Top Democratic and Republican contenders rub elbows with high profile individuals implicated in U.S. sponsored genocide, receive their endorsements
By Daniel K. Buntovnik
Much hullabaloo has been generated by the recent six day foray of America’s First Family into their “Backyard”. Arriving in Havana on March 20th, 2016 before heading to Buenos Aires on the 23rd and back to Washington on the 25th, President Obama visited two countries whose relations with the United States have rightly been described as being strained at best.
While President Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit long embargoed Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928, in the case of Argentina, it’s only been 11 years. When George W. Bush took a trip to Argentina in 2005 with the goal of shoving neoliberal free trade dogma down South American throats, he provoked riots in Buenos Aires and saw then Argentine president Nestor Kirchner side with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Brazil’s Lula da Silva in rejecting the Washington Consensus. This moment is seen now as a milestone for the then rising “Pink Tide” in South America, as well as an important step towards the creation of UNASUR, the South American alliance viewed as a challenge to U.S. hegemony in the region (1).
Obama’s trip to Argentina coincided with the 40th anniversary of the March 24, 1976 coup d’etat that instaured a six year reign of right-wing, quasi-fascist State Terror that some have dubbed the “Dirty War”: a campaign of severe political repression carried out under U.S.-backed dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and a succession of five other military junta rulers who held power until 1983. They called their extraordinary and murderous measures the “National Reorganization Process” (or El Proceso for short). Originally justifying El Proceso under the pretext of subduing left-wing guerrilla groups, the repression actually intensified after the armed “terrorists” (in actuality mostly just violent protesters) no longer posed an actual threat, and it began targeting anyone deemed “subversive” to Western and Christian values: political dissidents, student activists, intellectuals, artists, gays, Jews, and so on (2). Some 30,000 persons labelled subversive were murdered or “disappeared” (giving us the term desaparecidos). Similar to the “MindWar” doctrine of psychological warfare developed by U.S. intelligence operative Michael Aquino in the early ‘80s, the Argentine militarist leadership came to view the mere expression of left-wing ideas as grounds for designation of political opponents as enemies of the state:
“A terrorist is not just someone with a gun or a bomb, but also someone who spreads ideas that are contrary to Western and Christian civilization.” – Jorge Rafael Videla
The campaign of social-thought repression was transnational. El proceso was only the Argentine iteration of a wider conspiracy to commit state terror in the name of anti-communism known as “Operation Condor”, which affected almost every South American nation between 1968 and 1989 and was made possible in large part thanks to U.S. sponsorship via the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Obama visit also comes just three months after the inauguration of Mauricio Macri as the new president of Argentina. Critics point out that President Macri comes from a wealthy family of war-profiteers whose fortune grew exponentially during El Proceso, and that three months before his inauguration, Macri and his party voted against a law that would launch investigations into how businesses that supported the dictatorship participated in crimes during the 1976-1983 period (3).
Macri’s ascent to power marks a rightward shift in Argentine politics, ending the Kirchnerist era which began in 2003 with the presidency of Nestor Kirchner, who was succeeded by his wife Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in 2007. Under the Kirchners, the 1986 “Full Stop Law”, which mandated that all dictatorship era war criminals were immune to investigation (granted amnesty), and the 1987 “Law of Due Obedience”, which excused all dictatorship military personnel who held a rank below colonel or general from culpability on the basis of “they were just following orders” were both repealed in 2003, and more was done to bring those responsible for the “Dirty War” atrocities to justice than at any time since the immediate aftermath of the dictatorship, when in 1985 the “Trial of the Juntas” resulted in Videla and a handful of others who occupied the higher echelons of the junta being given long prison sentences, before being pardoned a mere five years later, in 1990.
Neoliberal free trade dogma is said to be on the agenda again, Obama’s visit being timed to take advantage of the new “business-friendly administration” (4). The POTUS proclaimed, “I’m in Argentina because I like the moves that Macri made at the start of his government to reconnect Argentina with the world (5).” In the week leading up to his visit, Obama also criticized Fernandez de Kirchner for being an “anti-American” who’s out of touch with modernity, and praised Macri for “recogniz[ing] that we are in a new era” (6).
