Indonesia rights body urges Obama to open secret US files

Monday, March 21, 2016
Church endorses dictatorship trials

Synod backs quest for ‘truth and justice’ in landmark move

In a message of great political significance, just days before the 40th anniversary of the last military coup, the Catholic Church yesterday called for trials prosecuting human rights abuses committed during the 1976-1983 dictatorship to continue in the courts.

“The return of democracy was the beginning of a path of truth, justice and meeting for all (Argentines), a path we need to continue to take in order to reach (a state of) social harmony and friendship,” bishops grouped under the Argentine Synod (CEA) said in a statement yesterday.

It was the first time Church leaders had used the “truth and justice” slogan coined long ago by human rights organizations in a public statement, which came just 24 hours after the Church announced it would open up its archives related to those dark years.

The 246-word statement was issued days after a plenary meeting of the Permanent Commission of the CEA, where bishops had discussed the forthcoming anniversary of the military coup d’état, which took place on 24 March, 1976.

“Argentines cannot stop asking ourselves how we ended up with the darkest chapter of the country’s history. The consequences of infighting, pain and death are still felt today and emerge as a past that we need to deal with and heal,” the Church said.

“We should never allow such an event to happen ever again and we should not forget,” the statement added in decisive language.

Just a day earlier, the Vatican announced it will be declassifying files requested by human rights organizations, in order to find out what happened to those detained and disappeared during the military dictatorship. That news followed US President Barack Obama’s historic announcement that he intends to open up previously withheld US military and intelligence files.

A clearer stance

Church leaders had hinted that their position on the coup would be made public, days after 22 bishops met at the CEA’s headquarters in downtown Buenos Aires on March 14-15 to discuss the issue.

But the “fine print” of the statement remained a mystery, with the conservative La Nación daily suggesting a few days ago that the Church’s letter would call on Argentines to heal past wounds.

Somewhat surprisingly, the statement released yesterday lunchtime openly condemned “state terrorism” (which the Church said led to “torture, murder and the … kidnapping of children”) and contained no visible traces of the so-called “Two-Demons theory” that equated the victims of attacks by left-wing armed groups with the victims of state terrorism.

Church leaders said yesterday the country’s wounds will only be healed “through a path of truth, repentance and justice” — a nod at human rights trials that were restarted under the administration of former president Néstor Kirchner.

Last year, human rights groups publicly voiced their concerns about the Catholic Church’s stance of supporting trials against repressors, after Bishop Emeritus of San Isidro Jorge Casaretto said during a discussion panel that “reconciliation” had to be a political goal in the near future.

Back then, head of the Argentine Synod, José María Arancedo, told rights leaders that the Church did not endorse the suspension of proceedings — a stance that was underlined firmly in yesterday’s statement.
The Vatican meanwhile announced that Pope Francis will meet with relatives of the disappeared after his regular Wednesday audience in St Peter’s Square this week.

Sources from the Holy See said Francis would host Genevieve Jeanningros, nephew of French nun Leonie Duquet, who disappeared in Buenos Aires in 1976, Marie-Noelle Erize Tisseau, the sister of Marie-Anne, disappeared in San Juan that same year and Víctor Caravajal, the brother of communist leader Alberto Caravajal, who was murdered in August, 1977.

The role of priests

On Saturday, the secretary-general of the CEA, Carlos Malfa, said that the Church’s archives related to dictatorship-era “will be declassified,” an announcement hailed by human rights leaders.

Malfa said sorting through the files could take some time, but stressed clear progress was being made with the powers that be at the Vatican.

As the Herald reported last week, rights groups want the Church to hand over internal files or individual records from priests and nuns, who may have been in touch with prisoners.

The Attorney General’s Unit for Cases of Child Appropriation has also requested that the Church hand over baptism certificates as investigators believe that those who stole babies sometimes took on roles as godparents.

According to the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), nine priests currently face charges for having committed crimes against humanity. But probes have stalled — since the reopening of dictatorship-era trials in 2006, only two priests have been convicted.

