The US Order is built on the ashes of genocide that happened during the junta in Argentina, with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger being an avid supporter of the regime.
New information on the long-term consequences of Henry Kissinger’s influence on US foreign policy is emerging as the nation’s former top diplomat is remembered in the halls of power. An Argentinean talks about the impact on her family.
“A huge loss.” “A cherished friend and mentor.” “His appointment said as much about his greatness as it did America’s greatness.”
Following the passing of America’s most famous diplomat, Henry Kissinger, tributes are flooding in.
At the age of 100, Kissinger passed away at his Kent, Connecticut, home on Wednesday. Under the administrations of Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger worked to uphold US supremacy in the world at a time when it was questioned. His impact shaped US foreign policy for many years to come.
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However, not everyone is happy with the empire that the extremely important statesman created.
“What it really is, is a kingdom built on the ashes of genocide,” said Agustina Montes in an interview.
Currently residing in New Zealand is Montes, a citizen of Argentina. Her native nation saw inflation get close to 150% last month amid an economic catastrophe that has devastated Argentina for the past five years.
In addition to the financial upheaval, Montes observes that Argentina’s society is still shattered by its recent past.
“Genocide denialism is at an all time high,” laments the 37-year-old. “With the elections in Argentina, it’s more pressing than ever. Politicians make barely veiled threats about military uprising. We know what that can mean.”
The savagery of the seven-year military dictatorship in Argentina has been minimized by the country’s vice president-elect, Victoria Villarruel. When Villarruel objected to UNESCO’s choice to designate the ESMA Navy Academy in Buenos Aires as a World Heritage monument, she garnered media attention last month. Tens of thousands went through the institution only to be murdered or subjected to torture.
Miguel and Guillermo, Montes’ uncles, were among them.
The benign moniker given to the coup that took over in 1976 was the “National Reorganisation Process.”
The military dictatorship was known to the Argentine people. They have witnessed multiple ones during the 1900s. If the generals wanted to “reorganize” Argentine society, they would have done so with a pistol.
Amid the carnage, a certain person in Washington gave Argentina’s new authorities the much-needed legitimacy.
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“We have followed events in Argentina closely,” said then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the country’s new foreign minister Admiral Cesar Augusto Guzzetti. “We wish the new government well. We wish it will succeed. We will do what we can to help it succeed.”
“If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly.”
Kidnapping, torture, and murder were the things that had to be done for the junta. Armed resistance organizations exerted pressure on the regime. A few of them supported the gregarious former president Juan Perón. There were many socialists. The regime intended to put an end to them.
“I have a ‘desaparecido’ on each side of my family,” Montes told Sputnik, using the Spanish term for people who vanished during that period. “My dad’s brother Guillermo and my mum’s brother Miguel Angel.”
“Miguel Angel Fiorito – Milan to his family – was taken on July 12th, 1976, so pretty early in the dictatorship. My uncle was 21 and very idealistic, I’ve been told he was very funny and warm. He worked in the villas, or slums, and had a very keen sense of social justice.”
“Guillermo Montes was my dad’s brother. He was a bit older when he was taken, about 27 or 28. He made it to 1977. He was a massive man, called ‘the Yeti’ by his companions. He went to work one day and never came back.”
“Disappeared” became the term for people who were affected by the reorganization under the oppressive haze of the time. The word was alarming more for its conveyed uncertainty than for any other reason. Families seldom found peace of mind. According to Montes, “the army never spoke.”
Parents all throughout the nation looked for solutions. When mothers gathered in the central square of Buenos Aires, they established the Madres de Plaza de Mayo. The group gained notoriety for their distinctive kind of quiet protest—wearing white headscarves as a representation of their children’s cloth diapers—which they had disappeared.
Although she “lacked the political beliefs they had,” Montes claimed that her grandmother was aware of the Madres. Despite her love for her son, she didn’t think what he had done was right.
Back then, politics in Argentina caused deep rifts throughout society.
“My mum’s family was pretty pro-dictatorship up until that point [that Miguel was kidnapped],” says Montes, “mostly because they were anti-Perón.” Montes explained that Miguel began Argentina’s required military service in March of 1976.
“He was also a part of the Montoneros, one of the leftist anti-dictatorship movements. Growing up in the ‘90s, where the rhetoric was that everyone involved in the guerrilla was a terrorist, I had a deep sense of shame about this. We did not discuss politics in my house.”
“My uncles were very present ghosts but we would not talk about them.”
The Chilean Method
The differences in Montes’ family reflected those in Latin America. The revolution in Cuba had an impact on the upper reaches of American power and sent shockwaves throughout the region. As grassroots movements got closer to gaining political legitimacy, they only got stronger.
When socialist Salvador Allende won the presidency of Chile in 1970, Washington’s greatest fears came true.
“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people,” said Kissinger during a closed-door meeting with Nixon. “The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”
Without delay, the CIA set about undermining Allende’s democratic administration by breaking into Chile’s trade unions, inciting strikes, and inciting dissension within the armed forces. In three years, a military coup supported by Kissinger toppled Allende. General Augusto Pinochet, the nation’s new leader, declared war on the left, and dissidents were lining up in Santiago’s national football stadium, ready to be executed, imprisoned, or tortured.
Nixon’s support of Pinochet was justified by the anti-communist stance during the Cold War. Even though they were democratically elected, socialists ultimately proved to be detrimental to business. The US-based International Telephone & Telegraph Corporation sent millions of dollars to groups attempting to overthrow Allende because they were worried about their assets in Chile.
Three years later, the military regime in Argentina attempted to suppress resistance using the same strategy. “They think they can apply the Chilean approach,” Kissinger was told by assistant Harry Shlaudeman in 1976. That is, to assassinate priests, nuns, and other opposition figures in order to terrify them.
