March 7, 2014
Kissinger gave ‘green light’ to military killings
New oral history confirms former secretary of state granted Junta one year for operations
Former US secretary of State Henry Kissinger knew perfectly well about the repression being committed during Argentina’s military dictatorship and in 1976 gave the junta led by late former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla a year to put an end to “the terrorist problem,” according to a former US official.
US president Jimmy Carter’s assistant secretary for human rights, Pat Derian, reignited the discussion over the role played by the US in the last Argentine dictatorship in a recently published interview.
Derian, who had earlier reported hearing that Kissinger effectively gave the “green light” to the military’s repression, is remembered by human rights activists as a person who helped propel their demands.
The information that Derian confirmed in a recently published oral history had been previously reported by journalist Martin Edwin Andersen, who was a correspondent for The Washington Post during the worst years of the dictatorship. But it was on Monday that the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST), an independent non-profit organization located at the State Department’s George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Centre, released the interview with Pat Derian in which she made reference to what she considered a “sensitive issue.”
Since it was founded in 1986, the ADST has been recording oral histories with US diplomats. In 1996, the organization began the dialogue with Derian, who took a leading role in the late 1970s in reporting human rights violations in the country.
Derian said that during a conversation with the then-US ambassador to Argentina Robert Charles Hill (a Republican appointee who served from February, 1974 to May, 1977), she asked him what role the US played during the first days after 1976 military coup. Derian asked him if any official had travelled from Washington to Buenos Aires and he angrily responded: “No.”
Kissinger was expected to visit the country in 1976 but he called off his visit. The Argentina junta was disappointed because, as other previously released memos made clear, the heads of the de facto government wanted Washington support in the repression they were carrying out in the country, which included creating hundreds of clandestine detention centres where activists were held and then disappeared.
In June, 1976, Kissinger landed in Chile and agreed to meet Videla’s Foreign Minister, César Guzzetti. According to a memo uploaded weeks ago by Andersen, Kissinger and Guzzetti had breakfast together. Derian’s memories are different. She said Guzzetti joined Kissinger on his flight to Brazil and there they discussed the Argentine situation.
“They explained why they were doing the really terrible things they were doing,” Derian explained in reference to the Argentine junta delegates, and added: “They wanted US government approval. I’m told that indeed he (Kissinger) gave it and he gave them one year.”
Derian also remembered that while she was talking to Hill and that her assistant Fernando Rondon was writing a memo of the conversation, which may be the one later uploaded by Andersen.
Alongside the uploading of the document, Andersen explained that the memo was handed over to him in December, 1985. The file provides additional details from the ones Derian made reference in the ADST’s interview.
According to the document, then-ambassador Hill had tried to arrange Kissinger’s visit to the country in seven different occasions but was not succesful. Junta members were apparently very nervous about a possible meeting, fearing Kissinger would lecture them on human rights.
According to the brief, Guzzetti had breakfast with Kissinger and he timidly introduced the hot issue.
“Kissinger asked how long it would take to clean the problem,” the memo reads. The metaphor was clear enough but the problem that had to be cleaned meant the disappearances that were “necessary” in order to put an end to social and political activism. As Derian recalled, Guzzetti promised that it would take a year to make the problem vanish into thin air.
“In other words, Ambassador Hill explained, Kissinger gave the Argentines the green light,” according to the memo.
Presumably, Kissinger wanted the “problem” to be solved by 1977 because that was when former president Gerald Ford’s term in office was scheduled to end.
Ford’s successor, Carter, led a pro-human rights policy that helped take the demand for truth and justice out of the country. Carter later acknowledged that Argentina was one of the worst problems he had to face during his presidency.
During his term in office, Carter decided not to sell weapons to the Argentine military regime and to suspend the bilateral agreements. Carter’s administration also promoted the visit of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to the country in 1979, which was the first international organization to give a detailed report on the human rights violations that were taking place in Argentina. Pat Derian took a leading role in that process.
In the interview she remembered that after learning about US green light to disappearances and killings, she felt a great shock.
“It was the first footstep, in a way. Almost everywhere I went I was walking in Kissinger’s footsteps. He let an awful lot of stuff go by.” Seven years ago, the Kirchnerite administration honoured Derian for her struggle during the 1970s. “She was the most hated foreigner for Argentine military,” Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman then said.