The founder of CELS, the late Emilio Mignone, once accused Jorge Bergoglio — now better known as Pope Francis — of being linked to the kidnapping of two priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, during the dictatorship.

“The possible cooperation of Bergoglio and other leaders of the Catholic Church might never be cleared before the courts. The election of Bergoglio as pope in 2013 placed a heavy tombstone on these investigations,” the CELS wrote in 2015.

The allegations have never been confirmed.

Buenos Aires Herald staff









By Nick Miroff
20 March 2016

BUENOS AIRES – The fictional world of the late Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges was a place of bookshelves that stretched to infinity, dreams within dreams and detective stories that led in circles.

Argentina for the past 14 months has been lost in a real-life labyrinth worthy of a Borges fable – ever since prosecutor Alberto Nisman was discovered dead in a pool of blood on his bathroom floor.

The body of Nisman, 51, was found the day before the prosecutor was expected to publicly accuse then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of making a secret pact with Iran to gloss over Tehran’s possible role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. It was South America’s worst terrorist attack.

Investigators initially ruled Nisman’s death a suicide. Argentines took to the streets in protest.

As President Obama arrives in Buenos Aires on Tuesday for the first state visit by a U.S. president in 19 years, the unsolved mystery of Nisman’s death continues to hang over the country, casting a shadow far beyond Argentina’s borders.

“Everyone knows it was a homicide,” said Jorge Asís, a columnist and retired diplomat, “but no one can prove it.”

Nisman’s family and supporters have been pressing for a formal homicide investigation, and on Friday a federal tribunal in Buenos Aires heard new arguments seeking to elevate the case to a high-level homicide probe. The three-judge panel could accept those arguments or leave the case with lower courts, upholding the version of events that points to a suicide. A ruling is expected in the coming days.

The judge previously overseeing the case referred it to Argentina’s highest court after Antonio Stiuso, the country’s shadowy former intelligence chief, made a dramatic return from self-imposed exile in the United States last month and testified that Nisman had been killed by a “group of people” with ties to former president Fernández de Kirchner. Stiuso, who worked closely with Nisman, offered no evidence for the claim, according to attorneys who have seen his sealed testimony.

New Argentine President Mauricio Macri, a centrist whose election in November ended 12 years of governance by Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband, Néstor Kirchner, has promised Argentines a thorough, impartial investigation to clear up once and for all how and why Nisman died. But the circumstances of the death are so murky that few here think the country will ever know what happened.

Nisman had spent more than a decade investigating the 1994 bomb attack that killed 85 people at the Argentine-Israeli community center known by the acronym AMIA.

Argentina initially blamed Hezbollah agents and Iran for the attack, and in 2004 Nisman was assigned to the case by then-President Néstor Kirchner, who said the previous investigation had been botched. Interpol Red Notice arrest warrants were issued for several top Iranian officials, essentially barring them from leaving their country, and Kirchner denounced Tehran at the United Nations and other international forums.

In 2007, Kirchner was succeeded by his wife, Cristina, just as relations with Iran were beginning to improve. She drew Argentina close to then-President Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, which had friendly ties with Iran. Another close ally of Iran’s, Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad, visited Buenos Aires for talks with the president in 2010.

It was then that Kirchner agreed to reset relations with Iran, a major market for Argentine grain. Nisman later alleged that her government had begun maneuvering to have the Interpol warrants lifted as part of an agreement she signed with Tehran in 2013 to form a “truth commission” to investigate the bombing.

Nisman objected to the accord, and his relationship with Fernández de Kirchner frayed.

On Jan. 19, 2015, Nisman was preparing to go before Argentina’s Congress to denounce Fernández de Kirchner in a report accusing her government of colluding with Iran to bury the investigation into the bombing.

According to the official version of events, Nisman that weekend dismissed the government security team assigned to protect him, then summoned his aide Diego Lagomarsino and asked to borrow a gun. Lagomarsino said he returned with the weapon to Nisman’s apartment in an upscale Buenos Aires district, then left.

Nisman subsequently died from a bullet to the head that had been fired from Lagomarsino’s .22-caliber Bersa pistol.

