This week saw the reopening of one of the most difficult and polarizing chapters in Argentine history. As part of the declassification of secret intelligence information collected on behalf of the US government during Argentina’s last military dictatorship which US president Barack Obama promised to release while on his first State visit to the country earlier this year — a second collection of documents has been presented to the public record, shedding new light on an undeniably dark moment in Latin American politics.
In an outstanding investigative piece by Buenos Aires Herald journalist Santiago del Carril looking at the declassified files, connections are made, and brought to light, pertaining to what the US government knew, and to what extent it was involved in the military government’s rise to power and the notorious human rights abuses it committed.
In a piece published in this week’s edition of the English language newspaper, a disturbing account of infamous military general Ramon Camps, the former head of the Provincial Police and notorious war criminal, comes into focus. According to a memorandum sent by Raúl Héctor Castro, who served as US Ambassador to Argentina under the Carter Administration, Camps allegedly took pleasure in telling the parents of military recruits that their children’s “duty was not to die for their country, but to ‘kill’ for it.” Castro is quoted in the Herald’s piece saying that he had “never seen anyone as potentially dangerous” as General Camps.
In addition to providing accounts of the kind of evil that existed amongst the military government’s ranks, the documents released this week also show the role local press played in putting the news of the atrocities taking place in Argentina onto the world’s stage. La Presna is cited as joining the Buenos Aires Herald in promoting the human rights record but could not go as far as publishing the individual names of the people who were forcibly disappeared. The continued releasing of victims’ names, in spite of Government repression and the very real threat of death, is one of the most widely respected aspects of The Herald’s (and then editor Robert Cox’s) history.
Additionally, the documents reinforce evidence pointing to the US’ involvement with Operation Condor, the international campaign which sought to repress leftist political activity in the Southern Cone through the training and support of local juntas on the ground in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Bolivia. While the United States’ involvement with the campaign had been clearly established for years now, the record can now show the fact that specific operations and plans for assassination targeting human rights leaders, like Uruguayan opposition leader and member of Amnesty International Wilson Ferreira Aldunate, were made explicitly known to high ranking officials within the US government.
The United States’ involvement with Operation Condor is one of the primary sources of the animosity and Anti-US sentiment that continue to exist on the ground in Argentina. The military dictatorship that took place from 1976 to 1983 (some historians place the start date for State oppression even earlier) is cited as one of the worst human rights crisis to hit the region and continues to spark controversy, with some in the country appearing to want to downplay its relevance, whereas contemporary politicians have been accused of exploiting the tragedy to promote their own agendas.
What is established within the international historic record though is that many lives were lost, and inconceivable levels of pain and suffering were experienced across the political spectrum and the region’s international borders. Many have called for Argentina to focus on healing the wounds its people sustained during this period, with a focus on rebuilding a more positive unified future. After the trials have ended, and the retelling of history has taken place in movie theaters and across kitchen tables both inside and outside of Argentina, a sober audit of the atrocities committed during this time appears to be the only productive way forward.
The latest release of these documents provides the raw material needed for this painful and politically volatile, but necessary process, to take place — and with any luck, might actually lead the prolonged stability that has evaded the region for decades.