In light of Obama’s visit to Argentina on the day that marks the 40th anniversary of Videla’s dictatorship, The Bubble spoke to the executive director of human rights NGO Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), Gastón Chillier.
TB: What is CELS?
GC: CELS is a human rights organization that was created in 1979 by relatives of the dictatorship’s victims, including two mothers from plaza de mayo. It has since continued to work in and outside of Buenos Aires to denounce the military dictatorship and we work in the defense of human rights during democratic times too. The agenda is broad: It goes from working with a judicial agenda in terms of crimes against humanity, to issues about police violence and brutality, prisons, torture and economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to land and housing, for example.
TB: What do you think about Obama’s arrival in Argentina and his decision to declassify official documents from the dictatorship?
GC: Obama’s arrival on the 24th March, which marks the 40th anniversary of the military dictatorship can be interpreted in more ways than one. On the one hand, it is significant because of the US’s recent decision to declassify documents from various State Department agencies and for the US’s overdue debt to contribute to the transparency and advancement of judicial cases. On the other, it will also contribute to the public debate here in Argentina and in the United States regarding its involvement in the dictatorship.
I think that Obama’s visit holds a significant meaning. Here in Argentina, there are opposing views on the role of the United States. Some view it as an driver and maintainer of coups in the region, particularly during the administration for which Kissinger was Secretary of State (1973 to 1977 under President Nixon), during which the US government was aware of and supported the human rights violations committed by the military junta. Others focus more of the role played by the Carter administration which played an important contributing role in pressuring the military government, insisting on a visit from the US commission of human rights.
Obama’s visit is important not only for the past but the present because we are also concerned about the agenda he will be prioritizing with Macri’s administration. In this sense, the free market, the war on drugs and the security agendas are the ones we are currently concerned with; especially the human rights implications of taking a more hawkish stance when dealing with the war on drugs.
TB: What is your opinion regarding Obama’s intention of paying a tribute to the disappeared?
Firstly, Obama’s tribute, like any other tribute, consolidates the US’s bilateral relationship with Argentina, which seems to be the new administration’s intention. Secondly, it seems to me that this should also come hand in hand with a statement reviewing the role of the US during the dictatorship. Thirdly, it is important for Obama’s administration to push for investigations into, and accountability for, the massive and systematic governmental violations they are carrying out under the guise of “fighting terrorism”, which is reflected in the US Senate Intelligence Report. Organizations such as CELS and ACLU in the United States often actively advise various sections of the United Nations Council of Human Rights on the need for the US to investigate what would be obvious crimes against humanity, such as torture. To recognize this would be important not only for the US but for the region too, because impunity for such crimes is a bad sign for the region in today’s context.