There was no sign of forced entry. No suicide note. Investigators swarmed the apartment, contaminating the crime scene, according to Nisman family attorneys. Nisman’s computer and cellphone appeared to have been altered.

Fernández de Kirchner initially called the death a suicide, then backed away from the claim. A month later, 400,000 protesters marched in silence through the rainy streets of Buenos Aires.

It was not until last month that a government prosecutor, Ricardo Sà¡enz, made the first official recommendation that Nisman’s death be investigated as a homicide.

The critical piece of evidence for Sáenz: Nisman had no gunshot residue on either hand. In addition, he had displayed no signs of depression. On the contrary, friends and relatives say, he had seemed eager and determined to deliver his report to Congress.

“As far as I’m concerned, he was murdered,” Sáenz said in an interview.

Sà¡enz, who has clashed publicly with Fernández de Kirchner in the past, said: “I won’t rule out that the former president will be called to testify.”

“She said it was a suicide, then later it was a homicide, so she should be asked what information she had,” he said. “I think she should be called to clarify what she knows.”

Supporters of Fernández de Kirchner accept that Nisman might have been murdered, but they suggest his killing could have been part of a scheme to frame Fernández de Kirchner.

Suspicion also falls on Lagomarsino, the aide hired by Nisman to help with his computer needs and whose fingerprints were strangely absent from the gun he said he lent to Nisman. Lagomarsino was the last person known to have seen the prosecutor alive, and his attorneys have fought the Nisman family’s attempt to elevate the case to a federal murder investigation.

In a bizarre twist, Lagomarsino is under investigation in a separate probe along with Nisman’s mother and sister, whose names appear on a U.S. bank account of Nisman’s that contains more than $666,000. Nisman failed to report the account, which is illegal for a prosecutor, and investigators say he also used his mother’s name to hide his ownership of three investment properties in Uruguay.

Stashing money and investments outside Argentina is nothing exceptional for someone with Nisman’s profile, prosecutors say. But tracing the payments in those accounts may be one of few ways to map out Nisman’s web of relationships and obtain new clues as to who might have wanted him dead.

By Lesley Stahl
Mar 20, 2016

The following script is from “Presidente Macri” which aired on March 20, 2016. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Shari Finkelstein and Nieves Zuberbühler, producers.

In a matter of months, Argentine President Mauricio Macri has made a U-turn in his country’s foreign policy, seeking closer ties with the West

There’s a lot in the news about a wealthy businessman-turned-presidential candidate with a five-letter last name. But the one we’re going to tell you about tonight already won his election and his last name isn’t Trump; it’s Macri.

He is the new president of Argentina, a surprise, come-from-behind victor who has the eyes of the region and the world on him as he tries to pull his country — the second largest in Latin America — out of a morass of debt, inflation, and international isolation. This week, President Obama will be the first U.S. president in more than a decade to visit Argentina, a sign that the U.S. government has high hopes for Mauricio Macri and his promises to turn his country around.

We met Mauricio Macri just two months into his presidency in Argentina’s version of the White House, a pink house, called the Casa Rosada. He took over a country that had been ruled for eight years by a left-wing populist named Cristina Kirchner who allied Argentina with anti-American regimes like Iran, Venezuela and Cuba.

Lesley Stahl: Here Argentina has been in this almost a bloc that takes in almost all of South America.

Mauricio Macri: That was–

Lesley Stahl: Left-leaning.

Mauricio Macri: Not anymore. That was, and not anymore.

Not anymore because he made a U-turn in his country’s foreign policy. In a flash, Argentina has become pro-American. Macri and Vice President Biden were all smiles at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, where Macri went seeking closer ties with the West and foreign investment. He brought one of the men he defeated in the election with him, which impressed the vice president.

Biden: I want the American press to observe something. The new president brought along the leader of the opposition with him. That’s what we got to do at home.

Mauricio Macri: I really believe in 21st century demands that we have to be open, and not putting any more ideological differences in front of the best solutions.

