Transparency should not be limited to an official apology from the U.S. Latin America has not yet come to terms with its recent history, Ramona Wadi writes.
During his electoral campaign, incoming U.S. President Joe Biden said his administration will “commit to being the most transparent in history, and will declassify documents from past decades related to U.S. policy in Latin America.” In his statement, Biden made reference to the Obama administration, during which he was vice-president. In March 2016, during a visit to Argentina, former President Barack Obama had pledged to declassify documents pertaining to U.S. involvement in propping up dictatorships and human rights abuses. The release of such documents detailing previously concealed details of U.S. involvement in Argentina, notably the death flights, continued until April 2019, when the final batch of declassified documents was released by the Trump administration.
It is estimated that 30,000 Argentinians were murdered and disappeared during the dictatorship of Jorge Rafael Videla. Declassified documents pertaining to Operation Condor clearly show that the U.S. was informed of the systematic process of disappearing Argentinians opposed to the dictatorship and it also provided the helicopters used for the death flights. “A human rights source contact in the medical profession whose reporting has been reliable in the past informed the embassy in late June that terrorists and subversives selected for elimination were now being administered injections of ‘ketalar’.” The substance administered was used to induce rapid loss of consciousness in the victim, facilitating the dictatorship’s practice of disappearing their opponents by throwing the bodies off helicopters into the ocean. Since the declassification of these documents, it has become known that contrary to what was previously believed, the death flights were not only used to disappear detainees who had already been murdered by the state – some victims were only sedated after torture. The death flights, therefore, were both used as a form of murder and disappearance of dictatorship opponents.
The U.S. might have altered its previous methods of intervention in the region, although U.S. President Donald Trump overtly attempted to bring back the era of U.S.-backed coups. However, it is likely that under Biden, the far right-wing leaders in the region such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, will find a less accommodating stance, if only for the U.S. to maintain its purported democratic stance. On the other hand, centre-left and right-wing governments that have benefited from previous dictatorship legacies, or which are less outspoken about their preference for dictatorships, may prove to be a better alliance for the U.S.
Latin America doesn’t need U.S. solutions to its politics. The U.S. approach is still built upon the earlier foundations, merely altered in an attempt to dissociate from its past interference. However, the School of the Americas, now known as WHINSEC, still offers training for the region’s militaries. In Chile, the special forces who murdered the Mapuche activist Camilo Catrillanca on his own land were jointly trained by the U.S. and Colombia. The U.S. still maintains its embargo on Cuba, which was announced in 1960 and extended to all trade with the island since 1962. Guantanamo is still occupied by the U.S. military, which it has used as a military base and detention centre in its extended “War on Terror”. These are just a few examples which indicate the U.S. grasp and intrusion in the region.
Transparency should not be limited to an official apology from the U.S. Latin America has not yet come to terms with its recent history. The fight for justice spearheaded by civilians and obstructed by governments and law courts indicates that there is a heavy reliance upon earlier legacies for control and surveillance. Apologising for past violations is just a formality that holds no political or criminal accountability. Declassified documents should not be construed as an apology, and neither governments nor the people should adhere to this intentional discrepancy that seeks to obliterate the difference between rights and diplomatic niceties.