President Richard Nixon
’s administration suggested that Uruguayan leaders try to prevent the impending murder of a kidnapped U.S. official by threatening to kill members of the insurgent group responsible for the abduction, according to newly declassified cables
Daniel Mitrione, a director for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Uruguay, was found dead Aug. 10, 1970 after being kidnapped by Tupamaros guerrillas. The group, whose members included current Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, accused Mitrione of training police in torture and had been demanding the release of imprisoned rebels.
Then-Secretary of State William Rogers, facing a guerrilla deadline to kill Mitrione, wrote in a cable to the U.S. Ambassador in Montevideo that “we have assumed that the Government of Uruguay has considered use of threat to kill” jailed rebel leader Raul Sendic and other key Tupamaros members, according to a declassified State Department cable that was posted on the National Security Archive website yesterday.
“If this has not been considered, you should it raise it with” the Uruguayan government “at once,” according to the two-sentence cable dated Aug. 9, 1970.
In response, Ambassador Charles Adair said that he showed Rogers’ cable to the Uruguayan Foreign Minister Jorge Peirano, who told him that his government didn’t permit such action.
Still, prisoners were informed through “indirect means” that private death squads would take action against their relatives if the guerrillas carried out their ultimatum and killed Mitrione, Adair wrote in a separate cable, one of nine documents posted today on the Washington-based research institute’s website.
‘Every Means Available’
Nixon, in a separate cable dated Aug. 6, urged Uruguayan President Jorge Pacheco to use “every means available” to secure Mitrione’s release. Three days later, he insisted to Pacheco that Uruguay “spare no effort” to free Mitrione and Claude Fly, a second U.S. official kidnapped.
State Department spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet had no immediate comment when contacted by Bloomberg News. A message left with Anthony Curtis, a spokesman for the Richard Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, wasn’t immediately returned.
”There were few limits on what the U.S. was prepared to do in the name of fighting communism” during the Cold War, said Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based research group. ”This was not a proud chapter in US foreign policy.”
Nixon died in 1994, Rogers in 2001, and Adair in 2006.
Mitrione’s activities and murder inspired director Constantin Costa-Gavras’s 1973 movie “State of Siege.”
The Tupamaros, inspired by Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution in Cuba, kidnapped the Americans and wealthy Uruguayans in a bid to destabilize Pacheco’s government as it declared a state of emergency to stamp out inflation and political dissent. The military, which was charged with combating the insurgents, eventually seized power in 1973 and held onto it until 1985.
Carlos Osorio, director of the National Security Archive’s Southern Cone documentation project, said in an interview that the cables, which were found after two years of research, are the earliest recorded recognition by the U.S. government of the existence and use of Uruguayan death squads.
The National Security Archive is a research institute housed at The George Washington University that collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Mujica, 75, was imprisoned for more than a decade by the military juntas that ruled Uruguay in the 1970s and 1980s.
The former revolutionary was elected president in November on a pledge to continue the economic policies of his predecessor that attracted record foreign investment, boosted trade with the U.S. and quadrupled central bank reserves to $7.9 billion. During the campaign he criticized Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the most vocal critic of the U.S. in Latin America.