Two days after the coup d'etat that brought a
brutal military junta to power in Argentina, then U.S. Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger ordered his subordinates to "encourage" the new regime by
providing financial support, according to a previously classified transcript
released here by the independent National Security Archive (NSA).
The document, whose public release came on the 30th anniversary of the coup,
depicts Kissinger as uninterested in warnings by his assistant secretary of
state for Inter-American Affairs, William Rogers, that the junta would likely
intensify repression against suspected dissidents in ways that could make U.S.
support for the regime embarrassing.
"The point I'm making is that although they have good press today, the
basic line of all the interference was that they had to do it because she [ousted
President Isabel Peron] couldn't run the country," Rogers told his boss.
"So I think the point is that we ought not at this moment to rush out and
embrace this new regime that three-six months later will be considerably
less popular with the press."
"But we shouldn't do the opposite either," Kissinger insists, adding
that "whatever chance they have, they will need a little encouragement
"I do want to encourage them," he went on, asking to review the instructions
to Washington's ambassador in Buenos Aires, Robert Hill, on his first meeting
with the junta's yet-to-be-named foreign minister. "I don't want to give
the sense that they're harassed by the United States."
Washington approved 50 million dollars in military aid the following month.
The Mar. 26, 1976 transcript, which was obtained by NSA analyst Carlos Osorio,
was one of a batch of documents posted overnight on the NSA's website, some
of which had previously been obtained and publicized by the NSA, Argentina's
Clarin newspaper, and John Dinges, author of The
Among them are a series of chilling documents collected by Osorio from several
sources about the early days of Operation Condor, a trans-border collaboration
among the intelligence agencies of the Southern Cone military regimes directed
against suspected dissidents both within the region and abroad.
The documents detail the tracking down and eventual disappearance of a Uruguayan
couple, Jorge Zaffaroni and Maria Islas de Zaffaroni, between May and October
1976. The couple was among 62 alleged members of the OPR-33 guerrilla group
who were listed in an Uruguayan intelligence memo to their Southern Cone colleagues.
The newly posted documents also include a number of State Department and Pentagon
memoranda on the number of victims of the Argentine junta's repression, including
one that cited 15,000 disappearances between 1975 and late 1978. Yet another
Chilean document obtained by Dinges and also posted on the NSA site cited a
total figure of 22,000 dead and disappeared in Argentina from 1975 until mid-1978.
The 1976 coup followed a year in Argentina in which political violence by pro-government
death squads and left-wing guerillas engulfed the nation. As noted by Osorio,
the coup was seen by many in Argentina and in the U.S. government and business
community as a necessary and inevitable step to restore stability to the country.
That assumption is reflected in the Kissinger transcript. "This junta
is testing the basic proposition that Argentina is not governable...,"
Rogers tells Kissinger, adding that the new regime will likely make "a
considerable effort to involve the United States particularly in the financial
"(T)hat's in our interest," Kissinger observes, as Rogers goes on
to warn that Washington must "expect a fair amount of repression, probably
a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long. I think they're going to
have to come down very hard not only on the terrorists but on the dissidents
of trade unions and their parties."
Kissinger's remarks about not harassing the regime regarding human rights were
consistent with Washington's policy toward a number of military dictatorships
at the time, including those of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and Gen. Soeharto
in Indonesia, according to transcripts that have been obtained by the NSA and
other sources in recent years.
In Argentina, however, the repression after the coup was so fierce that even
Amb. Hill, who initially praised the military takeover as "the most civilized
coup in Argentine history," appears to have become disgusted with the regime
and Kissinger's refusal to condemn its human rights record within
just a few months.
Hill had urged Kissinger to warn the junta's foreign minister, Admiral Cesar
Guzetti, at a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Santiago
in June 1976 that aid could be cut back if the rights situation did not immediately
But Kissinger failed even to bring up the issue. When, instead, Guzetti himself
raised it, Kissinger asked only how much longer the repression would continue
and indicated approval when Guzetti said it would last until the end of the
year, according to a previously disclosed cable.
In succeeding months, Hill repeatedly tried to convince Guzetti that Washington
would not tolerate continuing atrocities by the junta. On the eve of a two-week
trip by the foreign minister to Washington, Hill sent a cable to his superiors
Sep. 20 in which he recounted those efforts, stating that he had told Guzetti
that "murdering priests and dumping 47 bodies in the street in one day
could not be seen in context of defeating the terrorists quickly; on the contrary,
such acts were probably counter-productive."
But Guzetti's visit to Washington where he held separate meetings with Kissinger,
then-Vice Pres. Nelson Rockefeller, and Kissinger's top Latin America aide,
Harry Shlaudeman failed to reinforce that message, according to a subsequent
cable from Hill obtained by Dinges.
Guzetti had left for the United States, he wrote, "fully expecting to
hear some strong, firm, direct warnings on his government's human-rights practices.
Rather than that, he has returned in a state of jubilation, convinced there
is no real problem with the United States over this issue."
Guzetti had told him that Kissinger "had assured him that the United States
'wants to help Argentina'," Hill, now deceased, reported, "(and),
that if the terrorist problem was over by December or January (Kissinger) believed
serious problems could be avoided in the United States."
"Based on what Guzetti is doubtless reporting to the [government of Argentina],
it must now believe that if it has any problems with the U.S. over human rights,
they are confined to certain elements of Congress and what it regards as biased
and/or uninformed minor segments of public opinion," he wrote in what Shlaudeman
later called a "bitter criticism" of Kissinger's role.
Kissinger's response to Guzetti was remarkably similar to a conversation he
held with Chilean General Augusto Pinochet at the OAS meeting in June 1976.
According to a memorandum of that meeting obtained and released 18 months ago
by the National Security Archive, Kissinger reassured Pinochet repeatedly that
Washington supported his junta and the "overthrow of the Communist-inclined
government here," and that human rights concerns in Washington were confined
to some sectors in Congress and were not shared by the Ford administration.
When Pinochet complained about efforts by Allende's exiled defense minister,
Orlando Letelier, to persuade Congress to cut off U.S. support for the junta,
Kissinger noted the existence of a "worldwide propaganda campaign by the
Letelier was assassinated in central Washington, D.C. in a Condor operation
in late September 1976, three months after Kissinger's conversation with Pinochet
and just days before Guzetti's arrival for talks with U.S. officials.
(Inter Press Service)