Argentine military felt secure
U.S. backed quashing of leftists

by James Dao (New York Times)

San Francisco Chronicle. August 22, 2002


Leaders of the military dictatorship that took control of Argentina in 1976 believed the Ford administration supported their crackdown on leftist insurgents and would not penalize them for human rights abuses, newly declassified State Department documents show.

The documents show that U.S. Embassy officials felt frustrated in their efforts to encourage the Argentine government to rein in military and paramilitary units that were systematically killing, torturing and kidnapping suspected leftists - including several American citizens - in the months following the coup.

Repeatedly, senior Argentine officials brushed aside concerns raised by embassy officials, saying that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and other top Ford administration officials supported their war against communists and were not deeply worried about rights abuses, several documents show.

In an Oct. 14, 1976, cable to Kissinger, Ambassador Robert Hill said that Argentine Foreign Minister Adm. Cesar Augusto Guzzetti had returned from Washington feeling "ecstatic" about relations with the United States.

"He said he was satisfied that the State Department clearly understood the problem and that there would be no confrontation between the two governments over Human rights,' Hill wrote.

"Guizetti went to the U.S. fully expecting to hear some strong, firm, direct warning of his government's human rights practices," Hill continued. Rather than that, he has returned in a state of jubilation, convinced that there is no real problem with (Washington) over this issue."

In a cable to Washington dated Sept. 20, 1976, Hill wrote that Guzzetti said Kissinger had expressed no concerns about rights abuses in an earlier meeting in Santiago, Chile. The foreign minister suggested Kissinger supported what the Argentine govern-. rnent called its war on terrorism and was encouraging President Jorge Rafael Videla to move swiftly in crushing the insurgency.

"When he had seen Secy (sic) of State Kissinger in Santiago, the latter had said he hoped the Argentine govt. could get the terrorist problem under control as quickly as possible," Hill wrote. "Guzzetti said that he had reported this to Videla and to the cabinet, and that their impression had been that (the United States') overriding concern was not human rights but rather that (Argentina) 'get it over quickly."'

The cables were among 4,677 declassified documents dating from 1975 to I984 that were released Tuesday by the State Department at the behest of rights groups, families of victims of the military crackdown and several governments that are considering prosecuting Argentine officials for abuses.

The documents are expected to shed light on the violent repression of Argentine leftists in the late 1970s and aid in the prosecution of 31 Argentine military officers recently charged with rights abuses from that period.

Scholars and rights activists who have begun sifting through the trove say there are no detailed descriptions of Kissinger's meetings with Guzzetti.

South America watch

Index of Website

Home Page