Obama Apologizes for US Role in Argentina Coup and 'Dirty War' that Tortured and Killed Thousands
March 25, 2016 Kamilia Lahrichi and Oren Dorell / USA TODAY & Julie Hirschelf Davis / The New York Times
President Obama Thursday visited a memorial in Argentina to the thousands of people killed and disappeared during that country's "dirty war," on the 40th anniversary of the coup that started it. Obama used his visit to announce his plan to declassify new military and intelligence records that document the human rights violations from 1976 to 1983.
Obama Sorry for US Policies During Argentina's 'Dirty War' Kamilia Lahrichi and Oren Dorell / USA TODAY
BUENOA AIRES (March 24, 2016) -- President Obama Thursday visited a memorial in Argentina to the thousands of people killed and disappeared during that country's "dirty war," on the 40th anniversary of the coup that started it.
Obama used his visit to announce his plan to declassify new military and intelligence records that document the human rights violations from 1976 to 1983.
"There's been controversy about the policies of the United States early in those dark days," Obama said, standing beside the Argentinian President Mauricio Macri. "The United States when it reflects on what happened here has to reflect on its own past…. When we're slow to speak out on human rights, which was the case here."
Despite early US support for the coup, Obama said US diplomats, human rights workers and reporters played an important role in documenting the abuses that took place in the aftermath.
He extolled the likes of diplomat Tex Harris, who worked at the US embassy in Buenos Aires during the administration of then-President Jimmy Carter to document human rights abuses and identify the disappeared. Such men did so despite threats to themselves and their families, Obama said.
The new records will be added to a trove of more than 4,000 documents already declassified compiled by US diplomats and used in Argentina to prosecute those accused in the abuses, Obama said.
What happened in Argentina "is not unique, and it's not confined to the past," he said. "Each of us have a responsibility each and every day to make sure that wherever we see injustice, wherever we see rule of law flaunted that we take responsibility to make this a better place for our children and grandchildren."
Documents from the administration of President Gerald Ford, who was in office during the 1976 coup, show that top US officials knew of the impending coup and did little to stop it.
"Several military contacts, who had previously downplayed the possibility of a coup, have, since December 5, suddenly shifted over to describing a coup as 'inevitable," US Ambassador to Argentina Robert Hill said in a Dec. 18, 1975, telegram to the State Department. "Timing has not yet been determined, but most observers expect the military to act before March."
On Feb. 28, 1976, less than a month before the coup, Hill wrote the State Department again with the good news that few Argentine politicians believed the United States was actively fomenting a coup. "Our stock with democratic civilian forces therefore remains high, but at same time our bridges to military are open," Hill wrote.
After the coup, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in a March 26, 1976, staff meeting that he wanted to encourage the new military leaders of Argentina. "I don't want to give the sense that they're harassed by the United States," Kissinger said.
Obama arrived in a helicopter with Macri, after dancing tango the night before during a dinner with Macri and about 470 guests. Obama visited the museum inside the park Thursday and acknowledged that "there has been controversy about the politics of the US"
Despite being a spot for runners, the atmosphere in this memorial is rather gloomy. The names of the "disappeared" during Argentina's "dirty war" are listed on the sides of the walkways, on the bank of the Río de la Plata.
The sculpture of a man stands in the middle of the river. It is a reference to the "death flights" – the military junta's practice of dropping alive opponents to the regime from aircraft or helicopters into the water.
A large sculpture in the park reads in Spanish: "Thinking is a revolutionary act," in reference to the crackdown on intellectuals during the country's 1973-1986 dictatorship.
The primary structure in the park is the Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism, a long wall -- similar to the Vietnam War Memorial -- containing 20,000 names and ages of victims. An additional 10,000 empty plaques represent victims who have yet to be identified. The wall is connected to a jetty that extends into the river, commemorating those who disappeared at sea.
A protest took place Thursday afternoon in Buenos Aires at the Plaza de Mayo square in front of the Argentinian presidential palace.
"We reject Obama's presence because he came to support [Macri's] government, which has found agreement with the 'vulture funds' and [has plunged the country into] a massive debt crisis," says Gabriel Solano, Head of the Workers' Party.
