Fernandez could have supported the initiative and in fact offered to take part, if only to take the wind out of the sails of a demonstration that clearly would give a platform to her opponents.
Instead, she mercilessly ridiculed the organisers who had called for a silent march, while her spokesperson and chief of staff accused the opposition of attempting to stage a “judicial coup”.
Two hours before the march, Fernandez inaugurated a nuclear plant without making a mention of Nisman as hundreds of thousands of her compatriots prepared to march all over the country.
On the day that marked one month since his death, she might have taken the high road, but chose not to.
The march was massive, but it was not just about honouring Nisman.
With elections just eight months off, it was clearly an opportunity for opposition presidential candidates to capitalise on the crisis.
But it was also an opportunity for Argentines who are fed up with impunity and political meddling in the judiciary, to express their outrage.
The Nisman case has undoubtedly galvanised discontent over growing crime, corruption and especially what many regard as the president’s autocratic style, and turned it into a powerful political tool against the government.