In an effort to put aside the strained relations between the two nations, U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday the he wants to rebuild trust that may have been lost with Argentina after the country's military coup 40 years ago.
Speaking during a press conference with his Argentinian counterpart, Mauricio Macri, Obama pledged to declassify U.S. military and intelligence documents about America's role in the military dictatorship — "that dark period," he called it.
"We are absolutely determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as a nation," Obama said. "We have put a great emphasis on making sure that some of the ideologies, the disputes of the past, that they are frankly acknowledged, but that we are also able to look to the future and not just behind us."
Argentina's government estimates some 13,000 people were killed or disappeared under force during the crackdown on leftist dissidents, though activists say the number is as high as 30,000.
"There are moments of great success and glory and there are moments that were counterproductive or contrary to what I believe America should stand for," Obama said, adding, "Everything we do today is designed to take into account transparency, human rights, to speak out on behalf of those issues.
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Obama’s visit, however, has been met with resistance from a number of Argentinians angered that it coincides with the 40th anniversary of the country’s coup and the beginning of the so-called “Dirty War.”
“It’s a provocation, it’s our date,” Nora Cortiñas of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, a group that continues to search for missing victims of the dictatorship, told the Guardian about what is a day of painful remembering for many Argentinians.
On Thursday morning, Obama and Macri will commemorate the coup's anniversary at a memorial to the victims of the dictatorship on the shores of the River Plate.
Members of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo like Taty Almeida, 85, who lost a son to political violence, won't be there. “How can we, with everything the U.S. represents for us? We’ve already decided against it,” she told the Guardian.
Besides the anger over the Dirty War, the more recent history between the two countries has also been strained.
Macri’s predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, isolated the country from the U.S. and favored relations with China, Russia and Venezuela. The current leader, however, hopes to show Obama that Argentina can be a reliable partner in the region.
"There is big room for future cooperation between the U.S. and Argentina,” Macri said. He added that Obama’s visit is “a gesture of affection from the American people to the Argentinian people and the beginning of a new era of support for this new government.”
Macri, who hopes the U.S. will open its market to Argentinian lemons and fresh beef, is seen by many as a much moderate, pro-market president than his predecessor.