New Internationalist

Unlocking the past

The US Congress's House of Representatives recently approved an amendment to declassify files relating to the last dictatorship in Argentina (1976 to 1983), which seeks to clarify the fate of missing children born in captivity during that period. 

Hector Timerman, Argentine ambassador to the US, was delighted with the decision. '[This amendment] is a very important tool in the search for the truth of what happened in Argentina during the period of the last military dictatorship,' he said.

The bill provides that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) must inform the Intelligence Committees of the House and Senate on any information they have on human rights violations by the military dictatorship in Argentina, and on its rise to power. Legislator Maurice Hinchey explained that given the close relationship with their Argentine counterparts, it is likely that US intelligence agencies have significant information which could help in ongoing criminal investigations and the search for children of the disappeared.  The amendment also instructs the CIA to include a compilation of declassified documents and any classified material that may exist. 

'Tragically, hundreds of Argentine citizens have no idea about their true identity,' continued Hinchey. 'While the current Argentine Government wants to shed light on these past atrocities and help reconnect these children with their biological families, it needs the assistance of the US intelligence community. This amendment will finally require the Director of National Intelligence to provide the relevant information that the intelligence community has regarding this dark period in Argentina, so that the truth can finally be known.' 

In 1976, amidst social unrest and a deep political crisis in Argentina, the military coup installed an extraordinarily cruel dictatorship. Illegal detentions, torture and summary executions of dissidents became routine. Cross-country operations to capture and assassinate dissidents were organized by Argentina in cooperation with Southern Cone military regimes (and supervised by the US) in what was known as Operation Condor. Over the years, as the victims of the repression increasingly went missing, a new tactic of the Argentine security forces was revealed. It is estimated that nearly 30,000 people disappeared in Argentina between 1976 and 1985. Many of these victims, known as los desaparecidos ('the disappeared') were abducted, tortured and then dropped far out into the ocean. 

According to Hinchey, some 500 pregnant women were kidnapped by Argentine security forces during Operation Condor. Children born in captivity were given to members of the security forces, while it is believed that their mothers were killed. 

The amendment therefore also seeks to clarify the fate of these children, of whom so far a hundred have managed to recover their identity. The opening of the archives will enable even more of them to find and be reunited with their real families.

'The affirmative vote of the Representatives is an important gesture of solidarity with all victims of the dictatorship in Argentina and also a strong demonstration of commitment to defending human rights by the American people and the institutions that represent it,' said Timerman. The amendment is supported by the Embassy of Argentina in Washington, the National Security Archive of George Washington University and several human rights organizations.

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