The long shadow of Henry Kissinger in Argentina and Latin America

Declassified documents reveal he played an integral role in empowering the junta, even against the wishes of his own government

In 1978, two years after the military junta assumed power in Argentina, the de facto president and dictator Jorge Videla invited former U.S. National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the World Cup in Buenos Aires as his personal guest.

Kissinger had vacated the State Department shortly after Jimmy Carter assumed office in January of 1977, but his ties to the dictatorship known as the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional (National Reorganization Process) remained intact. Two years before, while serving under President Gerald Ford, he had met with one of Videla’s close associates, Admiral César Augusto Guzzetti.

In his book Kissinger’s Shadow, author and historian Greg Grandin recounts that Kissinger offered Guzzetti the same advice that he gave to the Indonesian army officer and anti-Communist despot, Suharto.

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

Between 1976 and 1983, the Proceso killed and forcibly disappeared 30,000 people, the overwhelming majority in clandestine detention centers. Normality has been elusive in the decades since.

Following Kissinger’s death, much has been written about his diplomatic achievements with China and the Soviet Union on behalf of the United States. The one-time refugee and Holocaust survivor has likewise earned opprobrium for his role in expanding the Vietnam War to Laos and Cambodia, facilitating genocides in countries like Bangladesh and East Timor, and enabling crimes against humanity in Chile.

Kissinger infamously told the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1976 that “you did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.” Comparatively less has been made of his role in empowering the Argentine military dictatorship that came to power that year, even against the wishes of his own government.

As declassified documents reveal, Kissinger not only gave the Proceso a green light to suppress “terrorism” by any means necessary during his time as secretary of state under Ford, he also applauded Videla and the junta for their tactics after he had left office, providing the junta with the international support it needed to proceed with its campaign of state-sponsored terror. 

“The attached cable summarizes Kissinger’s visit to Argentina for the World Cup,” wrote the National Security Council’s Robert Pastor to then-Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski. “His praise for the Argentine government in its campaign against terrorism was the music the Argentine government was longing to hear, and it is no accident that his statements were played back to us by the Southern Cone countries during the O.A.S. General Assembly.”

Murderous ‘allies’ in South America

Kissinger’s treachery outraged then-U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Raúl Castro, who believed that his words of encouragement were actively undermining the Carter administration’s efforts to steer the Proceso away from human rights abuses. As former Herald journalist Uki Goñi reported for The Guardian at the time of the documents’ release, Castro was “shocked by Kissinger’s behavior.”

“My only concern is that Kissinger’s repeated high praise for Argentina’s action in wiping out terrorism and his stress on the importance of Argentina may have gone to some considerable extent to his hosts’ heads,” read another unsealed memorandum, this one from Castro himself. “Despite his disclaimers that the methods used in fighting terrorism must not be perpetuated, there is some danger that Argentines may use Kissinger’s laudatory statements as justification for hardening their human rights stance.”

In Grandin’s telling, Kissinger viewed Argentina as a geopolitical pawn in the United States’ cold war with the Soviet Union, especially amid Cuba’s growing presence in Southern Africa.

On June 11, 1976, one day after Kissinger’s fateful meeting with Guzzetti, Argentine military forces conducted a series of raids that resulted in the kidnapping and torture of 24 Uruguayan and Chilean refugees who had been living in Argentina. They also executed 27-year-old Raúl Albert Ramat, a student at the Catholic University of Argentina in Buenos Aires, and 59-year-old Santiago Bruschtein, who was one of seven members of his family to be killed or disappeared during the dictatorship.

“Then there’s Kissinger’s involvement in the establishment of Operation Condor, an international death-squad consortium that carried out operations in Latin America, the United States, and Europe,” Grandin writes. “Condor was established on November 26, 1975, in Santiago, Chile (just after Castro decided to send combat troops to Angola) at a meeting attended by intelligence and military officers, as well as a few heads of state, representing nearly all of South America.”

“All told, the ‘allies’ that Kissinger ‘encouraged’ in Latin America murdered tens of thousands of civilians and tortured an equal number,” he notes.

Kissinger’s passing was announced on Wednesday night by his consulting firm, Kissinger Associates, Inc. He died at 100 in his Connecticut home.

You may also be interested in: How this artist found an Operation Condor plane on Google


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald