BUENOS AIRES - At the height of the Argentine military junta's bloody ''dirty war'' against leftists in the 1970s, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the Argentine foreign minister that ''we would like you to succeed,'' a newly declassified U.S. document reveals.
The transcript of the meeting between Kissinger and Navy Adm. César Augusto Guzzetti in New York on Oct. 7, 1976, is the first documentary evidence that the Gerald Ford administration approved of the junta's harsh tactics, which led to the deaths or ''disappearance'' of some 30,000 people from 1975 to 1983.
This document is a devastating indictment of Kissinger's policy toward Latin America.
Kissinger actually encourages human-rights violations in full consciousness of what was going on.
The document is also certain to further complicate Kissinger's legacy, which has been questioned in recent years as new evidence has emerged on his connection to human-rights violations around the world -- including in Chile, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
Kissinger and several top deputies have repeatedly denied condoning human-rights abuses in Argentina.
Among the 4,667 U.S. documents declassified by the State Department last year were diplomatic cables showing that the Argentine military believed it had Kissinger's approval. The information was requested by the families of the junta's victims and human-rights groups.
A transcript of the 1976 Kissinger-Guzzetti meeting was declassified recently under a Freedom of Information Request by the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington. The document was made available to The Herald on Wednesday and will be presented at a conference on U.S.-Argentine relations during the dirty war today in Buenos Aires.
''Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed,'' Kissinger reassured Guzzetti in the seven-page transcript, marked SECRET. ``I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed, the better.''
''This is final, definitive evidence that Kissinger gave a green light to Argentine generals,'' said Carlos Osorio, director of the Argentina Documentation Project at the National Security Archive.
The Argentine military began its war against leftist guerrillas and suspected sympathizers in 1975, before taking power in a coup the following year. By the time of the conversation between Kissinger and Guzzetti, the machinery of murder and disappearances had received worldwide condemnation and the U.S. Congress was considering economic sanctions.
Guzzetti assured Kissinger that the ''struggle'' against ''terrorist organizations'' would be finished by the end of 1976. But a 1983 report by an Argentine truth commission showed that the killings accelerated in late 1976 and continued for two more years.
''This document is a devastating indictment of Kissinger's policy toward Latin America,'' said John Dinges, an assistant professor at Columbia Journalism School and author of The Condor Years, a book on military dictatorships in the Southern Cone due out in February. ``Kissinger actually encourages human-rights violations in full consciousness of what was going on.''
The transcript also vindicates the then-U.S. ambassador to Argentina, Robert Hill, who in late 1976 began pressing the Argentine military on human-rights issues but was told by Argentine officials that Washington was supporting them.
''Guzzetti went to the U.S. fully expecting to hear some strong, firm, direct warnings on his government's human rights practices,'' Hill wrote in a cable. ``Rather than that, he has returned in a state of jubilation.''
''All along they denied this,'' Dinges said. ``Now, finally, we have Kissinger's actual words giving the green light.''
Copyright 2003 Miami Herald