Former Argentine dictator Jorge Videla in 1979.
An Argentine court has convicted two of the nation's former
right-wing dictators, Jorge Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, in a
scheme to murder leftist mothers and give their infants to military
personnel often complicit in the killings, a shocking process known to
the Reagan administration even as it worked closely with the bloody
Testimony at the trial included
a video conference from Washington with Elliott Abrams, then-Secretary
of State for Latin American Affairs, who said he urged Bignone to reveal
the babies' identities as Argentina began a transition to democracy in
Abrams said the Reagan administration "knew that it wasn't just one
or two children," indicating that U.S. officials believed there was a
high-level "plan because there were many people who were being murdered
or jailed." Estimates of the Argentines murdered in the so-called Dirty
War range from 13,000 to about 30,000, with many victims "disappeared,"
buried in mass graves or dumped from planes over the Atlantic.
A human rights group, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, says as many
as 500 babies were stolen by the military during the repression from
1976 to 1983. Some of the pregnant mothers were kept alive long enough
to give birth and then were chained together with other prisoners and
pushed out of the planes into the ocean to drown.
Despite U.S. government awareness of the grisly actions of the
Argentine junta, which had drawn public condemnation from the Carter
administration in the 1970s, these Argentine neo-Nazis were warmly
supported by Ronald Reagan, both as a political commentator in the late
1970s and as President once he took office in 1981.
When President Jimmy Carter's human rights coordinator, Patricia
Derian, berated the Argentine junta for its brutality, Reagan used his
newspaper column to chide her, suggesting that Derian should "walk a
mile in the moccasins" of the Argentine generals before criticizing
them. [For details, see Martin Edwin Andersen's Dossier Secreto.]
Reagan understood that the Argentine generals played a central role
in the anti-communist crusade that was turning Latin America into a
nightmare of unspeakable repression. The leaders of the Argentine junta
saw themselves as something of pioneers in the techniques of torture and
psychological operations, sharing their lessons with other regional
Argentina also took the lead in devising ways to fund the
anti-communist war through the drug trade. In 1980, the Argentine
intelligence services helped organize the so-called Cocaine Coup in
Bolivia, violently ousting a left-of-center government and replacing it
with generals closely tied to the early cocaine trafficking networks.
Bolivia's coup regime ensured a reliable flow of coca to Colombia's
Medellin cartel, which quickly grew into a sophisticated conglomerate
for smuggling cocaine into the United States. Some of those drug profits
then went to finance right-wing paramilitary operations across the
region, according to other U.S. government investigations.
For instance, Bolivian cocaine kingpin Roberto Suarez invested more
than $30 million in various right-wing paramilitary operations,
including organizing the Nicaraguan Contra rebels in base camps in
Honduras, according to U.S. Senate testimony in 1987 by an Argentine
intelligence officer, Leonardo Sanchez-Reisse.
Sanchez-Reisse testified that the Suarez drug money was laundered
through front companies in Miami before going to Central America. There,
Argentine intelligence officers -- including Sanchez-Reisse and other
veterans of the Cocaine Coup -- trained the fledgling Contra forces.
After becoming President in January 1981, Reagan entered into a
covert alliance with the Argentine junta. He ordered the CIA to
collaborate with Dirty War experts in training the Contras, who were
soon rampaging through towns in northern Nicaragua, raping women and
dragging local officials into public squares for executions. [See Robert
Parry's Lost History.]
A Happy Face
Yet, Reagan kept up a happy face, hailing the Contras as the "moral
equals of the Founding Fathers" and heaping gratitude on the Argentine