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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 Clarín.com (Argentina))

KISSINGER TO THE ARGENTINE GENERALS IN 1976:

"IF THERE ARE THINGS THAT HAVE TO BE DONE, YOU SHOULD DO THEM QUICKLY"

Newly declassified document shows Secretary of State
gave strong support early on to the military junta

While military dictatorship committed massive human rights abuses in 1976,
Secretary Kissinger advised: "you should get back quickly to normal procedures."

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 133

Edited by Carlos Osorio and Kathleen Costar

Posted August 27, 2004

For more information contact:
Carlos Osorio: 202 994 7061 - cosorio@gwu.edu
Peter Kornbluh: 202 994 7116

Related Links
 

Washington, August 27, 2004 - A newly declassified document obtained by the National Security Archive shows that amidst vast human rights violations by Argentina's security forces in June 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told Argentine Foreign Minister Admiral Cesar Augusto Guzzetti:

"If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you should get back quickly to normal procedures."

Kissinger's comment is part of a 13-page Memorandum of Conversation reporting on a June 10 meeting between Secretary Kissinger and Argentine Admiral Guzzetti in Santiago, Chile.

After a series of pleasantries, Guzzetti went into the substance of the meeting by stating: "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…."

Replying to Guzzetti's report on the situation, Secretary Kissinger said: "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."

At a time when the international community, the U.S. media, universities, and scientific institutions, the U.S. Congress, and even the U.S. Embassy in Argentina were clamoring about the indiscriminate human rights violations against scientists, labor leaders, students, and politicians by the Argentine military, Secretary Kissinger told Guzzetti: "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."

Only two weeks earlier, on May 28, Ambassador Robert Hill had presented a U.S. demarche on human rights to Admiral Guzzetti. The Embassy was deeply concerned about the kidnapping and torture of three American women, among them the Fulbright coordinator for Argentina, Elida Messina, and the wave of attacks against political refugees from the Southern Cone. In contrast to Hill's efforts, according to the memorandum of conversation Secretary Kissinger told Guzzetti:"In the United States we have strong domestic pressures to do something on human rights… We want you to succeed. We do not want to harrass [sic] you. I will do what I can…."

Another document recently unearthed by the National Security Archive and posted for the first time here, shows that on July 9, 1976, Secretary Kissinger was explicitly briefed on the rampant repression taking place in Argentina: "Their theory is that they can use the Chilean method," Kissinger's top aide on Latin America Harry Shlaudeman informed him, "that is, to terrorize the opposition - even killing priests and nuns and others."

Documents published earlier by the National Security Archive show that in September 1976 Ambassador Hill complained again to Guzzetti about the astounding human rights violations occurring in Argentina. Guzzetti rebuffed him saying that, "When he had seen SECY of State Kissinger in Santiago, the latter had said he 'hoped the Argentine Govt could get the terrorist problem under control as quickly as possible.' Guzzetti said that he had reported this to President Videla and to the cabinet, and that their impression had been that the USG's overriding concern was not human rights but rather that GOA "get it over quickly."

Kissinger reiterated this message during another meeting with Guzzetti in New York on October 7 telling him "the quicker you succeed the better." Later, Ambassador Hill sent a bitter complaint to the Department of State that Guzzetti had returned to Argentina in a "state of jubilation" after meeting the Secretary. [See Kissinger to Argentines on Dirty War: "The quicker you succeed the better", December 4, 2003]

"The Memorandum of Conversation explains why the Argentine generals believed they got a clear message from the Secretary that they had carte blanche for the dirty war," said Carlos Osorio, Director of the Southern Cone Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. "It appears that Secretary Kissinger gave the 'green light' to the Argentine military during the June 1976 meeting with Guzzetti in Santiago," he added.

The June10 Memorandum of Conversation was obtained by the National Security Archive's Southern Cone Documentation Project through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of State filed in August 2002 and appealed in February 2004. The document was misdated June 6, 1976. The meeting took place during the morning of June 10, 1976, when Secretary Kissinger met with several foreign dignitaries attending the OAS General Assembly in Santiago. That afternoon he traveled to Mexico City [See Secretary Kissinger's travels at the Department of State Historian's web page and the Secretary's calendar of events for that day].

In Santiago, Guzzetti told Secretary Kissinger of the difficulties the Argentine security forces faced in dealing with the refugees, mostly because of lack of information: "[refugees] do not want to register… We have no names. Only the refugee committees know something in detail…"

A day earlier, on June 9, 1976 clandestine Argentine security forces had ransacked the Catholic Commission for Refugees in Buenos Aires and stolen refugee records. The day after Guzzetti and Secretary Kissinger met, on June 11, twenty-four Chilean and Uruguayan refugees were kidnapped, held illegally for two days, and tortured by a combined Argentine-Chilean-Uruguayan squadron.

Guzzetti also described the intelligence coordination with neighboring dictatorships: "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." This collaboration was codenamed Operation Condor.

At the time of the meeting, the Department of State suspected that the Southern Cone military regimes were carrying out a coordinated attack against refugees in Argentina; indeed Kissinger received a special telegram from Washington briefing him on this issue just before he met with Guzzetti that morning. But the Memorandum of Conversation contains no reference by Secretary Kissinger regarding the human rights concerns posed by the Southern Cone security cooperation.

By the end of 1976, 10,000 Argentines had been disappeared or assassinated by the Argentine security forces; half a dozen American citizens had been kidnapped and tortured. On the international front, the cooperation between Argentine military and intelligence forces and other Southern Cone militaries left hundreds of Uruguayans, Chileans, Bolivians, Paraguayans, and Brazilians disappeared, tortured, and/or dead.

 

What follows are excerpts from the Memorandum of Conversation and a chronology of events surrounding the June 10 meeting, based on previously declassified documents.

Chronology of events surrounding the June 10, 1976 Kissinger-Guzzetti meeting
Includes links to source documents

 

Excerpts from the meeting:

"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…

The Secretary: 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…

The Secretary: 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.

The Secretary: 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.

The Secretary: 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.

The Secretary: 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?

The Secretary: 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.

The Secretary: 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

The Secretary: 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.

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

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

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

The Secretary: 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.

The Secretary: 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.

The Secretary: 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.

The Secretary: 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.]"

 

Thanks to:
Martin Andersen, author of Dossier Secreto: Argentina's Desaparecidos and the Myth of the 'Dirty War' (Westview, 1993) and first to report on Secretary Kissinger's "green light" in The Nation in 1987; John Dinges, author of The Condor Years (The New Press, 2004); and Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File (The New Press, 2003) for their instructive books and advice.

 

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