As Argentina marks the 40th anniversary of the military coup that "disappeared" and imprisoned tens of thousands of people, President Barack Obama has promised to declassify and release secret files concerning the U.S. role in the country's so-called "Dirty War."
Obama—whose visit has been criticized for its timing due to the U.S.'s involvement in the military dictatorship and subsequent atrocities—made the announcement on Wednesday after talks with Argentine President Mauricio Macri.
According to Human Rights Watch:
Argentine authorities believe the new batch of documents might reveal details on the training of Argentine soldiers at what was then called the School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), at Fort Benning, Georgia, as well as on Plan Condor, a coordinated effort among the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay to repress dissent through torture and assassinations. Argentinian authorities also hope the US documents will help in the search for the children of those who were disappeared during the dictatorship and in the continuing prosecution of human rights cases.
"On this anniversary and beyond, we are absolutely determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation," Obama told reporters. "And I hope this gesture also helps to rebuild trust that may have been lost between our two countries."
Indeed, ahead of the news, the U.S.-based Human Rights First said (pdf) declassification would "signal the United States' commitment to human rights in Latin America, to mark a new era of cooperation between the United States and Argentina, and to provide real and meaningful relief for victims of human rights violations and their families."
On Wednesday, Human Rights First president and CEO Elisa Massimino added: "Release of these documents is important not only for the people of Argentina, who continue to struggle to come to terms with a dark chapter in their history. It's important for Americans, too."
"We have to come to terms with the role our country played in the so-called Dirty War," she explained. "We can't close the gap between our actions and our ideals until we can measure how far we strayed. And we can't learn the lessons of the past until we know the role of our own government in supporting the military dictatorship."
But for some, the "gesture" is not enough to make up for the timing of Obama's visit, and what it represents.
"His presence here [in Buenos Aires] on March 24th is a provocation," one Argentinian woman told the Washington Post. "I can't believe Plaza de Mayo, which is the symbol of our fight, has American flags all over, next to Argentine flags. It's a provocation."
"Military coups around Latin America were backed by the United States," she added. "It's shameful that now this man is here [in the capital] on such an important and symbolic date. They can't be so naive as to organize something like this on such a date. On March 24th, this square belongs to us, to those who were against the military dictatorship."
On Thursday, Obama and Macri will commemorate the anniversary at a ceremony in the Parque de la Memoria, a memorial park for victims of the dictatorship, before the U.S. president travels to the southern tourist resort of Bariloche to avoid clashing with human rights activists.
The Guardian reports that "both the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who continue to search for missing victims and babies born to their imprisoned daughters, have announced they will not be present at the ceremony."
Instead, those groups and other human rights and social justice organizations are planning massive marches in Buenos Aires and across the country for Thursday afternoon.
Of the soon-to-be-declassified military, intelligence, and law enforcement records, Nora Cortiñas of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo scoffed: "I don't believe there will be anything in those documents—they always black out the names and the important parts."
Protests have been ongoing since Obama arrived in Argentina earlier this week, following a historic visit to Cuba. Watch below: