NATE JONES of The National Security Archive in Washington on declassified documents linking US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the covert plans of the Argentine dictatorship of Jorge Rafael Videla to subvert the 1978 World Cup in Buenos Aires. Kissinger had already informed the Argentine government of US support of the use of arrests, mass disappearances and the murder of civilians to combat “terrorist activities” – known as the “dirty war” and the infamous Operation Condor
(NOVEMBER 20, 2009) – TODAY, the 1978 World Cup hosted by Argentina is widely remembered for the victorious Argentine team’s “alleged stalling tactics” and the refusal of the defeated Dutch players to honur their hosts at the post-championship ceremony. Today’s “hot doc” shows that the World Cup also contributed to a “less repressive atmosphere” in Jorge Rafael Videla’s Argentina with fewer arrests, disappearances, and killings.
This 21 June 1978 cable from the US embassy in Buenos Aires to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance cites the World Cup as the reason for fewer government arrests, an increase in the number of prisoners released, as well as those “authorized to leave the country [read: deported].” This, the embassy reports, is because “Police and military forces in Argentina have been under strict orders to avoid reactions or incidents which would give foreign visitors and press fuel for criticizing the country’s security practices.”
The Videla junta received far less international attention than the Pinochet regime in neighbouring Chile, but its human rights abuses were of a much greater magnitude. According to an Argentine Military Intelligence estimate, 22,000 people were killed during Argentina’s “National Reorganization Process” between 1975 and 1978. During this period, Argentina also participated in Operation Condor, a clandestine cooperative between the Southern Cone intelligence agencies to assassinate South American leftists in an attempt to eradicate communist influence in the region.
As this “hot doc” alludes, the embassy viewed the Videla junta’s arrests, deaths, and disappearances—which the previous administration tacitly supported —with revulsion, even compiling a 10,000-name list of the abducted and disappeared. Today’s “hot doc” is also important as it portrays another instance of a government willing to support the killing of civilians in the name of defeating terrorism.
It also shows that while the decrease in political persecution during the World Cup was minimal, enhanced international media coverage during international competitions can temporarily bring attention to human rights abuses by the hosting authoritarian regimes.
Tune in next week to see which team Henry Kissinger picked to win the 1978 World Cup. (I’m not joking!!)
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(DECEMBER 4, 2009) – IN HONOUR of the qualifying teams of 2010 World Cup (give France a hand for eking in), this week’s “hot doc” is part two of our analysis of the 1978 World Cup. Last time we looked at the “less repressive atmosphere” the tournament brought to Argentina during its Dirty War. This week, we’ll look at a document which recounts Secretary of State Henry Kissinger “talking futbol” with the Argentine Foreign Minister Guzzetti.
This June 6, 1976, memorandum of conversation was obtained by Archive’s Southern Cone Documentation Project and published in 2004. It serves as the “smoking gun” proving that Secretary of State Kissinger informed the Argentine government of US support of the use of arrests and disappearances to combat Argentine “terrorist activities.” The meeting was alluded to – but not released – in 4,600 State Department documents that Secretaries of State Albright and Powell declassified after the repeated requests from victims, relatives, human rights organizations, judges, and US congressmen. (The CIA and Pentagon declined Albright’s request to participate in the declassification program, perhaps concerned about the impact of disclosing support of a regime that murdered nuns and kidnapped children.)
In this conversation with the Foreign Minister, Kissinger declared, “We want you to succeed,” affirming US support for Argentine junta. He also condoned its terrorism policies, advising “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly.” Turning to sports, Kissinger promised “No matter what happens I will be in Argentina in 1978. That is the year the World Cup will take place.” Then the Secretary aptly predicted, “Argentina will win.”
Today’s “hot doc” also alludes to the underlying tension between the career foreign service officers staffing the US embassy in Buenos Aires and their boss. The embassy viewed the Videla junta’s actions with alarm and revulsion, even compiling a 10,000 name list of the abducted and disappeared. Secretary Kissinger, however, accepted these deaths and disappearances of terrorists, trade unionists, students, and nuns as necessary for a stable and non-socialist Argentina.
Ultimately Kissinger’s reassurances undercut the embassy’s position. Argentine generals were “euphoric” with Kissinger’s signals that they could continue their war against leftists. The US Ambassador to Argentina wrote a “sour note” complaining that Kissinger’s meetings with the Argentine foreign minister had not conveyed “the gravity of the human rights problem as seen from the U.S.” When the Embassy confronted the Argentine government about human rights abuses, it was rebuffed and told that Kissinger “understood their [the ruling junta’s] problem.”
As the disappearances continued, an out-of-power Kissinger kept his word, returning with his family as a guest of Videla to watch Argentina win the World Cup. Some believe Argentina’s victory was fixed, and most concede that it bolstered the domestic and international standing of the Videla junta. Jacobo Timerman, the newspaper editor who was Argentina’s most prominent political prisoner recalled, “We political prisoners were all Dutch that day” (Read more about Jacobo Timerman in the latest Electronic Briefing Book by Carlos Osorio, Director of the Southern Cone Document Project).
While visiting, Kissinger gave a press conference decrying President Carter’s new human rights policy toward Latin America as “romantic” and stated that the junta’s human rights abuses should not be condemned “because they are fighting for all of us (AP 24 June 1978).”
Because of the Argentine victory, one of Kissinger’s earlier quips to the Foreign Minister could not be tested. He had earlier calculated that, “If you can control an Argentine crowd when Argentina loses, then you can say you have really solved your security problem.”