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THE DIRTY WAR part 2: Kissinger Memorandum

Henry Kissinger

Kissinger and Good Morning BA's SPECIAL REPORT part 1: The USA, Operation Condor & Argentina’s Dirty War

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 A 13 page Memorandum of Conversation declassified on July 1, 2004, shows that in 1976 U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger played a key role in assuring Argentina’s military rulers that their antiterrorist campaign involving the disappearance, torture and assassination of at least 15,000 people — many of whom were not combatants — would not be criticized by the United States on human-rights grounds.

This memo reports on a June 10, 1976 meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Argentine Foreign Minister, Admiral Cesar Augusto Guzzetti, in Santiago Chile.  After a series of pleasantries, Admiral Guzzetti started the real substance of the meeting:

“Our main problem in Argentina is terrorism. It is the first priority of the current government that took office on March 24. There are two aspects to the solution. The first is to ensure the internal security of the country; the second is to solve the most urgent economic problems over the coming 6 to 12 months. Argentina needs United States understanding and support to overcome problems in these two areas.”

Secretary Kissinger replied:

“We have followed events in Argentina closely.  We wish the new government well.  We wish it will succeed.  We will do what we can to help it succeed.

We are aware you are in a difficult period.  It is a curious time, when political, criminal, and terrorist activities tend to merge without any clear separation.  We understand you must establish authority.”

Bear in mind that this statement was made at a time when the international community, U.S. Congress and the U.S. Embassy in Argentina were clamoring about the indiscriminate human rights violations being perpetrated against labor leaders, students, politicians and scientists by the Argentine military after seizing power in a coup d’etat, overthrowing the government of Isabel Perón on March 24th of that same year.

To get an idea of the context of this conversation, it is important to look at events leading up to this meeting.

[NOTE:  the links below refer to source documents]

March 24, 1976 – The Argentine military takes power in a coup d’etat, overthrowing the government of Isabel Perón.

April 30, 1976 – American citizen Gwenda Loken Lopez is captured and tortured by Argentine security forces.

May 5-7, 1976 – American citizen Mercedes Naveiro Bender is kidnapped and tortured by Argentine security forces and witnesses the torture of scores of others while in detention.

May 20, 1976 – The bodies of former Uruguayan legislators Zelmar Michelini and Hector Gutierrez Ruiz are found in Buenos Aires. U.S. agencies believe that theywere murdered in a coordinated operation involving Uruguayan and Argentine security forces as they were outspoken critics of the military regime in Uruguay.

May 21, 1976 -Argentina’s presidential secretary, Ricardo Yofre, tells U.S. Ambassador Robert Hill that Argentina is involved in “an all-out war against subversion. In the heat of the battle there will inevitably be some violations of human rights”.

May 24-27, 1976 – American citizen Elida Messina, coordinator of the Argentina chapter of the Fulbright Commission, is kidnapped and tortured by Argentine security forces.

May 25, 1976 – While visiting Argentina, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative informs U.S. Ambassador Robert Hill that “the GOA [government of Argentina] was irritated by international pressure on refugees and wanted to proceed to deal with them with as free a hand as possible.”

Early June 1976 – As part of “Operation Condor”, intelligence representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, meeting in Santiago, Chile, decide to establish a computerized intelligence data bank and an international communications network.  Intelligence representatives from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay further agree to expand their efforts to “hit” leftists to Europe.

June 3, 1976 -The corpse of Juan José Torres, former Bolivian president, is found in Buenos Aires. U.S. agencies believe Torres was killed by Argentine security forces.

June 7, 1976 - In response to a Department of State query pertaining to coordination among Southern Cone military regimes to hit political refugees, Ambassador Hill informs the State Department that, although there is no firm evidence, “there is considerable circumstantial evidence” that the killings of the Uruguayans and Bolivian political refugees were carried out by Argentine security forces. In a similar cable to the Department of State that day, U.S. Ambassador to Chile David Popper reports, “We assume (1) that Armed forces and intelligence services of all these countries cooperate to some extent, (2) That all these governments are capable of covert killing.”

