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Document Friday: The 1978 World Cup in Argentina, Part II

December 4, 2009

US News and World Report Collection, Library of Congress

In honor of the qualifying teams of 2010 World Cup (give France a hand for eking in), this week’s “hot doc” is part two of our analysis of the 1978 World Cup. Last time we looked at the “less repressive atmosphere” the tournament brought to Argentina during its Dirty War.  This week, we’ll look at a document which recounts Secretary of State Henry Kissinger “talking futbol” with the Argentine Foreign Minister Guzzetti.

This June 6, 1976, memorandum of conversation was obtained by Archive’s Southern Cone Documentation Project and published in 2004.  It serves as the “smoking gun” proving that Secretary of State Kissinger informed the Argentine government of US support of the use of arrests and disappearances to combat Argentine “terrorist activities.”  The meeting was alluded to—but not released—in 4,600 State Department documents that Secretaries of State Albright and Powell declassified after the repeated requests from victims, relatives, human rights organizations, judges, and US congressmen.  (The CIA and Pentagon declined Albright’s request to participate in the declassification program, perhaps concerned about the impact of disclosing support of a regime that murdered nuns and kidnapped children.)

In this conversation with the Foreign Minister, Kissinger declared, “We want you to succeed,” affirming US support for Argentine junta.  He also condoned its terrorism policies, advising “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly.” Turning to sports, Kissinger promised “No matter what happens I will be in Argentina in 1978.  That is the year the World Cup will take place.” Then the Secretary aptly predicted, “Argentina will win.”

Today’s “hot doc” also alludes to the underlying tension between the career foreign service officers staffing the US embassy in Buenos Aires and their boss.  The embassy viewed the Videla junta’s actions with alarm and revulsion, even compiling a 10,000 name list of the abducted and disappeared.  Secretary Kissinger, however, accepted these deaths and disappearances of terrorists, trade unionists, students, and nuns as necessary for a stable and non-socialist Argentina.

Ultimately Kissinger’s reassurances undercut the embassy’s position.  Argentine generals were “euphoric” with Kissinger’s signals that they could continue their war against leftists.  The US Ambassador to Argentina wrote a “sour note” complaining that Kissinger’s meetings with the Argentine foreign minister had not conveyed “the gravity of the human rights problem as seen from the U.S.”  When the Embassy confronted the Argentine government about human rights abuses, it was rebuffed and told that Kissinger “understood their [the ruling junta’s] problem.”

As the disappearances continued, an out-of-power Kissinger kept his word, returning with his family as a guest of Videla to watch Argentina win the World Cup.  Some believe Argentina’s victory was fixed, and most concede that it bolstered the domestic and international standing of the Videla junta.  Jacobo Timerman, the newspaper editor who was Argentina’s most prominent political prisoner recalled, “We political prisoners were all Dutch that day” (Read more about Jacobo Timerman in the latest Electronic Briefing Book by Carlos Osorio, Director of the Southern Cone Document Project).

While visiting, Kissinger gave a press conference decrying President Carter’s new human rights policy toward Latin America as “romantic” and stated that the junta’s human rights abuses should not be condemned “because they are fighting for all of us (AP 24 June 1978).”

Because of the Argentine victory, one of Kissinger’s earlier quips to the Foreign Minister could not be tested.  He had earlier calculated that, “If you can control an Argentine crowd when Argentina loses, then you can say you have really solved your security problem.”

  1. the_matt permalink
    December 4, 2009 5:51 pm

    wow. just… wow.

    i guess the murderers were ok because they were our murderers. until. you know. they weren’t. sometimes seems like there’s a tough lesson for the u.s. to learn somewhere in that.

    • Nate Jones permalink
      December 5, 2009 1:56 pm

      I think the CIA terms it “blowback.”

  2. David E. Tolson, Ph.D. permalink
    October 21, 2010 9:22 pm


    Two great articles on Argentina and Kissinger. Could you help me find sources for the post world cup 1978 press conferences Kissinger attended at which he criticized the Carter Administration ? Thanks, Dave


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