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US President Barack Obama is scheduled to be in Argentina on March 24th — the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice officially commemorating the beginning of the last military dictatorship — and not everyone is thrilled about it.

Nobel Prize Winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, honored for his human rights work during and after the 1976-1983 dictatorship, wrote an open letter to Obama in which he voices concern over the reasons behind the US head of state’s visit.

You come to my country the same day that marks 40 years of the last genocidal dictatorship in Argentina and in the year that marks 200 years of our national independence,” he writes. “You certainly cannot ignore that your country has many outstanding debts with ours and many others.”

Speaking more bluntly to press, Esquivel reminded us that he is “a survivor of that era, of the flights of death, of the torture, of the prisons, of the exiles… and when you analyze the situation in depth, the United States was responsible for the coups in Latin America.”

If all of this seems like a lot of heat on a President who, as Esquivel acknowledges, was “only 14 years old” when Argentina entered into “the most tragic period in its history,” it’s because the situation is hugely politically awkward. Pérez Esquivel even says that Obama’s visit, in itself, would be “great,” and the major problem lies in the fact that his visit will fall smack on the worst day possible in terms of politico-historical context.

So Obama’s visit and the dates upon which it’s scheduled could fall anywhere between horribly politically incorrect and potentially reparative, depending on whom you ask. For Esquivel, it’s closer to the former.

Begrudging credit to Fox
Begrudging credit to Fox

Esquivel, who has communicated with his Peace Prize peer in the past over issues like Guantanamo Bay, goes on to write in his letter that Obama would be welcome once he had signed and ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, and when the US “[stops] being the only American country that has not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights.” He also voices concern that Obama’s visit will be in the interest of promoting free-trade agreements (which have a track record of being exploitative of developing or economically struggling nations), excusing the vulture fund holdouts and/or recommending the US’ massively controversial security forces intervention tactics in Argentina’s very own fight against drug trafficking.

The March 23 and 24 dates immediately follow Obama’s visit to Cuba on the 21 and 22, which is just logistical common sense. But if being in Argentina on the 24th is such a sensitive issue, some must wonder why Obama can’t just hang out in Cuba for a couple more days to catch some rays. Is your business really that important, guy?

Apparently it may be, considering that according to Infobae, the President’s bringing an 800-strong posse with him. The entourage will include security personnel, diplomats, congressmen, businessmen and other officials. An image of Macri dressing up real cute for all that potential foreign investment strikes me with sudden writer’s block (blue is your color, Mac!) Ultimately, it is probably high time to begin to mend the historically troubled relationship between the two nations. The multi-billion-peso-question, however, is how. 

In any event, it remains to be seen if the POTUS will respond to the part of the country that is displeased with the coincidence of his arrival date. How Obama fields this one could make all the difference.

This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the 1976 coup d’état that brought Jorge Rafael Videla’s military junta to power, thereby marking the official commencement of a seven-year reign of state terror in Argentina. An estimated 30,000 were disappeared for their perceived support of leftist ideals. The United States provided military juntas in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia with tactical support under the Central Intelligence Agency’s Operation Condor. The operation was essentially a series of proxy wars all linked to the Cold War and the US’ McCarthyism – paranoia over the spread of Soviet communism that motivated the United States to support a number of massively violent right-wing dictatorships across the continent. Nowhere was it worse than in the Southern Cone.