He’s a pragmatist. Trained as an engineer, Macri started off an outsider in Argentine politics. He is the son of one of the wealthiest men in the country, and worked at first in the family real estate and construction business, once making a deal with that other scion of a real estate empire.

Lesley Stahl: I heard that you actually have a relationship with Donald Trump.

Mauricio Macri: It’s a long story, long away.

It was more than 30 years ago. Macri told us his father had invested in a real estate venture in New York City but ran into problems and asked him to arrange a sale to Donald Trump.

Mauricio Macri: It was a very unique moment for me because I was only 24 years old.

Lesley Stahl: You negotiated with the guy who says he’s the best negotiator in the world?

Mauricio Macri: He thinks that, yeah. I don’t– I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure.

Lesley Stahl: Did he win?

Mauricio Macri: We were in a very weak position. Because the– he was local. Having the support of all the banks. But I could say that we tied.

Now, at 57, he’s happily married to fashion designer Juliana Awada. Watching them play with their four-year-old daughter Antonia, you can’t help but think of the Kennedys and Camelot — and the comparison has been made in Argentina.

When Macri ran for president, no one thought he would win, partly because of his image as a wealthy businessman unable to connect with the people. But that image was softened by campaigning with his wife and young daughter at his side and by their openness about their relationship.

Juliana Awada: I never imagined I was going to end– with him. And when I have the opportunity to met him, I fall completely in love.

That was seven years ago. He’d already been married twice and had older children — as did she.

Mauricio Macri: I call my best friend. I told him, “I’m going to marry again.” “No, come on, you can’t do it. You have just finish a relation two months ago.” “No, this is the lady of my life. I want to be with her for the rest of my life, and I’m sure that this is the correct decision.”

At their wedding the following year, Macri revealed a hidden talent.

Mauricio Macri: I’m a great singer.

Juliana Awada: Ah.

Lesley Stahl: You’re a great singer?

He set out to prove it at their wedding party. He dressed up as his favorite rock star, Freddie Mercury of the band Queen — complete with a fake mustache, and started serenading Juliana. It almost killed him.

Mauricio Macri: And in the moment I was breathing to sing the up part of “Somebody to Love,” I swallow my moustache.

Lesley Stahl: You swallowed the moustache–

He started choking on the Freddie Mercury moustache.

Mauricio Macri: It end up here. It didn’t go– it didn’t go down. So, I spend like–

Juliana Awada: Twenty minutes.

Mauricio Macri: Twenty minutes.

Juliana Awada: Half an hour.

Mauricio Macri: Thinking that I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe. Now is funny, but it was a horrible moment, yeah.

Lesley Stahl: You’ve had a couple of brushes with death, actually.

Mauricio Macri: No, no. This was quite funny. The other one wasn’t so funny.

Lesley Stahl: No.

The other one happened when he was 32. He was grabbed off the street – and kidnapped.

Lesley Stahl: Is it true when they kidnapped you, they put you in a coffin?

Mauricio Macri: Yes. To take me to the place. And then in another little bit bigger coffin. It was a box.

He was held for 14 days.

Lesley Stahl: Did you think you’d never live through that?

Mauricio Macri: You keep thinking all the– all day because you are trapped there with nothing to do, so you think I’m going to die, I’m not going to die because in many cases that group of kidnappers killed the victims.

But he was released, after his father paid a $6 million ransom. The incident changed the trajectory of Macri’s life, dramatically. It persuaded him to leave his father’s business and set out on his own. First he became president of one of Argentina’s most popular soccer teams, Boca Juniors. He then tried his hand at politics. He created his own third party and eventually ran for mayor of Buenos Aires. On his second attempt, he won. That’s when a whole new Macri emerged.

Dancing has become a Macri trademark.

Lesley Stahl: You’re known for this.

Mauricio Macri: You know, dancing is like it’s another way of communicating, no?

Lesley Stahl: You know, I’ve heard it said, no offense, dad dancing.

Mauricio Macri: Dad dancing?

Lesley Stahl: Older man dancing–

Mauricio Macri: No, no, no, no.