In a bid to solidify the return of prodigal Argentina to the yoke of U.S. imperial subjugation, Obama has vowed to declassify U.S. military, intelligence, and law enforcement agency documents relating to U.S. collaboration with the military junta. Given the heinous nature of the State Terror committed during the “National Reorganization Process”, which was recognized as meeting the definition of genocide by the La Plata Federal Oral Court in 2006 (7), and also given the complicity in abetting this genocide on the part of at least two prominent U.S. political figures who have given high profile endorsements to leading 2016 U.S. presidential candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties, we should not discount the possibility that forthcoming revelations may shake up the U.S. political scene, as well as that of Argentina.
Clinton and Kissinger
If the promised declassification has even a shred of sincerity, there is surely a good chance that Henry Kissinger will be implicated in crimes against humanity, further than he already has been. This presents a slight problem for Hillary Clinton, who has embraced Kissinger and called him a “friend”. The standing evidence against Kissinger is strong enough that Hillary’s Democratic Party challenger, Bernie Sanders, felt compelled to criticize Clinton during the Univision Debate Democrata for her close relationship with the Nixon-era Secretary of State whose foreign policy decisions are estimated to have led to the deaths of more than a million persons (8). Before being attacked by Sanders over Kissinger, Hillary bragged sometime earlier that she “was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said [she] ran the State Department better than anybody had run it in a long time (9).”
A transcript released in 2003 provided solid evidence for the thesis that Kissinger gave the “green light” for the genocide, revealing that he told the following to Videla’s foreign minister, Argentine militarist Cesar Guzzetti, in 1976:
“Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. 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 (10).”
Kissinger is also notorious for his role in the overthrow of the democratically elected socialist head of state Salvador Allende in Chile three years before the debacle in Argentina, on September 11, 1973 and supporting the subsequent brutal capitalist dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Trump and Arpaio
(IPA pronunciation guide: [ɑɹpæ’ijoʊ̯])
In addition to the relatively well known connection between El Proceso and Kissinger, and in turn that between Kissinger and Hillary Clinton, is another, less publicized liaison dangereuse: that between El Proceso and the racist Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio of Arizona.
Arpaio, made famous for his systematic racial harassment of undocumented migrant workers that has earned him a reputation as an “illegal immigration hardliner”, made headlines recently for tossing anti-Donald Trump protesters in jail and enthusiastically lauding the douchebag real estate magnet for his calls to cleanse the United States national territory of an estimated twelve to thirty million persons, many of them indigenous to the Americas (11).
But what is less discussed is that Arpaio was actively involved in Operation Condor, the C.I.A. orchestrated genocide campaign. In 1957 or 1958, towards the beginning of his career in law enforcement, Arpaio began working at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (or FBN), the agency that would later go on to form the Drug Enforcement Administration (12). Arpaio continued to work for the DEA for the next 25 years, i.e. until 1982 or 1983. Arpaio has bragged on numerous occasions about having served as a DEA agent around the world, including in Argentina.
For example, between rounding up immigrant workers and arresting peaceful protesters, @RealSheriffJoe had time to tweet:
On an archived web page called “Re-Elect Sheriff Joe Arpaio”, the far right leader lists his DEA assignments in chronological order, suggesting that his post in Buenos Aires was at the end of his 1957-1982 DEA career, precisely during the “National Reorganization Process”:
[…] from the day I started working for the then Bureau of Narcotics in 1957 ( which later morphed into the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration), I loved the work. It was dangerous, exciting, exhilarating…and downright scary. It took me to places I never thought I would go – from Chicago where I started my career with the Feds to the hills of Turkey to Beirut and on to Paraguay, Panama, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, just to name a few (13).
Arpaio goes on to suggest his possible direct involvement in secret meetings with Jorge Videla and other leaders of the military junta:
[My DEA work] brought me face to face with small time and big time drug dealers. It brought me into classified meetings with Ambassadors, foreign heads of state and U.S. Presidents.
We know for sure that Racist Joe was in Argentina no earlier than 1970, as it was shortly after that year that the DEA began operating in Argentina. Historian David M. K. Sheinin notes in Argentina and the United States: An Alliance Contained, page 154:
In 1970, an informant gave the U.S. Embassy in Mexico information on Buenos Aires as a major transit destination for heroin coming into South America with the United States as a final destination. Shortly after, the two governments launched a long-term cooperative project to stop the international drug trade through Argentina that included U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency [sic] training programs in Argentina for Argentine police and the supply of military equipment to break the traffic in cocaine. As Argentina experienced a rapid rise in left-wing political violence, American officials turned increasingly to strong Argentine anti-Communists for political advice and information. Despite Argentina’s spiral into severe political turmoil between 1970 and 1976, U.S. government and business officials were uncharacteristically calm and lucid about the Argentine polity.
