December 22, 2014
Remembered: Carter’s role against dictatorship
Policy praised by former Herald editor-in-chief Robert Cox
The last dictatorship in Argentina killed around 30,000 people and snatched around 500 babies, according to human rights organizations. It was weakened through internal resistance but also due to the role played by the White House during former president James Carter’s administration. Last week, at the human rights centre led by the US former president, Carter along with with Herald’s former editor Robert Cox recalled those years.
After the screening of the documentary Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo and the Search for Identity, which describes efforts to track down grandchildren missing as a result of the systematic plan of children appropriation, Carter explained how the US policy toward Argentina affected the military government which was supported by Carter’s successor in the presidency, Ronald Reagan.
Carter took office in 1977 when clandestine detention centres spread throughout the country. As he explained, he not only based his policy on “military pressure” by reducing military aid but also tried to impact the dictatorship’s economy by prohibiting to grant loans to the Argentine government that was committing various human rights abuses.
Former US Embassy official in Argentina Tex Harris also praised Carter’s policy. “I was part of a team and you were the coach,” Harris said in using a soccer metaphor. He added: “People used to go five days a week to report atrocities to the embassy. I was the midfielder as I received the information I kicked it to (then Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights) Pat Derian.” However, Harris also mentioned the difficulties he had to face in order to report the state abuses even though the top of the US administration was supportive.
For his part, Cox recalled his first efforts to find out what was happening in the country when the repression was clandestine.
“The problem was to get things out,” Cox said.
“You cannot imagine what it is like to live in a country with fear,” the Herald’s columnist added, making reference to the dark years of the dictatorship. But he also explained that the newspaper and himself along with other journalists made the decision to report what Mothers and Grandmothers were denouncing.
Then the owners of the company told Cox: “Do your job.” And he did. “Journalists must inform people what is happening.” During the state terror-era, media did not inform about the thousands of abductions, killings and cases of torture. The Herald is remembered by human rights activists for the role it played by publishing these stories in order to save lives.
Looking straight at Carter’s eyes, Cox said: “Something started in Argentina with your policy.”
The military government left office in 1983. A year later, a brief reporting disappearances was released to help truth emerge. In 1985, the heads of the first three military junta governments were taken to court.
Following the amnesty laws that prevented those who perpetrated crimes against humanity in the 1970s from being taken to court, the national Congress declared null and void the so-called Due Obedience and the Full Stop laws in 2003 and two years later the decision was confirmed by the Supreme Court, reopening the investigations for human rights abuses.