If you have never seen the 1985 Argentine film, La Historia Oficial, you have missed not only a very fine film, but a riveting, unforgettable performance by Norma Aleandro, winner of the 1985 Cannes Best Actress award. The Official Story is about a history teacher whose well-placed husband is able to negotiate their adoption of a beautiful little girl. It turns out that the girl is the kidnapped daughter of one of the many “disappeared,” some of whom were pregnant women whose babies were given to the families of government officials. Aleandro’s character’s slow realization of what has been going on in her country–and right under her nose–is almost too painful to watch.
Between 1975 and 1978, at least 22,000 people were murdered or disappeared in Argentina when a military junta took over the country. Last Thursday, the day before the 30th anniversary of this, Argentina’s bloodiest coup, the National Security Archive released a series of declassified U.S. documents, as well as secret documents from Southern Cone intelligence agencies, that reveal detailed evidence of the atrocities committed by the junta.
One of the documents is a transcript of a staff meeting of then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In the transcript, then-Assistant Secretary for Latin America William Rogers advises Kissinger not to be in a rush to embrace the new regime in Argentina:
I think also we’ve got to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long. I think they’re going to have to come down very hard not only on the terrorists but on the dissidents of trade unions and their parties.
Kissinger’s reply: “Whatever chance they have, they will need a little encouragement…because I do want to encourage them. I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States.”
The Argentine military warned the U.S. Embassy that “some executions…would probably be necessary” and that they wanted to minimize any resulting problems with the United States. U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Robert Hill wrote that “it is encouraging to note that the Argentine military are aware of the problem and are already focusing on ways to avoid letting human rights issues become an irritant in US-Argentine relations.”
Some estimates of the “disappeared” are as high as 30,000. Around 500 babies were taken from their parents and given to other families.