Protestors held banners and played drums as men sold mineral water and soda to the people. On the ground, there were outlines of bodies drawn in chalk -- like a crime scene -- as symbols of victims of the dictatorship.
Silvina Retrivi, a language professor, said, "Obama's visit represents Argentina's shift towards a neoliberal economy. It is paradoxical that Obama spoke to us in the Usina del arte concert hall about health programs implemented in the US when we could stop benefiting from our own health programs because of this neoliberal influence."
BUENOS AIRES (March 24, 2016) -- President Obama expressed regret on Thursday for the failure of the United States to acknowledge the brutal repression and atrocities that took place during Argentina's "dirty war" in the 1970s and '80s.
"There's been controversy about the policies of the United States early in those dark days," Mr. Obama said at the Parque de la Memoria, a monument to the war's victims, where he attended a ceremony for the 40th anniversary of the 1976 military coup that began the Argentine dictatorship.
The United States "has to examine its own policies as well, and its own past," Mr. Obama said, adding, "We've been slow to speak out for human rights, and that was the case here."
The president's remarks came after he toured the memorial with President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, walking beside a hulking gray stone wall engraved with the names and ages of 20,000 victims — and 10,000 blank spaces for those who have yet to be identified.
Mr. Obama announced this week that he would begin a declassification effort to unseal secret military and intelligence files that could shed light on the fates of some of those victims, as well as what the United States knew about human rights violations that took place during what Mr. Macri called "the darkest period in our history."
The leaders walked to a bridgehead overlooking the Río de la Plata, where they each cast three white roses into the water to honor the victims.
"A memorial like this speaks to the responsibilities that all of us have," Mr. Obama said later. "We cannot forget the past, but when we find the courage to confront and we find the courage to change that past, that's when we build a better future."
Human rights groups had reacted angrily to the timing of Mr. Obama's trip, arguing that it was inappropriate for him to visit at the moment that Argentina was commemorating a tragic turn in its history that many believe was condoned, and in some cases enabled, by the United States.
Later, Mr. Obama's motorcade passed a gathering of hundreds of demonstrators being physically restrained by police in riot gear, shouting angrily and making lewd gestures as they held placards and flags with slogans and images of the Perón family. María Estela Martínez de Perón was ousted in the 1976 coup.
In Buenos Aires, Mr. Macri thanked Mr. Obama for participating in Argentina's day of remembrance, and said nations must not be "passive onlookers" of human rights violations, as had been the case in the past.
"This is a marvelous opportunity for all of the Argentine people to say together, 'Never again,'" Mr. Macri said. "Never again to institutional violence."
Mr. Obama and his family then left to tour Argentina's Patagonia region. He was being kept abreast of the investigation into the Brussels attacks by his national security staff back in Washington.
Lisa Monaco, his top counterterrorism adviser, briefed Mr. Obama in a secure telephone call Thursday morning, a White House official said. The president has directed his team to "continue providing any and all requested assistance to Belgian and other authorities investigating the attacks," the official said.
A White House statement said Thursday that Mr. Obama would meet with President Xi Jinping of China next Thursday on the sideline of a nuclear security meeting in Washington. The two leaders, who last met in September, will discuss how they can work together on "issues of mutual interest" and to "address areas of disagreement constructively," the statement said.
Mr. Obama spent several hours relaxing on Thursday afternoon with his family in Bariloche, a tourist city in Patagonia. They hiked in the Llao Llao park and took a cruise on Lake Nahuel Huapi.
The city has been a favorite of American presidents who have traveled to Argentina, visited by Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bill Clinton.
Obama Addresses Young Leaders In Argentina - Full Speech =UpTakeVideo
Usina Del Arte, Buenos Aires, Argentina (March 24, 2016) -- President Obama holds a town hall with young leaders of the Americas, discussing the relationship between the US and Argentina, the relationship between the United States and Latin America, and more broadly, the Young Latin American Leaders initiative that we've launched to follow on the success of the Young Leaders initiatives in Africa and Southeast Asia.
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