By then, juntas supported by the United States ruled over Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, and now Argentina, forming an axis of tyranny that spanned the Southern Cone. The nations coordinated their activities in Operation Condor, a campaign of state terror, under the direction of the US Central Intelligence Agency.
“I don’t remember the first time I heard or read his name,” said Montes of Kissinger. “My family didn’t speak about this, and back then this whole period of Argentine history was completely erased from history classes at school.”
Montes is also unclear about what attracted her uncles to social justice concerns.
“They didn’t get that from their families,” she insisted. “None of my grandparents were particularly socialist, quite the contrary. I believe they saw the disparities, the injustice all around them. But they were both middle class. My mum always says Miguel would give the clothes off his back if it meant helping someone else.”
The Latin American left was a diverse array of forces. Some admired the guerrilla tactics of Che Guevara. Others simply advocated for Western European-style labor reforms. Still, others professed Liberation Theology, a strain of Catholicism that stressed concern for the poor.
But after Cuba’s popular uprising against US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista trended towards socialism, any movement from below could be suppressed in the name of fighting the communist threat.
“Some people still say that my uncles and others like them were terrorists,” claims Montes, “that they did all sorts of horrible things, bombed child care centers and schools. Where is the evidence of that?”
“And if they did, why did the military – that was in control of the government, the police and the judicial system – not put them through a trial and in jail? Why did they disappear them and destroy any evidence and witnesses of what they allegedly did?”
Miguel and Guillermo stood firm by their beliefs, even as the military consolidated its rule.
“There is resentment towards them from my parents and grandparents,” says Montes. “They both could have escaped Argentina. They chose to stay knowing what could happen to them.”
Heaven and Earth
As secretary of state, Kissinger served until 1977. Jimmy Carter, the US president at the time, supported the junta until the following year. When Carter decided to stop transferring weapons, Kissinger showed his disapproval by going to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina as dictator Jorge Videla’s special guest.
Following Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, US ties with the regime were reestablished and even increased as the CIA requested their help in preparing death squads for Central America.
The administration of Lieutenant General Videla turned out to be among the most oppressive of all during the Condor era. It is estimated that approximately half of the 60,000 people who died across the continent were Argentines.
The grandparents of Miguel Montes were adamant that Miguel and Guillermo weren’t one of them.
“[Miguel] was taken and my grandma, who was also widowed around that time, started moving ‘heaven and earth,’ as we say, to find him,” she said. “She was threatened by police and even by the church when she went there, they told her she would end up just like him.”
“My parents met through their mothers’ – my grannies’ – fight to find out what happened to their sons. I used to think it was a very romantic story when I was a child. But the reality is that two very broken people met each other because of one of the most horrific things that happened to them.”
As the regime came to an end, economic instability grew. By launching a war against the United Kingdom to seize control of the Falkland Islands, the military sought to divert attention from the situation. The junta’s days were numbered when they fell.
In 1983, liberal democracy was reinstated. As time passed, Miguel and Guillermo remained absent. Six years later, President Carlos Menem pardoned the junta leaders, indicating a wish to move past the horror of Argentina’s Dirty War.
The family of Argentina’s missing persons did not realize they would have any closure until 2003 when fresh inquiries were launched. The procedure would take more than ten years for the Montes family.
“We didn’t get to find out what happened to my uncles until very recently, almost 40 years after the fact,” says Montes. “The only reason we know what happened is because of witnesses, people that survived, who saw them.”
The Montes family was envisioning Miguel and Guillermo’s terrible final moments when they momentarily reappeared, but only in memory.
“They were both taken to the same concentration camp, the ESMA. Miguel Angel was tortured with electricity until he died. We don’t know what happened after, his body was likely burned.”
Very Present Ghosts
Montes describes the terrible impact that her uncles’ abductions had on her family.
“My mum was around 14 years old when her brother disappeared and her dad died. That family was destroyed… Most of the people this happened to have been destroyed: mentally, physically. My parents have had substance abuse issues, mental health issues.”
Montes’s perception of her uncles has changed significantly, particularly Miguel, about whom she has heard a lot of tales.
“I have since learned a lot about my uncle and believe he was an incredible man. It feels weird to say, when he died at 21. But what made Miguel and Guillermo literally give their lives for what they believed in? I don’t know. I wish I got to meet them, to talk to them.”
The eulogy of former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk may hold the most truth among the many sympathies and the measured praise of Kissinger as a friend, a pioneer, and even a peacemaker: “He was deeply sceptical of those who would aim to try to achieve a peaceful world.” Because order was more dependable than peace, he was far more concerned with establishing order.
“I’m not surprised,” responded Montes. “Order for most, freedom for few.”
What about George W. Bush’s assertion that Henry Kissinger embodied “America’s greatness”?
“I feel like they are saying the quiet part out loud. He is a symbol of America’s imperialism,” says Montes.
“Living in South America – and I’m sure this is true of many other so-called ‘Third World countries’ – we get sold this glossy idea of the US, you know? The Land of the Free, of Opportunity, of Freedom and Dreams.”
“I used to be enamored with the US! I grew up watching US TV shows and movies. I learned English from watching ‘Friends.’ It’s only when you grow up a bit that you start seeing it for what it is.”
Edward Said, a Palestinian-American scholar, once said:
Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort.
And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.
Regarding the junta’s impact, as well as that of Kissinger and the US, Montes is clear-cut.
“Their legacy is seen in the poverty in the villas, in the sunken eyes of hungry kids all over the world, in the missing but remembered, in the children of women who were taken that we are still looking for. It’s still very much there.”
However, Montes believes that the tale of Latin America is not yet over. “Justice is something I firmly believe in.”