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Argentina junta { August 22 2002 }

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August 22, 2002
Argentine Junta Felt Safe From the U.S.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 21 — Leaders of the military dictatorship that took control of Argentina in 1976 believed that the Ford administration supported their crackdown on leftist insurgents and would not penalize them for rights abuses, newly declassified State Department documents show.

The documents indicate that American Embassy officials in Buenos Aires frequently felt frustrated in their efforts to encourage the Argentine government to rein in military and paramilitary units that were systematically killing, torturing and kidnapping suspected leftists — including several American citizens — during the summer and fall of 1976.

Repeatedly, senior Argentine officials brushed aside concerns raised by embassy officials, saying that Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and other top Ford administration officials supported their war against Communists and were not deeply worried about rights abuses, several documents show.

After President Jimmy Carter took office in 1977, the State Department became much more aggressive in opposing human rights abuses. At the insistence of Congress, military and economic aid to Argentina was cut. And in Buenos Aires, the embassy became a collection center for information about victims of torture, murder and kidnapping.

But though the message from Washington changed, many of the abuses continued, experts said. The military dictatorship was replaced by a civilian government in elections held in 1983.

In one cable to Mr. Kissinger, dated Oct. 14, 1976, Ambassador Robert Hill complained that the Argentine foreign minister, César Augusto Guzzetti, returned from a visit to Washington feeling "ecstatic" about relations with the United States.

"Guzzetti went to the U.S. fully expecting to hear some strong, firm, direct warning of his government's human rights practices," Mr. Hill continued. "Rather than that, he has returned in a state of jubilation, convinced that there is no real problem" with the United Statesover this issue.

In another cable to Washington, dated Sept. 20, 1976, Mr. Hill wrote that Mr. Guzzetti said that Mr. Kissinger had expressed no concerns about rights abuses in a meeting in Santiago, Chile. Indeed, Mr. Guzzetti suggested that Mr. Kissinger supported what the Argentine government called its war on terrorism and was encouraging President Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina to move swiftly in crushing the insurgency.

"When he had seen Secy of State Kissinger in Santiago, the latter had said he hoped the Argentine govt. could get the terrorist problem under control as quickly as possible," Mr. Hill wrote. "Guzzetti said that he had reported this to President Videla and to the cabinet, and that their impression" had been that the United States' "overriding concern was not human rights" but rather that Argentina " `get it over quickly.' "

Mr. Kissinger did not return phone calls from a reporter seeking comment.

But William Rogers, who was under secretary of state for economic affairs in 1976, said in an interview tonight that Mr. Kissinger publicly and privately told Argentine officials that human rights abuses would not be tolerated. He said Mr. Guzzetti misunderstood Mr. Kissinger if he thought the Ford administration was acquiescing to abuses.

The cables were among 4,677 documents dating from 1975 to 1984 that were declassified and released by the State Department on Tuesday at the behest of rights groups, families of victims of the military crackdown and several governments that are considering prosecuting Argentine officials for abuses.

The documents are expected to shed light on the repression of Argentine leftists in the late 1970's and aid in the prosecution of 31 Argentine military officers recently charged with rights abuses from that period.

Scholars and rights advocates who have begun sifting through the trove say there are no detailed descriptions of Mr. Kissinger's meetings with Mr. Guzzetti.

In his cables, Mr. Hill did not say he believed that Mr. Kissinger or other officials had meant to give a green light to abuses by the Argentine military. Indeed, he asserted in one letter that Mr. Guzzetti was "seeing only what he wanted to see" during a visit to Washington.

"But the results," he added, "nevertheless are the same."

The dispatches, which were compiled by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, depict both conflicting messages from the Ford administration and efforts by the Argentine dictatorship to play off embassy officials against State Department officials.

Mr. Hill also urged the State Department to write the Videla government to correct the Argentine president's "overly optimistic view" concerning Washington's opinion of the rights abuses. It is not clear whether such a letter was ever sent.

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Argentina dictator { August 21 2002 }
Argentina junta { August 22 2002 }
Henry kissinger gave argentina military green light
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