Category Archives: Argentina

Argentina on the front lines of Guatemala’s Cold War

Jo-Marie Burt continues to provide updates on the Molina Theissen Trial in Guatemala. In her latest installment, Jo-Marie recounts the testimony of Julieta Carla Rostica, an Argentine sociologist who specializes in Central America. In her court testimony, Rostica provides some fascinating details about the involvement of the Argentine military in supporting the Guatemalan regime's reign of terror.
The expert testified that Argentina’s involvement in military affairs in Guatemala began after U.S. President Jimmy Carter ceased military and other forms of assistance to countries accused of serious human rights violations. In 1979, Otto Spiegeler Noriega, the minister of defense under former Guatemalan President Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982), arrived in Argentina and a year later was appointed ambassador to that country. This provided the opportunity for the creation of a scientific-technical collaboration agreement, which was finalized when the former Guatemalan director of military intelligence, Manuel Callejas y Callejas, visited Argentina in August 1980. The agreement included scholarships for training in military intelligence.
At least 14 Guatemalan military personnel received this training, the expert testified, including retired General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, the head of military intelligence during the government of Efraín Ríos Montt, both of whom are is currently on trial for genocide in the Ixil region, though in separate proceedings, and Byron Humberto Barrientos, who is awaiting trial on charges of enforced disappearance and crimes against humanity in the CREOMPAZ case. Of the foreign military officials trained by “Battalion 601” of the Argentine military intelligence system, 15 percent were Guatemalan.
The Argentines recognized that they had a responsibility to eradicate the cancer of communism wherever it had spread. They were on the front lines of Western Christianity's battle against godless communism in the Western Hemisphere and, unlike the Americans, had no qualms about doing what was necessary. They helped train the Guatemalan military. They trained Nicaraguans after the fall of Somoza. These individuals would go on to form the Contras and carry out their war against the Sandinistas. They also developed strong ties with the Salvadorans.

As far as I know, Ariel Armony has carried out the most detailed English-language research on Argentina's role in Central America but that was from 20 years ago.

"I was in jail when Reagan won, and those who held me captive jumped for joy"

Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has a generous op-ed reflecting upon former US President Jimmy's Carter's generosity towards Latin America in Americas Quarterly.
In any case, Carter’s gesture was sufficiently bold that it reverberated in Brazil for years afterward. The military regime no longer enjoyed unconditional support from Washington – a fact that was not lost on the generals, or the opposition. Thanks to the hard work of committed activists and pressure from the Brazilian people, the military finally yielded power in 1985.
The trip carried a cost for Carter himself, however. During the 1980 U.S. presidential campaign, allies of Ronald Reagan accused Carter of taking relations with Brazil and other authoritarian governments to a low point in the name of human rights. Carter stood by his principles, as always. He lost his bid for reelection. Yet you could say that America’s loss was our gain. Carter’s good works in the region – and the world – were only beginning.
From what I understand, Democrats in the US Congress pushed a more human rights-oriented foreign policy in the early and mid-1970s. However, their concerns fell on deaf ears during the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. With the election of a president interested in promoting human rights as a cornerstone of US foreign policy, Congress had found their partner, their leader.

Carter required his ambassador's to report on human rights conditions in their countries to which they had been posted and he and the Congress worked to condition US military assistance to various Latin American governments on their ability to take human rights seriously. The US cut off military assistance (to a certain extent) to a number of governments while others, like Guatemala, declined US military aid instead of promoting human rights. They did not appreciate the conditions upon which further US military assistance would be delivered. In Guatemala's case, their government's decision was also tied up in the fact that they did not believe that they had much to learn from the US in order to fight their counterinsurgency - the US had just lost wars in Korea and Vietnam.

Nicaragua's Somoza had no interest in improving his country's human rights record which led the US to cut back on support for him and to look for an alternative. The Sandinistas were not exactly the alternative that Carter was looking for but he was willing to risk their coming to power rather than double-down support for Somoza. Carter even invited Daniel Ortega to the White House.