June 9, 1976 – According to a U.S. Embassy report, “Ten armed men broke into the offices of the Argentine Catholic Commission on Immigration … and ransacked safes and files, stealing most of the records on the many thousands of refugees and immigrants handled through the commission in the past 20 years… [T]he implications are enormous, particularly following the recent violent deaths of prominent political exiles from neighboring countries… UNHCR [United Nations High Command on Refugees] contacts are worried about dangers to those whose names figured in the stolen documents, which include index cards with names and addresses and confidential letters requesting assistance.”

Without further ado, here are some excerpts from the meeting.  Click here to see the actual memorandum.

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)

Guzzetti: Our main problem in Argentina is terrorism. It is the first priority of the current government that took office on March 24. There are two aspects to the solution. The first is to ensure the internal security of the country; the second is to solve the most urgent economic problems over the coming 6 to 12 months. Argentina needs United States understanding and support…

Kissinger: We have followed events in Argentina closely. We wish the new government well. We wish it will succeed. We will do what we can to help it succeed. We are aware you are in a difficult period. It is a curious time, when political, criminal, and terrorist activities tend to merge without any clear separation. We understand you must establish authority.

Guzzetti: The foreign press creates many problems for us, interpreting events in a very peculiar manner. Press criticism creates problems for confidence. It weakens international confidence in the Argentine government…

Kissinger: The worst crime as far as the press is concerned is to have replaced a government of the left.

Guzzetti: It is even worse than that.

Kissinger: I realize you have no choice but to restore governmental authority. But it is also clear that the absence of normal procedures will be used against you.

Guzzetti [on thousands of refugees in Argentina]: They have come from all our neighboring countries: Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, as well as Chile… Many provide clandestine support for terrorism. Chile, when the government changed, resulted in a very large number of leftist exiles. The Peronist government at the time welcomed them to Argentina in large numbers.

Kissinger: You could always send them back.

Guzzetti: For elemental human rights reasons we cannot send them back to Chile… No one wants to receive them. There are many terrorists.

Kissinger: Have you tried the PLO? They need more terrorists. Seriously, we cannot tell you how to handle these people. What are you going to do?

Kissinger: I understand the problem. But if no one receives them, then what can you do?

Guzzetti: We are worried about their involvement in the terrorism problem. But many fear persecution, and do not want to register.

Kissinger: And how many of these do you feel are engaged in illegal activities?

Guzzetti: It is difficult to say. Perhaps 10,000. Only 150 Chileans are legal. We have no names. Only the refugee committees know something in detail. But their problems create unrest, and sometimes even logistic support for the guerrillas

Kissinger: We wish you success.

Guzzetti: The terrorist problem is general to the entire Southern Cone. To combat it, we are encouraging joint efforts to integrate with our neighbors… All of them: Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil.

Kissinger: I take it you are talking about joint economic activities?

Guzzetti: Yes. Activities on both the terrorist and the economic fronts.

Kissinger: Oh. I thought you were referring only to security. You cannot succeed if you focus on terrorism and ignore its causes.

Kissinger: Let me say, as a friend, that I have noticed that military governments are not always the most effective in dealing with these problems…

So after a while, many people who don’t understand the situation begin to oppose the military and the problem is compounded.

The Chileans, for example, have not succeeded in getting across their initial problem and are increasingly isolated.

You will have to make an international effort to have your problems understood. Otherwise, you, too, will come under increasing attack. If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you must get back quickly to normal procedures.

Kissinger: It is certainly true that whatever the origin, terrorism frequently gains outside support. And this outside support also creates pressures against efforts to suppress it. But you cannot focus on terrorism alone. If you do, you only increase your problems.

Guzzetti: Yes, there is a need for balance between political rights and authority.

Kissinger: I agree. The failure to respect it creates serious problems. In the United States we have strong domestic pressures to do something on human rights.

Guzzetti: The terrorists work hard to appear as victims in the light of world opinion even though they are the real aggressors.

Kissinger: We want you to succeed. We do not want to harrass [sic] you. I will do what I can…

[At 9:10 the Secretary and Guzzetti leave for a word alone. At 9:14 they re-emerge, and the meeting ends.]“

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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