Thursday 29 September 2016

Obama hopes to rebuild trust during Argentina visit

Published 23/03/2016 | 19:56

President Barack Obama with Argentine President Mauricio Macri
President Barack Obama with Argentine President Mauricio Macri

President Barack Obama has acknowledged that US relations with Latin America's dictatorships in the 1970s damaged its image in the region, but said he hoped the release of long-classified documents about Argentina's "dirty war" would rebuild trust.

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Mr Obama made the comments on the eve of the 40th anniversary of a military coup that would lead to one of the most brutal regimes in Latin American history. Ahead of his visit, last week the Obama administration announced it would declassify thousands of CIA, FBI and other internal documents that could shed light on one of the South American nation's most painful chapters.

"I don't want to go through the list of every activity of the United States in Latin America," Mr Obama said, answering a question about his presence during the anniversary. He then noted that fighting communism was a focus of America's foreign policy in the 1970s.

"One of the great things about America, and I said this in Cuba, was that we engage in a lot of self-criticism," said Mr Obama, standing next to Argentine President Mauricio Macri.

Mr Obama arrived to Argentina early on Wednesday after an historic visit in Cuba. The two-day visit comes as Mr Macri has gone to great lengths to repair relations after years of antagonism by the previous administrations.

Mr Obama has made no secret of his preference for Mr Macri over his left-leaning predecessor, Cristina Fernandez.

Later Mr Obama planned to hear from young Argentinians at a town hall meeting in what's become a hallmark of his trips abroad. Joined by first lady Michelle Obama, the president was to be feted by Mr Macri at a state dinner in the evening, marking the first such visit by a US president in nearly two decades.

Despite efforts to keep the focus on the future, Mr Obama's visit has been clouded by a renewed look at Argentina's past and questions about America's role in the Argentina's 1976 military coup and the dictatorship that followed.

"On this anniversary and beyond, we are absolutely determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation," said Mr Obama.

In another gesture directed toward the victims of Argentina's "Dirty War," Mr Obama planned to visit Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires on Thursday. Argentina's government estimates some 13,000 people were killed or disappeared under force during the crackdown on leftist dissidents, though activists say the number is as high as 30,000.

Mr Obama's visit to Argentina, like his visit this week to Cuba, aims to bolster his efforts to keep the US focused on economically important regions like Latin America and Asia, even while dealing with pressing security concerns in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Press Association

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