On the 40th anniversary of Argentina’s military coup, President Barack Obama declassified on Thursday a number of documents purportedly relating the U.S. government’s role in the Southern Cone nation’s so-called “Dirty War.”
Speaking at the Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism at Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires, Obama regretted the U.S.’s support of Argentina’s military dictatorship during the late 1970s and early 1980s and said that the U.S. was slow to respond the human rights abuses in the country.
“I'm launching a new effort to open up additional documents from that dark period,” Obama said. “We've previously declassified thousands of records from that era, but for the first time, now we'll declassify military and intelligence records, as well.”
He added: “On this anniversary and beyond, we are absolutely determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation. And I hope this gesture also helps to rebuild trust that may have been lost between our two countries.”
Obama said what happened in Argentina isn't unique to Argentina and that it takes courage for a society to address uncomfortable truths about its past, but that doing so is necessary to move forward.
Before his remarks, Obama joined Argentine President Mauricio Macri for a walk along the monument at Remembrance Park. The monument, similar to the Vietnam War Memorial in the United States, contains the names and ages of 20,000 victims of the "Dirty War.”
The two leaders paused halfway down the wall as a guide pointed to the tiles featuring scores of names.
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.
When they reached the edge of the waterfront along the Rio de la Plata, both presidents tossed a white wreath into the water.
During his remarks, Macri thanked Obama for releasing the documents and helping to restore strained relations between the two countries.
“At our request, which was to have the files related to that violent decade in Argentine declassified, you agreed to this,” Macri said. “And we are very thankful for that gesture. We all need, and we are actually entitled to know what the truth is.
Macri continued: “For the Argentine people, that has been a very clear indication that if we engage in dialogue with other countries, and do so seriously and respectfully, other countries will quickly respond and cooperate with our requests.”
While Obama may have been praised by Macri, a number of Argentinian were angered at the U.S. leader’s visit to the country on the 40th anniversary of the cop.
Human rights groups in the country said it's still hard to imagine embracing the president of a country they accuse of backing the dictatorship that killed their children, parents, friends or spouses.
Nora Cortinas of the iconic Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo group said Obama "is a representative of death."
In her words: "What would victims say if they saw (us) hugging and paying homage to a president from a country responsible for state terrorism?"
In order to avoid protests that are expected in Buenos Aires, soon after the ceremony Obama and the first family traveled to the resort of Bariloche. The president will fly back to the U.S. later in the day after a brief return to Buenos Aires.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.