Posted: 5:01 pm EDT
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Below is an excerpt from the Buenos Aires Herald interview with Tex Harris:
What actions did you take?
I had business cards printed up, would go to the Plaza de Mayo square and urge the Mothers to come to the US embassy to explain what had happened to their family members. It began slowly, and developed into a torrent of reports.
How did the State Department use your reports?
Under the Carter administration, Congress mandated a new bureau for human rights in the State Department. Patricia “Pat” Derian headed this new bureau and her office used the reports to argue for severe sanctions against the military government of Argentina. The embassy leadership saw the curtailing my reporting as a way of curtailing the ability of Derian’s human rights office from impacting on US policy.
What type of sanctions did the Carter administration implement?
Under the US congressional mandate, the Carter administration began to cut off things from the military government one-by-one. They stopped providing special new technology, such as computers for police cars, or objecting to IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) loans. They began to cut off cultural, agricultural programmes, military exchanges and visits. Training for military officers was also curtailed.
Did you face any repercussions for your actions?
After six months of reporting, US human rights policy began to have an impact on every connection between the Argentine government and the United States. The embassy’s leadership tried to curtail my human rights reports, so they could have more flexibility in arguing for softer policies towards the military dictatorship. That led to a confrontation with my sense of duty to report the information being provided to me by family members and my responsibilities as a professional diplomat. And I was penalized for not being a “team player.” For seven years, my career was paralyzed.
Who was the ambassador at the time?
Raúl Castro was the US ambassador to Argentina then. He had developed a good relationship with (former Argentine dictator Roberto) Viola, and he was convinced that the best way to resolve the human rights problems in Argentina was for the US to take advantage of the divided military government, by supporting the army against the navy. But Washington DC had no interest in playing this micro-political ball game in Buenos Aires. The White House wanted to demonstrate the seriousness of then-president Carter’s human rights policy by implementing sanctions against gross violators of human rights — whether in Argentina or the Philippines.
Read the full interview here.
For those who missed this back when, here is a clip from Bill Moyers Crossroads interview. Part 2 is here.
- Tex Harris, “Fighting the ‘Dirty War’ – Argentina, 1977,” Inside a U.S. Embassy, American Foreign Service Association, 2005
- ADST: Argentina’s Dirty War and the Transition to Democracy