This places Sheriff Joe squarely in contact and collaboration with Argentine authorities under the framework of Operation Condor and, in all likelihood, during the “National Reorganization Process” genocide.
In “Creating a Crime: How the CIA Commandeered the DEA”, investigative journalist Douglas Valentine details the overlap and collaboration between these two agencies, particularly through the Bureau of Narcotics Covert Intelligence Network (BUNCIN), which was managed by CIA officers and later became the DEA Clandestine Operations Network (DEACON) in July 1973 when the DEA itself was formed (14). Valentine notes that “The CIA supplied BUNCIN’s assets with forged IDs that enabled them to work for foreign governments[.]”
During or around Arpaio’s sojourn in fascist Argentina, Argentine intelligence operatives helped orchestrate the 1980 “Cocaine Coup” in Bolivia, bringing right-wing drug lords to power with the help of Nazi war criminal and CIA asset Klaus Barbie, the likely assassin of Che Guevara. It’s a well known fact that the South American countries whose governments carried out Operation Condor were notorious for being safe havens for hundreds, if not thousands, of fugitive Nazi cadres. These were the same people who committed genocides in Europe known as the Holocaust and the Porrajmos some decades earlier and were given a one-way ticket to impunity by the CIA’s Operation Paperclip. And who can forget Gary Webb’s expose on the CIA support for Contra drug trafficking, also around the same time? These facts demonstrate Arpaio’s hypocrisy and the farcical nature of the so-called “War on Drugs”. How can you be tough on crime when the criminal is you?
Are Kissinger and Arpaio really responsible for “genocide”?
The 2006 La Plata Federal Oral Court ruling on Proceso era Buenos Aires police boss Miguel Etchecolatz, sentenced to life in prison, marked the first time that the State Terror was legally qualified as constituting the crime of genocide. While the Genocide Convention, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, does not recognize systematic attempts at group extermination as genocide when it concerns political groups, the court based its conclusion on a 1946 UN General Assembly resolution which held that “crimes of genocide have occurred when racial, religious, political, and other groups have been destroyed, entirely or in part.”
The subject of political group extermination and their legal exclusion from subjection to the crime of genocide is problematic. Martin Niemoller famously pointed out in his “First they came…” poem that the process of Nazi German perpetrated genocide began with the targeting of political opponents such as Communists and trade unionists before moving on to racial and religious group extermination.
Like the Nazi genocide, the “Dirty War” also fed into and off of racialized scapegoating of the “Other” (i.e., groups perceived as being “subversive” due to their non-Western and/or non-Christian values). Argentine Jews, the sixth largest Jewish group in the world by citizenship, were disproportionately represented among the desaparecidos (15). The Condor Plan continued a centuries long campaign to uproot and eradicate the indigenous populations of the Southern Cone region of South America. In neighboring Chile, the Pinochet regime denied the very existence of the Mapuche people, native to Patagonia, which comprises both Chile and Argentina (16). In Brazil, entire indigenous communities were destroyed during the military dictatorship there (17). Furthermore, the European Roma Rights Center notes that “the existence of [some 300,000] Roma in Argentina is covered by silence (18).” Research also reveals that the LGBT minority was targeted by the Argentine junta (19).
Following the ascendency of Mauricio Macri to power, the right-wing in Argentina celebrated and began immediately to call for an end to the “culture of revenge” that they accused the Kirchnerists of instigating (20). Confounding justice with revenge, they want to go back to a culture of impunity for the perpetrators of genocide. Meanwhile, in the United States of America, figures such as Joe Arpaio and Henry Kissinger face hardly any scrutiny at all for their role in collaborating with fascist genocide by training, advising, and supplying State Terror forces with arms. They are celebrated and embraced by both ruling class parties.
Obama’s regret for the “controversy about the policies of the United States early in those dark days” means little if it is not accompanied by a recognition of those policies as genocidal and a serious effort to hold the people who enabled this genocide to occur accountable for their actions. Furthermore, the timing of the statements, immediately following the ouster of the Kirchners, who ended the era of amnesty for perpetrators of the genocide, and the inauguration of a new president who has displayed obstructionist tendencies, shows disingenuity on the part of Obama. This timing suggests a calculated decision to take advantage of this moment as an opportunity to minimize the consequences of disclosing wrongdoing and disavow the continuity between the “early dark days” and the present.