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THE DIRTY WAR part 1: The USA, Operation Condor & Argentina’s Dirty War

Massera y Videla 1976

Admiral Emilio Massera and Junta chief General Rafael Videla.


After the death of President Juan Peron in 1974 Isabel Peron, his wife and vice president assumed power as president of Argentina.  However, she proved to be weak politically and on 24 March 1976 she was overthrown by a military coup d’état which resulted in a seven year campaign of state sponsored violence against suspected dissidents and subversive until 1983.  During this period many people, both opponents of the government as well as innocent people were taken to secret military detention centers where they were tortured, killed or simply disappeared.  Known as “los desaparecidos or “the disappeared”, casualty figures from this period range from 9,000 to over 30,000 people.  Victims of that bloody period of Argentine history included left-wing activists, intellectuals, students, journalists, trade unionists, Marxists and Peronist Guerrillas.

Although the military dictatorship carried out its war against suspected subversives throughout this period, it was ironic that it was the British who eventually brought the junta to an end.  By the early 1980’s it was clear to everyone that the government was behind the tens of thousands of kidnappings and disappearances.  Faced with growing opposition over its human rights record and increasing allegations of corruption, the government sought to allay its domestic problems by launching a military campaign to regain the Falkland Islands (Las Islas Malvinas) which had been a source of contention between the U.K. and Argentina since the early 1800s.

The junta had thought at the time that the U.K. wouldn’t mind the loss of the islands and they could be easily reclaimed allowing the government to regain its popularity and control over an increasingly discontent population.  However, the dictatorship had miscalculated Britain’s resolve and72 days after Argentina invaded the islands they had lost the war.

This unexpected loss, along with the capture of nearly 10,000 Argentine POWs was the final blow for the  military regime and in 1982 basic civil liberties were restored and the Dirty War ended when Dr. Raul Alfonsin’s civilian government assumed control of the country on 10 December 1983.

As the new president elect of the democratic republic, Dr. Raul Alfonsin established CONADEP, the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons, to investigate the fate of those thousands of persons killed and disappeared during the junta rule.  State sponsored terrorism during the Dirty War was carried out in large part by Jorge Rafael Videla’s dictatorship, with the cooperation of Operation Condor, a plan that received the assistance of the United States government.

Kissinger y Guzzetti

U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger meets with Argentine foreign minister, Admiral Cesar Augusto Guzzetti, at a later meeting on October 7, 1976 (Photo courtesy of Clarí (Argentina)

Operation Condor was a campaign of political terrorism and repression  involving the assassination and disappearance untold persons implemented in 1975 by the right wing dictatorships of South America’s Southern Cone.  The program itself was an officially sanctioned intelligence operation involving the governments if Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.  Ecuador and Peru joined in later in more peripheral roles with the United States acting in a supervisory capacity.  The expressed goal of the operation was the eradication of alleged communist and socialist ideas and to control active and potential threats against the governments of the participating countries.  In effect, Operation Condor erased national boundaries for the purposes of hunting down and killing or disappearing dissidents, intellectuals and others speaking out or acting out against the governments of the Southern Cone at the time.

In August of 2002 the U.S. State Department  shipped copies of recently declassified U.S.  documents including  more than 4,600 previously secret U.S. documents on human rights violations under the 1976-83 military dictatorship in Argentina to the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires for distribution to the Argentine government and the groups of survivors and families of the disappeared – almost exactly two years after then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright promised the families to open U.S. files (16 August 2000).

The U.S. State department has posted the full set of documents on its Website and the National Security Archive posted today a selection of the most important new documents, with analysis by the Archive’s Southern Cone project director Carlos Osorio.

Look for Part 2 coming soon which will include discussion, excerpts and in some cases photocopies of secret documents from Southern Cone intelligence agencies which detail evidence of the atrocities committed by the military dictatorship of Argentina from the Dirty War.  These documents include formerly classified transcripts of a staff meeting in which then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ordered the immediate support for the new military regime, just days after the coup.  Internal memoranda and cables from the now infamous Argentina intelligence unit Battalion 601 will be provided and discussed along with information from DINA, the Chilean secret police who secretly collaborated with the military in Buenos Aires. 

All photographs on this page were reproduced from with the permission of the National Security Archive.

See the other segments of this special report:

THE DIRTY WAR part 1: The USA, Operation Condor & Argentina’s Dirty War

THE DIRTY WAR part 2: Kissinger Memorandum

THE DIRTY WAR part 3: Tour of a Secret Detention, Torture and Extermination Center

THE DIRTY WAR part 4: The Torture of Dr Norberto Liwsky (file No. 7397) [Warning: This material is graphic and highly disturbing in nature.]


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Posted by on Nov 25 2010. Filed under Featured Stories, Headliners, Special Report: Operation Condor. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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