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The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere

Human Rights and U.S. Cold War Policy toward Argentina

by William Michael Schmidli

Publication Year: 2013

During the first quarter-century of the Cold War, upholding human rights was rarely a priority in U.S. policy toward Latin America. Seeking to protect U.S. national security, American policymakers quietly cultivated relations with politically ambitious Latin American militaries—a strategy clearly evident in the Ford administration’s tacit support of state-sanctioned terror in Argentina following the 1976 military coup d’état. By the mid-1970s, however, the blossoming human rights movement in the United States posed a serious threat to the maintenance of close U.S. ties to anticommunist, right-wing military regimes.

The competition between cold warriors and human rights advocates culminated in a fierce struggle to define U.S. policy during the Jimmy Carter presidency. In The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere, William Michael Schmidli argues that Argentina emerged as the defining test case of Carter’s promise to bring human rights to the center of his administration’s foreign policy. Entering the Oval Office at the height of the kidnapping, torture, and murder of tens of thousands of Argentines by the military government, Carter set out to dramatically shift U.S. policy from subtle support to public condemnation of human rights violation. But could the administration elicit human rights improvements in the face of a zealous military dictatorship, rising Cold War tension, and domestic political opposition? By grappling with the disparate actors engaged in the struggle over human rights, including civil rights activists, second-wave feminists, chicano/a activists, religious progressives, members of the New Right, conservative cold warriors, and business leaders, Schmidli utilizes unique interviews with U.S. and Argentine actors as well as newly declassified archives to offer a telling analysis of the rise, efficacy, and limits of human rights in shaping U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotation

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pp. 1-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

First, I would like to thank my editor at Cornell University Press, Michael Mc- Gandy. Michael showed patience, professionalism, and enthusiasm throughout the publication process. I also thank Fredrik Logevall for his invaluable encouragement and engagement in my research; ...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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Introduction: Human Rights and the Cold War

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pp. 1-7

Jimmy Carter’s victory in the 1976 presidential election was a defining moment for U.S. foreign policy. Over the previous quarter century, Cold War national security concerns had dominated U.S. relations with the developing world. It was an approach particularly evident in U.S. policy toward Latin America; ...

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1. From Counterinsurgency to State-Sanctioned Terror: Waging the Cold War in Latin America

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pp. 8-28

The 1976 Argentine coup d’état was a swift and bloodless affair. On the official television network, the Sunday afternoon soccer match was followed by an uninterrupted World War II documentary, and most Argentines were unaware that the military had arrested President Isabel Martinez de Perón until the ruling junta was firmly ensconced in power. 1 ...

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2. The “Third World War”: U.S.-Argentine Relations, 1960–1976

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pp. 29-55

Counterrevolutionary training in Argentina was well under way by the time John F. Kennedy began promoting internal security as the primary Latin American military mission in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. In fact, Argentine training programs for regional military officers preceded the development of similar U.S. programs focusing on counterinsurgency. ...

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3. “Human Rights Is Suddenly Chic”: The Rise of The Movement,1970–1976

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pp. 56-82

News of Olga Talamante’s kidnapping reached her parents by telephone in mid-November 1974. The call, dialed by a friend in Azul, Argentina, to the elder Talamantes’ residence in Salinas, California, was brief, the details agonizingly vague. There had been a gathering, a classic Argentine asado, a daylong barbecue held as a kind of despedida for Talamante ...

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4. “Total Immersion in All the Horrors of the World”: The Carter Administration and Human Rights, 1977–1978

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pp. 83-119

Three days after the first anniversary of the Argentine military coup against Isabel Perón, a passenger jet carrying Patricia Derian touched down on the tarmac at Ezeiza International Airport. Met by U.S. officials and ushered into an embassy car, President Carter’s newly appointed Department of State coordinator for human rights and humanitarian affairs ...

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5. On the Offensive: Human Rights in U.S.-Argentine Relations, 1978–1979

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pp. 120-155

In the fall of 1977, a tall, gregarious junior foreign service officer hailing from west Texas arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires. Selected to serve as the embassy’s external affairs officer, Franklin A. “Tex” Harris had attended briefings in Washington, DC, on issues such as nuclear proliferation, Argentine actions in the United Nations, ...

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6. “Tilting against Gray-Flannel Windmills”: U.S.-Argentine Relations, 1979–1980

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pp. 156-181

Patricia Derian’s frustration was palpable. “Unless things change I’ll probably resign in a few days, over a major policy disagreement,” the assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs informed the New York Times reporter Ann Crittenden in late May 1980. Having spearheaded U.S. efforts to promote human rights in Argentina for the previous three years, ...

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Conclusion: Carter, Reagan, and the Human Rights Revolution

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pp. 182-194

In the opening months of Ronald Reagan’s tenure in the White House, human rights advocates’ fear that the new administration would systematically uproot the hard-won advances to institutionalize human rights in U.S. foreign policy appeared to be borne out. Reagan’s vehement anticommunism and determination to reverse perceived Soviet advances ...

Abbreviations Used in the Notes

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pp. 195-196


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pp. 197-244

Primary Sources

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pp. 245-246


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pp. 247-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780801469626
E-ISBN-10: 0801469627
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801451966
Print-ISBN-10: 0801451965

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1