Henry Kissinger and Operation Condor, the infamous ring of right-wing Latin American dictators the U.S. State Department propped up in Latin America, are still filthy words in the streets of Argentina even forty one years after the coup d’état that brought a military junta to power. On Thursday, tens of thousands will take to the streets to chant “Nunca más!” or “Never again!”
While the 40th anniversary of the event was last year, and even more poignantly coincided with a visit from U.S. President Barack Obama, the coup also carries a heavy significance this year. The neoliberal government of Mauricio Macri and his PRO party attempted to remove the public holiday altogether in order to up productivity in the Argentina work force, a move that infuriated those who were tortured under the regime and, especially, the surviving family members of those who “disappeared.”
Absent from American textbooks, a series of cables released under the Clinton and Obama administrations has slowly illuminated the involvement of the U.S. in this particular dark spot of the nation’s foreign policy. Henry Kissinger, who many in Argentina would bluntly refer to as a war criminal, had been suspecting of aiding the coup for many years. As Jimmy Carter was poised to win the U.S. presidency, he told a group of Argentine generals that “if things must be done, to do them quickly,” revealed the National Security Archive.
Even under Carter, Henry appears to have continued to offer support for the military governments of Latin America and their “fight against left-wing terrorism.” Kissinger infuriated the Democratic administration when he visited Argentina to sit side-by-side with Videla when the country hosted the 1978 World Cup to project its prowess to the rest of the world. In cables released last year, the State Department said that his rhetoric was, indeed, positive toward the regime, according to the Guardian.
“His praise for the Argentine government in its campaign against terrorism was the music the Argentine government was longing to hear, and it’s no mistake that his statements were played back to us [at a meeting of other countries who were a part of Operation Condor].”
Though Carter’s legacy does indicate that the U.S. did, at least at some point, attempt to coerce the military government to ease up the Dirty War, opinions on the American role in Operation Condor are mixed — even from the more progressive side of politics. While Henry’s name didn’t come up during Obama’s visit last year, the topic itself was palpable. Protests rocked the city where American flags were burned in public squares. “Fuera Obama!” or “Get out, Obama!” graffiti still marks the walls of some of Buenos Aires’ main avenues.
In one commemorative act honoring the memory of those who lost their lives in the Dirty War, Obama apologized for the role of people like Kissinger in delaying justice. He appeared to accept that Operation Condor was partially able to happen because of the complicity of the U.S. government.
“There has been controversy about the policies of the United States early in those dark days. The US, when it reflects on what happened here, has to examine on its own policies and its own past. Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for, when we’ve been slow to speak out for human rights. And that was the case here.”
Yet another interview with CNN about the visit saw a decided shift in tone. Perhaps attempting to play to a U.S. audience that may not approve of what critics have called “Obama’s apology tour,” the former president accused Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of fostering an “anti-American” attitude in the country in order to consolidate her own power. He scoffed at “this lingering irritant or perception that somehow the United States was trying to big-foot smaller countries in the region,” reported Buenos Aires Herald.
Obama’s comments reflect an unrest that still exists within Argentina about justice and responsibility in the Dirty War. Despite a myriad corruption charges, Kirchner and her husband Néstor, who preceded her as president, retain a fanatic following in part because they prosecuted members of the military junta, who many believed would never see jail time for their crimes. Because of that, she is still beloved by many of the groups who fought against the dictatorship, including the Mothers and Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo who protested against the murder of their family members. On the other hand, she also appointed César Milani as head of the Army, a man who is currently detained for kidnapping and torturing Pedro y Ramón Olivera y Verónica Matta.
Even the term Dirty War is controversial. Critics contend that it suggests a fair fight between the government and opposition forces. Following the March 24, 1976 coup d’état, detention centers were set up around the country where members of the opposition were tortured and murdered by the military government. Estimates reach up to 30,000 for the total number of desaparecidos, though even this figure is controversial today in Argentina. Macri and members of his government have come under fire for not accepting the calculation as fact, suggesting that it is impossible to know exactly how many people died during the country’s version of Operation Condor.
Henry Kissinger may perhaps never be synonymous with Operation Condor and the Argentine Dirty War in the United States. During last year’s 2016 presidential debates, Hillary Clinton bragged that the former Secretary of State had praised her performance at the State Department, much to the visible annoyance of her opponent Bernie Sanders.
[Featured Image by Keystone/Getty Images]