Carter and his policies were not perfect. Carter suspended US military aid to El Salvador following the murders of four US Churchwomen in December 1980, after he had already lost the election. However, weeks later, he reinstated that aid even though the Salvadoran government had demonstrated no serious effort to investigate or punish those involved. He feared, at least politically, losing another country - El Salvador - to anti-American forces. 1979 was a rough year for US short-term policy with revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Carter had also paid a price politically in the US by negotiating the return of the Panama Canal to the Panamanians.

While Cardoso reflects upon Carter's legacy in Brazil, I always loved this quote from neighboring Argentina. Carlos Memen, elected president in 1989, was a prisoner during the dirty war. In Exiting the Whirlpool, he is quoted as saying:
"I was in jail when Reagan won, and those who held me captive jumped for joy."
Hard as it is to believe, Congressional Democrats and Carter made it extremely difficult for Reagan to reverse human rights as a cornerstone of US policy towards Latin America (one of many cornerstones if that makes any sense). Reagan was clearly able to increase support to authoritarian governments throughout the region but not as much as he wanted to. The moral and tactical failures of Reagan's policies and developments on the ground in Latin America would then lead Reagan to lukewarmly embrace democracy promotion as a key element of US policy (at least when he thought it convenient).

15/4/15: S&P Ukraine Ratings and Reality Check on IMF Programme

S&P Ratings Services cut long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating on Ukraine to CC from CCC- with negative outlook and held unchanged the long-term local currency sovereign credit ratings at CCC+.

Per S&P release: "The downgrade reflects our expectation that a default on foreign currency central government debt is a virtual certainty." S&P also warned that any 'exchange offer' - an offer mandated under the IMF latest loan package to Ukraine ( - will constitute default. "Once the distressed exchange offer has been confirmed, we would likely lower the foreign currency ratings on Ukraine to SD and the affected issue rating(s) to D".

Per S&P: "The Ukraine ministry of finance’s debt operation is guided by the following objectives: (i) generate $15 billion in public-sector financing during the program period; (ii) bring the public and publicly guaranteed debt-to-GDP ratio under 71% of GDP by 2020; and (iii) keep the budget’s gross financing needs at an average of 10% of GDP (maximum of 12% of GDP annually) in 2019–2025… The treatment of the eurobond owed to Russia (maturing in December 2015) is likely to complicate matters. The Ukrainian government insists it will be part of the talks, while the Russian government insists that the bond, although issued under international law, should be classified as "official" rather than "commercial" debt given the favorable interest rate and the fact that it was purchased by a government entity. …if Ukraine has to pay the $3 billion in debt redemption this year, it will make it very difficult for Ukraine to find the $5 billion in expected debt relief in 2015 that underpins the IMF’s 2015 external financing assumptions."

Forbes labeled the new rating for Ukraine as "super-duper junk" (

Beyond the restructuring threat, there is economic performance that is not yielding much consolation: "The negative outlook reflects the deteriorating macroeconomic environment and growing pressure on the financial sector, as well as our view that default on Ukraine’s foreign currency debt is virtually inevitable,”

S&P forecast is for the economy to shrink 7.5% in 2015, following the decline of 6.8% in 2014. The S&P forecasts Ukrainian GDP to grow by 2% in 2016, 3.5% in 2017 and 4% in 2018. Inflation is expected to peak at 35% this year from 12.2% in 2014 and fall to 12% in 2016 and 8% in 2017. Government debt is set to rise from 40.2% of GDP in 2013 to 70.7% of GDP in 2015 and to 93% of GDP this year, declining to 82.6% in 2018.

Meanwhile, ever cheerful IMF is projecting Ukrainian GDP to shrink by 'only' 5.5% in 2015, and grow at the rates similar to those forecast by S&P between 2016 and 2018. IMF sees inflation rising to 33.5% this year. Government debt projections by the IMF are only marginally more conservative than those by the S&P.

Meanwhile, lenders to Ukraine have already pushed out a tough position on talks with the Government:

As I noted before, this an extraordinary 10th IMF-assisted lending programme to Ukraine since 1991. None of the previous nine programmes achieved any significant reforms or delivered a sustainable economic growth path. In fact, the IMF presided, prior to the current programme over nine restrcturings of the Ukrainian economy that produced more oligarchs, more corruption at the top of the political food chain and less economic prosperity, time after time.

