The United States government has said it will declassify documents from its military and intelligence services relating to Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship.
The act of declassification is set to include records from U.S law enforcement agencies, The Department of Defence, The Department of State, and the presidential libraries in the National Archives.
It is hoped the documents will shed more light on the human rights abuses committed during the period, when an estimated 30,000 people were forcibly disappeared by the military junta.
The decision comes just days before US president Barack Obama visits Argentina, where he will be when the country remembers the 40th year anniversary of the coup d’etat on 24th March. Obama is expected to confirm the decision during his state visit, the first by a US president in more than 20 years.
US national security adviser Susan Rice discussed Obama’s visit and the move to declassify records in a press conference yesterday. “The President’s visit to Argentina falls on the 40th anniversary of the 1976 military coup. To underscore our shared commitment to human rights, the President will visit the Parque de la Memoria to honor the victims of Argentina’s “Dirty War.”
Rice continued: “in addition to more than 4,000 documents that the United States has already released from that dark period, President Obama—at the request of the Argentine government—will announce a comprehensive effort to declassify additional documents—including, for the first time, military and intelligence records.”
“On this anniversary and beyond, we’re determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation,” Rice concluded.
The latest declassification takes place following the 2002 case in which more than 4,000 State Department Cables were released, which helped to cast light on previous human rights abuses.
Peter Kornbluh, part of National Security Archive said that “there is absolutely no doubt that the release of these records on repression in Argentina would reveal substantive information on the years of repression and advance the cause of truth and justice in that country.”
The news has been well received in Argentina. Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña proclaimed the development to be “a historical deed”. Meanwhile, Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj expressed his approval regarding the move: “It is a triumph for all Argentines. We assume that by opening those files we are going to know more, for example, about Operation Condor and the School of the Americas.“
Operation Condor operated from 1968 until 1989. It directly involved Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. It’s alleged the USA provided technical support and military assistance until 1978 and again in 1981 once Ronald Reagan came to power.
The School of the Americas was founded in 1946 and from 1961 and allegedly acted as training centre for Latin American dictators and many of its military purportedly learnt differing torture techniques as part of its curriculum.
On Thursday, a New York Times editorial called for Obama to offer “a pledge that Washington will more fully reveal its role in a dark chapter of Argentine history.”
The move will also please human rights groups in Argentina that have longed called on Washington to release information about the dictatorship era.
Earlier this week, the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo and other groups released an open letter to the US calling for the declassification of documents relevant to the disappeared and the search for missing grandchildren.
The missive called for: “The declassification of records held by the US government to know the truth about what happened to our disappeared, and measures to find the men and women that could be the missing grandchildren that Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo have spent 40 years searching for.”
The document noted that one of the recently recovered grandchildren is currently living in Miami.
While the decision to declassify documents has generated a great deal of expectation, it is likely to take a long time to release the records.
Carlos Osorio of the National Security Archive, explained that it is a protracted process, which can take time to reach a resolution.
“A very specific recent declassification of 500 documents in response to the Truth Commission in Brazil, took a year and a half. These processes are extremely long”, explained Osorio.