Obama honors victims of US-backed Argentina dictators
Obama became the first US president to pay homage to the victims of the 1976-1983 military regime, which declassified documents have revealed was supported by top US officials.
“There’s been controversy about the policies of the United States early in those dark days,” Obama said in a speech at the Memory Park monument in Buenos Aires.
The United States “has to examine its own policies as well, and its own past,” he added. “We’ve been slow to speak out for human rights, and that was the case here.”
Alongside Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri, Obama tossed white roses into the river in memory of those executed by the regime by being hurled from airplanes into the water in so-called “death flights.”
Obama’s visit to Argentina coincided with the 40th anniversary of a right-wing military coup, which the US government condoned and which ushered in the dictatorship.
Victims’ groups had been angered by the choice of the date for Obama’s visit, given the US support for the coup at the time.
But they welcomed his promise to declassify further documents to shed more light on the fates of victims of the regime.
– Tango diplomacy –
During his visit, Obama has tried to present a softer side of US power in Latin America.
On Wednesday, he joked about tasting Argentina’s national beverage mate for the first time and about trying to meet football superstar Lionel Messi.
He even had a go at tango — with a pro, at a state dinner.
He looked relaxed while practicing a few steps with dancer Mora Godoy, while his First Lady Michelle Obama gave it a whirl with dancer Jose Lugones.
But the troubled history of US involvement in the region reared its head on Thursday’s anniversary.
In 2002, Washington declassified 4,000 diplomatic cables which showed US officials, including then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger, encouraged the Argentine junta’s purge of leftists.
In a strategic gesture, Obama agreed ahead of his visit to declassify other sensitive military and intelligence records linked to the “dirty war.”
The intelligence and military documents could shed new light on the depth of US involvement in the coup and in the purges which followed.
They may also shed more light on the extent of US involvement in “Operation Condor,” a plan among secret police agencies across the Southern Cone to target communists, leftists and dissidents.
“Prior US government releases have detailed human rights abuses and US policymaking in Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador,” said Carlos Osorio at the National Security Archive.
Macri had asked for the documents to be released.
“We all need and we are entitled to know what the truth is,” he said.
– Closer ties –
Obama is on his first visit to Argentina, hoping to nurture a new regional ally.
He praised the country’s new pro-business leader Macri as a “man in a hurry” to create jobs and mend the economy.
The White House is keen to bolster the new president, spotting a chance to put Argentina on a firmer financial footing and create a new ally in the region.
Macri won elections in November, ending 12 years of crisis-ridden leftist rule by the late Nestor Kirchner and his wife Cristina who reveled in political enmity with Washington.
Obama’s visit has also seen an effort to neutralize another point of contention between the two countries — finance.
Obama praised Macri’s “constructive approach” in reaching a deal with US creditors and said it had led to the “possibility of a resolution” that could let Argentina back into international financial markets.
The Obamas are scheduled to leave Argentina on Thursday night after a quick recreational trip to Patagonia.
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