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Argentine Jews demand justice from new president

BUENOS AIRES, Oct. 26 (JTA) — Argentine Jews have given their support to President-elect Fernando de la Rua, but they expect him to live up to his campaign promise to protect the rights of all segments of society.

First and foremost on their minds — as it has been for most of the past decade — Argentine Jews called on de la Rua to find those responsible for the March 1992 car bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the July 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center there.

“We hope the promises of justice that were made during the electoral campaign become a reality,” said a participant at a rally Monday sponsored by Memoria Activa, a group of relatives of the victims of the 1994 bombing.

At the rally — which is held every week outside the Justice Ministry — a crowd of about 150 people heard speeches calling for a reform of the judicial system, which Jewish leaders here and abroad accuse of blocking the investigations of the two bombings.

Speakers at the rally, quoting de la Rua’s own election promise, called on him to carry out his “commitment to life, dignity and justice.”

The lack of progress in the investigations — surrounded by charges of police wrongdoing and a lack of political resolve on the part of those in charge of the probes — have, in the eyes of the community, blemished the tenure of outgoing President Carlos Menem, whose conservative Peronist Party has governed Argentina for the past 10 years.

De la Rua has stated that one of the priorities of his new government will be to tackle an overhaul of the justice system.

Prosecutors have linked the terrorist bombings to extreme-right elements within or close to the police department of the Buenos Aires province, which has been under the administration of Governor Eduardo Duhalde.

De la Rua, of the opposition Alliance bloc, won Sunday’s presidential elections by a wide margin, defeating Peronist candidate Duhalde by more than 10 percentage points.

“De la Rua has expressed his commitment many times to the demands, objectives and interests of the Jewish community,” said Jacob Kovadloff, Latin American affairs consultant for the American Jewish Committee.

Rogelio Cichowolsky, president of DAIA, an umbrella group of Jewish organizations in Argentina, said de la Rua, formerly mayor of Buenos Aires, “has had a long working relationship with the Jewish community.”

The Jewish community’s relationship with the president-elect dates back to the 1980s.

“De la Rua was instrumental as a senator, when he sponsored the anti-discrimination law in 1988 that marked a turning point” in Argentina’s dealings with human rights issues, Cichowolsky said.

Kovadloff noted that the law helped prosecute neo-Nazis in Argentina, adding, “I am certain he is democratic, committed to the rule of law and to the well-being of the country, with ethnic and religious plurality.”

Just the same, De la Rua does not have an easy road ahead of him.

Voters in Argentine’s fourth presidential election since the country was ruled by a military dictatorship also elected Peronist provincial governors and gave the Peronists control of the Senate — creating potential power struggles between de la Rua and his political rivals.

In Sunday’s vote for the governorship of Buenos Aires province, current Peronist Vice President Carlos Ruckauf defeated Alliance candidate Graciela Fernandez Meijide — proving opinion and exit polls wrong.

That result made a big impact in the Jewish community.

“It’s very bad news that he won,” said Diana Malamud, a member of Memoria Activa.

The community had placed their hopes on Fernandez Meijide as a force for change in the province.

“Graciela — as the congresswoman is referred to — forged strong relationships with the Jewish community, through her background in human rights,” Kovadloff said. “She is an ally of the community.”

But Cichowolsky is urging the community not to jump the gun.

“Ruckauf doesn’t deserve to be condemned before even beginning his administration,” he said. “But we’ve had a very cordial working relationship with him over the years.”

Another issue of concern for the community is the political role of the Roman Catholic Church, which made public statements during the presidential campaign urging voters to elect candidates that adhere to certain moral standards, including opposition to abortion.

“The participation of the church in the political campaign is something to fear,” Kovadloff said. “We are returning to times of church domination. It affects the Jewish community because there is a nexus between Catholic activists and the extreme right.”

As another of its prime concerns, the local Jewish community will be eyeing Argentina’s relations with Israel under the new de la Rua government.

When Menem offered his unconditional support to the United States early in his administration, he also created a very favorable relationship between Argentina and Israel.

“De la Rua has yet to define himself in terms of Argentina’s relations with Israel,” Kovadloff said. “We are waiting to see who become the next foreign relations minister.”

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