Obama: US slow to speak out for human rights in Argentina

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – President Barack Obama said Thursday that the United States was slow to speak out for human rights in Argentina during a dark chapter in the nation’s history that it still struggles to reckon with, but pledged that his administration will do its part to “confront the past with honesty and transparency.”

Forty years to the day after a 1976 coup that opened a period of military rule in Argentina, Obama paid tribute to the victims of Argentina’s “Dirty War” by visiting Remembrance Park and tossing a wreath into the water near a memorial bearing thousands of names.

Addressing a small audience afterward, Obama said it takes courage for a society to address uncomfortable truths about its past, and while doing so can be divisive and frustrating, it is essential to moving forward.

“We’ve been slow to speak out for human rights and that was the case here,” Obama said, referring to Argentina as he stood alongside its new president, Mauricio Macri.

Obama said his administration will try to make amends by declassifying even more documents that could shed light in what role the U.S. may have played in one of the region’s most repressive dictatorships.

The U.S. declassified thousands of documents in 2002, but Obama has said he will also declassify military and intelligence papers for the first time.

“I believe we have a responsibility to confront the past with honesty and transparency,” he said.

Though much remains unknown, rights groups believe U.S. backing for authoritarian regimes in Latin America extended to Argentina during the 1976 to 1983 period known as the “Dirty War.” As controversy mounted ahead of Obama’s visit, he announced the U.S. would declassify the additional records at Macri’s request.

Yet that step, while welcomed by Macri, hasn’t quelled concerns. Even as Obama met with Macri on Wednesday, protesters gathered in Buenos Aires to protest his visit, while some prominent rights groups threatened to boycott Obama’s visit to Remembrance Park.

“We are absolutely determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation,” Obama said. Of his pledge to release documents, Obama said: “I hope this gesture also helps to rebuild trust that may have been lost between our two countries.”

For his part, Macri has been criticized for de-emphasizing the need for U.S. accountability as he pursues closer ties with Washington. Macri declined to say what he expects the records will reveal.

“Let’s wait, study the documentation, and then we can do some comments on it,” he said.

Some 13,000 people were killed or disappeared during the “Dirty War,” Argentina’s government estimates, though rights groups put it closer to 30,000.

Obama planned to close his two-day visit to Argentina by spending Thursday afternoon with his family in Bariloche, a picturesque city in southern Argentina, before departing for Washington.

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