Argentina: Declassified State Department Files Show U.S. Supported Repression during "Dirty War"

Article excerpt

US State Department documents, declassified in December 2003, show clearly that former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger gave verbal support to Argentina's military junta, which had been aggressively persecuting suspected dissidents. The documents were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the National Security Archive (NSA), an independent Washington-based group that monitors FOIA issues. Meanwhile, European courts continue to pursue former Latin American military leaders accused of gross human rights violations during the "dirty wars" of the 1970s and 1980s.

The NSA filed a FOIA request with the State Department in November 2002, seeking information missing from an earlier release of documents. The newly released documents show that, in October 1976, Kissinger and other high-ranking US officials gave their full support to the Argentine junta and urged them to finish the repression before the US Congress cut military aid. Congress was expected to consider the following January suspending military aid to the dictatorship and blocking a US$8 million credit from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) because of the human rights violations.

One transcript covers a meeting between Kissinger and Argentina's foreign minister, Adm. Cesar Augusto Guzzetti, on Oct. 7, 1976, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, during the UN General Assembly sessions. Also at the meeting were Argentina's ambassador to the US, Arnaldo Musich, and its UN ambassador, Carlos Ortiz de Rosas.

The transcript provides the first documentary evidence that the administration of US President Gerald Ford approved of the junta's harsh tactics. The Argentine military had begun going after leftists in 1975, before it took power in a coup the following year. From the time the military took over, the junta insisted it had the support of the US, but proof was lacking until now.

After the return to civilian rule in 1983, many ranking military officers were tried on charges of abduction, torture, and execution of suspected leftist opponents of the regime. They were convicted and imprisoned in 1985 but pardoned in 1989 (see NotiSur, 1989-10-24) by then President Carlos Saul Menem (1989-1999).

A truth commission, headed by writer Ernesto Sabato, investigated the crimes of the dictatorship in 1984 and found that more than 9,000 people had been assassinated or disappeared, although subsequent investigations put the figure at nearly 16,000. Human rights organizations and the families of the victims insist the number is closer to 30,000. An equal number survived detention and torture in illegal jails, and more than a half million people were forced into exile.

By the time of the conversation between Kissinger and Guzzetti, the widespread murder and disappearances had received worldwide condemnation.

In the transcript of the Oct. 7 meeting, Kissinger said to Guzzetti, "Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better....The human rights problem is a growing one. Your Ambassador can apprise you. We want a stable situation. We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better. Whatever freedoms you could restore would help."

Guzzetti assured Kissinger the campaign against the leftists would conclude by the end of 1976. "The terrorist organizations have been dismantled," he said. "If this direction continues, by the end of the year the danger will have been set aside."

One day earlier in Washington, acting secretary of state Charles W. Robinson said to Guzzetti that "Argentina is now facing a kind of subversive civil war. During their initial period the situation may seem to call for measures that are not acceptable in the long term. …