62. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • An Update of Human Rights Developments in Argentina

I. Hopeful Developments

Prisoner releases. While the announcement of the release of 342 political prisoners2 is a positive sign, it should be noted that we can only confirm that there have been four releases,3 and that we do not yet know what proportion of those released have actually been freed without charges and what proportion have been charged formally and [Page 221] must face trial. In the six weeks since, the Argentine government has reported 199 detentions and 77 releases.

Right of option. It seems likely that the Argentine government will restore a limited form of the “right of option”, whereby state of siege prisoners may seek voluntary exile.4 This will be an important measure if it actually leads to prisoner releases.

Political tolerance and the courts. There are signs that President Videla may be gaining support from other generals for a greater ventilation of political ideas with civilian leaders. This has prompted Argentina’s oldest party, the Radicals, to criticize the government’s human rights record. The Radicals were accused of engaging in politics by the government, but rather than summarily punish the politicians, the government took the case to the courts. The lower courts ruled against the government, and the matter is under appeal. An Argentine government ban against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is now in the Supreme Court, and there is hope that the court will declare the ban unconstitutional.

II. Negative Developments

—Eight lawyers or their wives were kidnapped at a sea resort near Buenos Aires in mid-July; one subsequently was found murdered brutally. It appears the others were later released. It seems likely that the security forces were responsible.5

—In mid-July, Argentina’s Ambassador to Venezuela was kidnapped in Buenos Aires. He has not been found yet. It appears that the kidnapping reflected hard-line military resentment against President Videla, who made a very successful state visit to Venezuela in May.

—The publisher of the only major Argentine newspaper, which has demonstrated consistent courage on behalf of human rights, is being held by the government on economic charges at a secret place of detention; he was tortured.6

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—At least five labor leaders have been warned recently to leave Argentina. Earlier this month a prominent Jewish leader fled to the United States after being threatened.7

III. Conclusion

Most serious violations of human rights in Argentina are now taking place in the Buenos Aires military region. The commander of the region, General Suarez Mason, is a notorious hardliner, and is viewed as one of Videla’s principal rivals for power.

Given the delicate political situation in Argentina, as well as the very uncertain nature of recent human rights developments, Embassy Buenos Aires recommends that we should await developments before further public comment.8 State will continue to keep you fully informed as events unfold.9

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 4, Argentina, 1/77–12/78. Confidential. Sent for information. Carter initialed the memorandum in the top right-hand corner.
  2. See Documents 55 and 57.
  3. An unknown hand underlined the phrase “four releases.”
  4. An unknown hand underlined the phrase “voluntary exile.”
  5. See footnote 6, Document 60.
  6. In telegram 6326 from Buenos Aires, August 25, the Embassy reported on an August 19 meeting between Timerman and Gilman. Gilman “asked how he was being treated and how he was feeling. Timerman replied that a prisoner in his circumstances should not answer that kind of a question, but he was allright now–with emphasis on the ‘now.’” Timerman “said he did not know why he was being held, as no formal charges had been lodged against him” and “he had not been allowed to see the military judge’s investigating report, which was secret.” In addition, Timerman “said his interrogators never once asked him about Graiver. Instead, the bulk of the questions had to do with a presumed world Jewish conspiracy against Argentina.” Finally, the Embassy reported that Timerman “went out of his way to explain to the Congressman the Government’s need to take extraordinary action against terrorist subversion” and “said he was a strong supporter of the Videla administration and hoped that the U.S. would do everything it could to support Videla.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770308–0014)
  7. Jacobo Kovadloff, the representative of the American Jewish Committee in Argentina, left the country on June 22. (Telegram 4679 from Buenos Aires, June 23; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770225–0330)
  8. See Document 59. In an August 25 memorandum to Brzezinski, Christopher wrote: “I believe we should await developments before further public comment.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 4, Argentina, 1/77–12/78)
  9. In the margin below this sentence, Carter wrote “ok” and initialed the memorandum.