Meanwhile, over the same period of time, world's worst defaulter, Argentina, has managed to have just three IMF-supported lending programmes. Argentine bag of reforms has been mixed, but generally-speaking, the country is now in a better shape than it was in the 1990s and is most certainly better off than Ukraine, as the relative performance chart of two economies over time, based on IMF WEO (April 2015) data, indicates:

Somewhere, probably in the basement of the 700 19th St NW, Washington DC, there exists a data wonk that truly believes that Ukrainian debt is 'sustainable' and that this time, things with 'structural reforms' will be different from the previous nine times. I would not be surprised if the lad collects Area 51 newspapers clippings for a hobby. He's free to do so, of course. But the Ukrainian economy is not free when it comes to paying for the IMF's bouts of optimism. And with it, neither are the Ukrainian people.

What the Ukrainian economy really needs right now is a combination of pragmatic political reforms to bring about real stabilisation, root-and-branch clearing out of corrupt elites, including business elites and not withstanding the currently empowered elites, assistance to genuine (as opposed to corrupt rent-seeking) entrepreneurs, all supported by assisted and properly structured FDI, direct development aid and a real debt writedown. The IMF-led package does not deliver much on any of these objectives. If anything, by passing the cost of reforms onto ordinary residents, it does the opposite - drains investment, saving and demand capacity from the economy, imperilling its ability to create new growth and enterprises.

Hezbollah figure behind bombings of Israeli sites in Argentina killed

Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima have a report in the Washington Post that looks at cooperation between the US CIA and the Israeli Mossad in the killing of Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s international operations chief, in Syria on February 12, 2008.
The United States has never acknowledged participation in the killing of Mughniyah, which Hezbollah blamed on Israel. Until now, there has been little detail about the joint operation by the CIA and Mossad to kill him, how the car bombing was planned or the exact U.S. role. With the exception of the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, the mission marked one of the most high-risk covert actions by the United States in recent years.
U.S. involvement in the killing, which was confirmed by five former U.S. intelligence officials, also pushed American legal boundaries.
Mughniyah was targeted in a country where the United States was not at war. Moreover, he was killed in a car bombing, a technique that some legal scholars see as a violation of international laws that proscribe “killing by perfidy” — using treacherous means to kill or wound an enemy.
“Remember, they were carrying out suicide bombings and IED attacks,” said one official, referring to Hezbollah operations in Iraq.
The authority to kill Mughniyah required a presidential finding by President George W. Bush. The attorney general, the director of national intelligence, the national security adviser and the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department all signed off on the operation, one former intelligence official said.
The former official said getting the authority to kill Mughniyah was a “rigorous and tedious” process. “What we had to show was he was a continuing threat to Americans,” the official said, noting that Mughniyah had a long history of targeting Americans dating back to his role in planning the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
“The decision was we had to have absolute confirmation that it was self-defense,” the official said.
Among other attacks, Imad Mughniyah was believed to have been responsible for bombs that were used in two attacks in Argentina, the 1992 suicide bombing of the Israeli Embassy and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.

While I don't remember this attack being covered in the book, you might want to check out Mark Mazzetti's The Way of the Knife which goes into some detail about how the Bush administration worked to transform the CIA, JSOC and other US forces into into kidnapping, torturing and killing units after 9/11. The CIA had gotten out of the killing and torture business following scandals in the 1970s and 1980s, imperfectly so, but were brought back in following the September 11th attacks.

It wasn't exactly a transformation that all CIA accepted but the Bush administration supported those in the agency who would carry out their demands. That's one reason why greater blame should be placed on civilian officials who ordered the CIA torture program. The CIA would not have gotten into the business had that not been what they were told to do.

Mark goes behind the scenes on some of the debates surrounding capture vs. kill, the legality of carrying out missions in countries where we were not at war, and the competition/coordination between CIA and Defense. It's a good, easy read.

I highly recommend the book. I almost assigned it for the September 11, 2001 and Beyond class I am teaching this semester. Mark is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who writes on national security issues for the New York Times and other outlets. We also graduated from Regis High School together in 1992.