BUENOS AIRES – President Barack Obama acknowledged on Thursday that the United States had been “slow” to defend human rights in Argentina and now has the “responsibility to confront the past with honesty and transparency,” at a ceremony to pay tribute to the victims of the South American nation’s 1976-1983 military regime.
Obama completed his official agenda in Buenos Aires with a visit to Memory Park, where he – with Argentine President Mauricio Macri – toured the site and examined the wall honoring the 30,000 people killed under the junta.
According to the U.S. president, there has been “controversy” regarding the policies the U.S. adopted during the first “dark days” following the March 24, 1976, coup that ushered in the dictatorship.
“Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for; when we’ve been slow to speak out for human rights. And that was the case here,” said Obama in a brief address he offered together with Macri.
In that regard, Obama confirmed, as the White House had previously announced, that the United States will declassify more documents concerning the Argentine dictatorship, just as it had done in 2002, but for the first time military and intelligence services records will also be included.
“I believe we have a responsibility to confront the past with honesty and transparency,” he said.
“We cannot forget the past. But when we find the courage to confront it, when we find the courage to change that past, that’s when we build a better future,” said the U.S. leader.
Obama also praised the courage and “tenacity” of the relatives of the dictatorship’s victims, about whom he said that they “refuse to give up until they get the truth and the justice” deserved by their dead and missing loved ones.
“You are the ones who will ensure that the past is remembered, and the promise of ‘Nunca Mas’ (Never Again) is finally fulfilled,” he emphasized.
During their stroll along the wall, both leaders placed floral offerings at the monument paying tribute to those who lost their lives.
Documents already declassified by Washington have revealed, for example, that then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1976 asked the Argentine military dictatorship to hurry and end its repression before Congress could cut off aid.
In addition, those texts have brought to light details of Operation Condor, in which the military regimes of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay collaborated with each other to eliminate their respective enemies – with the knowledge of the U.S. government.
Human rights activists decided not to attend Obama’s tribute to the junta’s victims on Thursday, saying that his visit to Argentina had not come at the proper time because it coincides with the 40th anniversary of the military coup.