Argentina: junta and US knew about baby thefts

As of Dec. 22 the US government had sent the Argentine human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo a completely declassified copy of a 1982 US State Department memo discussing the abduction of the babies of alleged leftists during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The document undercuts any claims by former members of the ruling junta that the abductions were not systematic or that the military rulers were unaware of the crimes. The human rights group had asked the US for the memo so that it could be used in trials of former de facto president Gen. Reynaldo Bignone (1982-83) and others.

During the dictatorship’s “dirty war” against supposed leftist “terrorists,” the military regularly killed women prisoners and then secretly gave their babies and small children to military and other families. According to the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, about 500 children were “appropriated” in this way; the group has succeeded in reuniting more than 100 with their biological families.

In the memo, then-assistant secretary of state for human rights Elliott Abrams described a Dec. 3, 1982 meeting he held with Argentina’s ambassador at the time, Lucio Alberto García del Solar, at the Jockey Club in Washington, DC. The “two main topics,” according to Abrams, were US certification of the junta’s human rights record and “the question of the disappeared.” “I raised with the ambassador the question of children,” Abrams wrote. “Children born to prisoners or children taken from their families during the dirty war. While the disappeared were dead, these children were alive and this was in a sense the gravest humanitarian problem. The ambassador agreed completely and had already made this point to his foreign minister and president.”

Abrams said he suggested that the junta might tell “everything it could about the fate of individuals” or invite the Catholic Church to reunite the children with their biological families. Apparently the generals wouldn’t consider either plan. “The military is absolutely united and determined to avoid widespread and vengeful punishment for its acts,” Abrams wrote. All the same, Abrams saw no problem with having the administration of then-US president Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) certify that the dictatorship was making progress on human rights.

The memo was originally released in 2002, but some paragraphs were blacked out, which would lessen its credibility as a court document. The censored paragraphs turn out not to have been relevant to the abductions of children.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo thanked US ambassador Vilma Martinez for her help. “We hope that this will be the start of the declassification of all the documents that the United States has, in particular those of agencies like the CIA and FBI, to contribute to clearing up the crimes against humanity that occurred in our country,” the group wrote.

Abrams, a neoconservative best known for his role in the illegal sale of weapons to Iran in the middle 1980s to fund the rightwing Nicaraguan contras, now works at the Council for Foreign Relations, a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan think tank. A spokesperson told the Associated Press wire service that Abrams “will not comment on the substance of this memo or any other questions due to the fact that he may have to testify in the coming future.” (Página12, Argentina, Dec. 22; AP, Dec. 23, via ABC News; La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 24, from correspondent)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 25.

See our last posts on Argentina and the dirty war.