On Wednesday, President Obama visited Argentina and promised to release classified files related to the United States’ role in the military coup which took place 40 years ago today.
After speaking with Argentine President, Mauricio Macri, Obama announced that he would declassify new US military and intelligence files from Argentina’s “Dirty War.” The release of the new documents marks the first time since 2000 that related files have been declassified. President Macri said he hoped the visit would mark “new mature and intelligent relations” between the two countries.
“We are absolutely determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation, and I hope this gesture also helps to rebuild trust that may have been lost between our two countries,” said President Obama.
On March 24, 1976, General Jorge Rafael Videla declared martial law after leading a military coup that lasted until 1983. The coup led to the deaths of nearly 30,000 people, including victims who were killed by throwing them alive from helicopters into Atlantic Ocean. Thousands more were illegally detained and tortured. General Videla was sentenced to prison for human rights violations and died behind bars in 2013. President Macri called the Dirty War, “the darkest chapter in our history.” On Thursday morning, President Obama and President Macri will visit the Parque de la Memoria, a memorial park for victims of the dictatorship.
Despite President Obama’s statements of support, he seemed unwilling to outright acknowledge the role the U.S. government played in installing and supporting dictatorships across South America. Obama’s silence, coupled with wounds that are still fresh for many Argentine families, has sparked a number of protests and boycotts of Obama’s visit. The Guardian reports:
But both the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who continue to search for missing victims and babies born to their imprisoned daughters, have announced they will not be present at the ceremony.
“It’s a provocation, it’s our date,” said Nora Cortiñas of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, who feels Obama’s presence will encroach on a day of painful remembrance for many Argentinians.
The two groups, together with other human rights groups, are instead organizing what they expect to be massive marches in Buenos Aires and across the country for Thursday afternoon.
To understand Argentina’s Dirty War, you have to understand Operation Condor, and to understand Operation Condor we must talk about former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Depending on your view Kissinger is either the greatest statesman that ever lived or a blood thirsty war criminal. Either way, Henry Kissinger is no stranger to controversy. In recently released memos it is made perfectly clear that in 1976 the former Secretary of State gave his approval for Argentina’s Dirty War.
The Dirty War was only one part of a larger plan known as Operation Condor. Condor was a campaign of political repression and terror involving assassination and intelligence operations implemented in 1975 by the dictatorships of Chile and Argentina. The former Secretary of State was heavily involved in Operation Condor.
Kissinger’s approval of Argentina’s decision to move forward with their repressive campaign has been suspected for years and confirmed since at least 2004 when the National Security Archive released a secret memo recounting a conversation between assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Patt Derian, and the US ambassador in Buenos Aires, Robert Hill. The two met in April 1977 and discussed a meeting between Henry Kissinger and Argentine Foreign Minister Cesar Augusto Guzzetti. Kissinger gives Guzzetti explicit permission to move forward with whatever they must do to repress “terrorism.”
In 1987, Martin Edwin Andersen reported that Kissinger had given the Argentine Generals permission to carry out their state-sponsored terrorism. In 2014, Andersen released another memo which is even more clear than the National Security Archive file. The memo contains the conversation between Ambassador Hill and Secretary Derian discussing Argentina’s fears of lecturing from the United States.
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The Argentines were very worried that Kissinger would lecture to them on human rights. Guzzetti and Kissinger had a very long breakfast but the Secretary did not raise the subject. Finally Guzzetti did. Kissinger asked how long will it take you (the Argentines) to clean up the problem. Guzzetti replied that it would be done by the end of the year. Kissinger approved.
In other words, Ambassador Hill explained, Kissinger gave the Argentines the green light.
In the memo Kissinger expresses concern over new human rights laws requiring the U.S. to certify that foreign aid would not go towards terrorism. Kissinger wanted the generals to hurry their campaign and get back to normal by the end of the year. Kissinger is well known for promoting the idea of taking action whether legal or not. A leaked transcript from Monday, March 10, 1975 outlines Kissinger’s thoughts on the legality of government sponsored crime.
Kissinger: Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.
Kissinger has evaded questions and legal summons by investigators in France, Spain, Chile and Argentina. They seek answers about his involvement in disappearances of citizens in the US and other countries in regard to Operation Condor. On September 10, 2001, the family of General Schneider initiated a civil action in federal court in DC, claiming that Kissinger gave the agreement to murder the general because he had refused to endorse plans for a military coup in Chile.
November 13, 2002, 11 individuals brought suit against Kissinger for human rights violations following the coup. They accused him of forced disappearance, torture, arbitrary detention, and wrongful death. The suit claims that Kissinger provided practical assistance and encouragement to the Chilean regime with reckless disregard for the lives and well-being of the victims and their families.
Both cases were dismissed based on sovereign and diplomatic immunity.
It’s been forty years since Henry Kissinger gave the “green light” to Argentina’s campaign of death and destruction yet the wounds are still fresh. It is more important than ever to understand the truth about U.S. history. If the free hearts and minds of this land are going to create a new world based on freedom and justice, we must learn from the past and hold criminals accountable for their actions.
For a deeper understanding of the crimes of Henry Kissinger, check out this report.
Derrick is available for interviews.
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