President Obama on Thursday recognized the role of the US government in Argentina’s Dirty War, a campaign of violence waged for seven years against tens of thousands of Argentine leftists after a 1976 coup d’etat.
During a visit to Buenos Aires, Obama paid tribute victims killed and disappeared by the junta alongside Argentine President Mauricio Macri, at a monument alongside the River Plata.
“Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for,” he said. “And we’ve been slow to speak out for human rights and that was the case here.” Obama did not explicitly apologize for the US role in the affair.
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The memorial where Obama and Macri paid their respects, built in 1997, is called the Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism. ABC News described it as “a long wall — similar to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC.” It noted that the monument is “inscribed with 20,000 names and ages of victims” and has “[a]n additional 10,000 empty plaques represent[ing] victims who have not yet been identified.”
The official recognition came amid a promise by the administration to declassify documents shedding additional light on the US support for Argentina’s military dictatorship. National Security Adviser Susan Rice announced last week that the US would use the occasion of President Obama’s visit to get the ball rolling on declassification.
The New York Times noted that, before the announcement, there had been additional pressure from Argentine human rights groups to start this disclosure process, after they “noted that Mr. Obama would be in Argentina on the painful anniversary [of the 1976 coup].”
“On this anniversary and beyond, we’re determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation,” Rice said. She had also noted that declassification would bring to the fore military and intelligence files “for the first time.”
Some key details about US involvement in Argentina’s Dirty War have been previously revealed through Freedom of Information Act requests. As The Nation noted on Wednesday, those disclosures showed former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger applauding the military overthrow and the brutal crackdown that followed it.
“Whatever chance they have, they will need a little encouragement…because I do want to encourage them,” Kissinger said, of Argentina’s military rulers, immediately after they seized power. “I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States.”
In the autumn of 1976, Kissinger repeated the message when he told the junta’s foreign minister, Adm. Cesar Guzzetti: “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,” Kissinger said. “We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better.”
Kissinger’s time as Secretary of State has also received renewed attention during the Democratic presidential primary. Frontrunner Hillary Clinton, another former head US envoy, has repeatedly touted her cordial relationship with Kissinger as demonstrating her qualifications. Their companionship has been blasted by Clinton’s challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
“I’m proud to say Henry Kissinger is not my friend,” Sanders said at a debate in February.
After the showdown, The Intercept’s Dan Froomkin detailed why Kissinger “is reviled by many left-leaning observers of foreign policy.”
“They consider him an amoral egotist who enabled dictators, extended the Vietnam War, laid the path to the Khmer Rouge killing fields, stage-managed a genocide in East Timor, overthrew the democratically elected left-wing government in Chile, and encouraged Nixon to wiretap his political adversaries,” Froomkin wrote.