BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Within the text of some 500 pages of documents freshly declassified by the Obama administration, it has become known that the United States clearly knew that a right-wing military coup was going to take place in Argentina in 1976, a change of power that resulted in grave human rights violations and 30,000 deaths.
Earlier this year, Argentina finally received the first set of a series of the United States’ State Department file releases on the nation’s violent military dictatorship (1976-1983) in which Washington’s support, logistically, financially and politically, is clearly demonstrated.
While these revelations came as no surprise to the individuals and groups familiar with the history of the region and its relations with the United States, the new release is still another strong piece of evidence in the wall of “historical truth” against Washington’s activites, according to local human rights groups.
In March of this year, US President Barack Obama visited Argentina in a trip that many called insensitive as an official State visit by the sitting leader of the nation heavily involved with the coup coincided with the 40th anniversary of the event that ushered in the bloody dictatorship.
Obama made the trip to Buenos Aires shortly after Argentine President Mauricio Macri was inaugurated into office. Macri, a wealthy businessman and politician born to an Italian-born billionaire construction tycoon who arrived in Argentina in 1949, emerged victorious in the election months before as he defeated Daniel Scioli.
Scioli, the uncharismatic candidate supported by Macri’s predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015) who was constitutionally barred from running again, represented the center-left Front for Victory (FpV) while Macri co-founded the center-right Republican Proposal (PRO).
As such, Macri set out to erase 12 years of ‘Kirchnerism,’ the name given to the ideology espoused by Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007).
One of the pillars of ‘Kirchnerism’ was human rights: Fernández de Kirchner and Néstor Kirchner both carried the banner of uncovering the truth and achieving long-awaited justice for the victims of the dictatorship.
Kirchner, who passed away in 2010, was instrumental in tearing down the Final Stop Law, which granted amnesty to all but 9 of the top junta members who were charged with crimes against humanity, in 2005. Kirchner’s hard work allowed for the prosecution of Dirty War criminals, which continues today and has produced convictions of nearly 700 criminals responsible for the grave human rights violations of tens of thousands of people and over 30,000 deaths.
Macri, whose Mussolini-supporter father’s businesses benefited from lucrative deals made with the junta during the dictatorship, has firmly placed those human rights issues on the backburner. Macri’s right-wing PRO Party voted against investigating the murky economic transactions that took place during the dictatorship, has even closed certain human rights organizations’ offices and de-funded several others during his time as Buenos Aires mayor (and now President of the Republic) and has turned a blind eye to the case of the political prisoner Milagro Sala, an indigenous social leader in the northwestern Province of Jujuy.
Thus, even though the announcement at the end of Obama’s visit that the State Department would declassify Washington’s documents on the era was considered a benevolent gesture, it was certainly marked by strange timing given the marked change of government and policy in Buenos Aires.
Given the developments concerning human rights during the twelve years of ‘Kirchnerism,’ it only seems logical that the outgoing Obama administration (2009-2017), which is described as “being fully committed to human rights in the region” by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, would have opened the archives during the presidency of Fernández de Kirchner where they could have had much more impact.
Regardless of the suspect timing, however, the documents have continued to be released.
The latest revelations show that Washington was well aware of the impending military coup and grave violation of democracy that took place in 1976.
“A military coup against the Argentine President (María Estela Martínez Cartas de Perón) could take place at any moment,” read a CIA report that was delivered to then-U.S. leader Gerald Ford (1974-1977). “Only some doubts among key officials have prevented the final decision to carry out the coup.”
“The preparations for the coup are ready. The ships and members of the Navy have already been deployed to strategic locations throughout the country to control any possible disturbances or unrest that may occur after the takeover.”
This CIA report was sent to Ford on March 5, 1976 and in the document, it was written that the coup was imminent but there was also unexplained intelligence that expected the military coup would likely be “carried out 19 days later.” This would make the date of the coup Wednesday, March 24.
Indeed, on March 24, 1976, a right-wing military group carried out a coup d’état that deposed María Martínez de Perón, better known simply as Isabel Perón, who became leader of the Republic of Argentina in July of 1974 following the death of her democratically elected husband, Juan Domingo Perón.
From then until December 10 of 1983, the junta oversaw the “Dirty War,” a period they called “the National Reorganization Process.” During this era, some 30,000 people were killed and “disappeared” by the de-facto government while tens of thousands of others were the victims of other heinous human rights abuses like assault, torture, rape and baby theft as part of a state-sponsored terrorism campaign.
This was part of Operation Condor, a period of systematic political repression and state-sponsored terror involving cooperating international intelligence organizations conducted by the right-wing dictatorships of South America, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. This was all done with the staunch financial, logistical and political support from the United States. The program’s purpose was to “eradicate communist or Soviet influence and ideas,” and to suppress and eliminate any opposition, real or imagined, against those dictatorships.
A week before the CIA report informed Ford of the impending coup, there was another document sent to the president’s desk. In this earlier report (February 28, 1976), Ford was warned that an envoy from the Argentine Armed Forces came to Argentina’s Embassy in Washington “with instructions for the military attaché to prepare him for the takeover in Buenos Aires.”
The report further outlined that the envoy also brought guidelines that were to be followed in responding to media questions “about the events that will take place in Argentina.”
According to Gastón Chillier, the executive director of Argentine human rights group Center of Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the latest revelations are simply part of a pattern that marks the consensus in Washington that favored (and even trained and funded, in some cases) repressive, right-wing military coups yet cut off or even invaded other nations due to their “undemocratic” governments.
“This adds documentary evidence to a historical truth well-known in the region: the United States was fully involved in the coup of Pinochet in Chile and at the very least, it had concrete knowledge of institutional breaches in other countries throughout the region and did absolutely nothing to even try to sway or discourage these events,” Chillier said.
In addition, the released documents showed for the first time that even internationally recognized human rights advocates and activists were targeted as part of the regional repression of Operation Condor.
“The basic objective of the intelligence and hit squads sent abroad through Operation Condor was to liquidate ‘terrorists.’ The individuals labelled as ‘non-terrorists’ by the juntas were also targets of assassination attempts. The non-leftist opposition politician Wilson Ferreira of Uruguay and several national leaders of Amnesty International were listed as objectives,” read a report from May 9, 1977.
The United States government knew that members of these operating groups from Operation Condor nations would convene in the Argentine capital. There, they would receive “a training course” and several were then sent across Europe to “keep an eye on suspicious activities by citizens abroad” under the guise of being businessmen.
The same groups would travel throughout the region and abroad in order to “collect material about the membership, location and political activities of human rights groups to identify and ‘expose’ their connections to marxist or socialist groups,” which would grant a green light to junta authorities for arrest or murder despite a lack of criminal activity. The same information was also collected from members of various religious institutions.
One of these prominent human rights activists targeted was Alfredo Bravo, a teacher, prominent union leader and politician. Bravo was arrested in his classroom in September of 1977 and taken to a clandestine detention center in an unmarked car with no license plate. He was imprisoned, violently interrogated and tortured for three weeks and left with permanent physical and mental scars.
His story was repeated tens of thousands of times nationwide with 30,000 of those cases having ended in death, so the revelation of his harrowing experience is nothing new. What is new, however, is that US authorities, from National Security Advidor Zbigniew Brzezinski all the way up presidents Ford and Carter, undoubtedly knew of such activities being carried out against prominent figures (through Bravo’s personal 14-page testimony) and activists, let alone regular civilians.