The threat of left-wing "terrorists" was seen to trump international concerns over human rights in the region.
The latest release of previously classified documents on Operation Condor reveals that the United States characterized Latin America as a region that wanted authoritarian and paternalistic rule, while showing how U.S. sponsored right-wing regimes viewed U.S. policy and their concerns over human rights.
In a CIA foreign policy assessment from 1978, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay were seen to view U.S. policy in the region as “inconsistent, incoherent, and unreasonably punitive.”
The Southern Cone states were viewed as having “specific grievances against the U.S” regarding human rights, as dictators, fearing left-wing takeovers, continued to assert brutal military control over citizens — regimes that were continually backed by the U.S.
Throughout the leaked documents, leftist groups in opposition to military-led governments are commonly referred to as “terrorists” where brutal responses were seen as a means to an end.
A foreign policy briefing on Brazil stated that “like other Latin American countries, Brazilians in general adhere to authoritarian, paternalistic cultural patterns and are much more tolerant of limitations on the individual than North Americans.”
The previously classified documents reveal widespread terror, torture, censorship as well as anti-government targets being systematically “liquidated.” A number of U.S.-backed dictators in the region apparently “bitterly resented” their international perception as they are commonly described as “totalitarian” and “fascist.”
A president’s daily brief in early 1977 claimed that there had been a “slight improvement” in human rights violations in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, “largely as the result of international opinion and publicity.”
“The Uruguayan government thinks U.S. legislation penalizing countries that violate human rights is unfair, and that U.S. officials have a distorted view of conditions in Uruguay.”
In Argentina, international criticism over human rights “caused considerable irritation among government officials,” and military dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, referred to as “President Videla,” expected problems with the U.S. over the country's human rights record.
An earlier letter said that “Videla has said that he regrets having problems with the U.S. over human rights but sees no alternative to continuing the fight against subversion.”
The CIA assessment from 1978 said that U.S. human rights policy in the region was not completely negative because the police and military “are now sensitized to human rights considerations.”
“Every chief of state in the area claims to have made clear to his subordinates that torture and arbitrary arrest will no longer be tolerated,” the document continued.
In Argentina, the so-called dirty war is estimated to have left up to 30,000 killed or disappeared after Videla came to power in a 1976 coup against left-wing President Isabel Peron.
Over 3,200 people are thought to have been killed or disappeared and more than 28,000 tortured under Chile’s notorious dictator Augusto Pinochet during his brutal 17-year rule.