Lesley Stahl: I’ve heard that.

Mauricio Macri: No, no. You have to watch it. You have to watch my performance. Because is advanced dancing. There are so innovating steps. I dream them. First I dream them and then I perform them.

Macri got to live out two dreams in December when he danced on the balcony of the presidential palace at his inauguration — after a close, hard-fought election that left the country bitterly divided. Even the transition was contentious. Breaking tradition, the outgoing president Cristina Kirchner refused to attend the swearing in.

Kirchner had been a charismatic leader, in the style of the popular Eva Peron, who shared the spotlight with her husband, President Juan Peron, in the 1940s, and whose legend went all the way to Broadway.

“Don’t cry for me Argentina”

The Peronist Party has dominated Argentine politics on and off for the last 70 years. Kirchner was a Peronist, whose populist economic policies: generous subsidies on things like electricity, high taxes on agricultural exports, burdensome regulations, a bloated bureaucracy, and currency controls, all in combination, crippled the Argentine economy.

Alfonso Prat-Gay: She left an economy that’s not been growing for four years now, a stagnant economy.

Alfonso Prat-Gay is President Macri’s minister of finance.

Alfonso Prat-Gay: High inflation. Eight years in a row of more than 25 percent inflation. A significant fiscal deficit. The Central Bank was running out of reserves.

Lesley Stahl: This is what you walked into.

Alfonso Prat-Gay: Absolutely.

And making matters worse, the Government Bureau of Statistics, called INDEC, had been minimizing the problems.

Alfonso Prat-Gay: The National Statistics Institute was an institute that was basically lying to us and to the rest of the world.

Mauricio Macri: They were issuing wrong numbers.

Lesley Stahl: Fake numbers?

Mauricio Macri: Fake–

Lesley Stahl: Phony numbers, just made up statistics?

Mauricio Macri: Exactly. What the president wanted.

Lesley Stahl: And it wasn’t real–

Mauricio Macri: And that’s not the way. That’s not the way.

Lesley Stahl: No.

Mauricio Macri: If you have a problem, you have to recognize it, and solve it.

That’s my commitment, no?

Lesley Stahl: So do you even know what the inflation rate is? Do you even know what the budget deficit is?

Mauricio Macri: We are building up the real numbers.

Even without those precise numbers, he and his team plunged into action, undoing Kirchner’s legacy. What has heads spinning here is the speed with which they have changed course 180 degrees in just a matter of weeks.

Lesley Stahl: You have cut export taxes dramatically, you’ve let your currency float, you’ve cut electrical subsidies.

Mauricio Macri: Yes

Lesley Stahl: Fired thousands of government workers. You have done so many dramatic, big things.

Mauricio Macri: Well, but we need it. We need it because we need to put our country back to growth. We were trapped with so many rules, that we couldn’t move.

But he raised eyebrows, by making the changes while the Peronist-dominated Congress was in their summer recess.

Lesley Stahl: Most if not all of the things you’ve done, dramatic, big, you did by presidential decree. Congress is on recess. You didn’t negotiate with them. You didn’t consult with them.

Mauricio Macri: I’m using the constitution. I will always respect my constitution, it’s a very good one.

Lesley Stahl: But you criticized Cristina Kirchner for doing that. You said she didn’t go through the democratic process.

Mauricio Macri: Lesley, I only criticized her when she did it going over the constitution.

Lesley Stahl: You say that, but you’ve been highly criticized, just making all these decrees.

Mauricio Macri: Well, you know– at a certain level always the opposition has to criticize something. Let them.

Macri has worked hard at winning over as many in the opposition as possible. He met early on with the two men he ran against as well as all the nation’s governors, and since Congress has come back, he’s shown his political skill by convincing a whole bloc of Peronist legislators to work with him.

Mauricio Macri: I have received all of them, and say, “Well, I’m ready to work. Do you agree that we need to work towards zero poverty? We have to defeat drug trafficking. We have to improve the quality of our democracy.” Well, yes. Well, let’s find in which specific projects we can do it. And we found– we found, and we are finding that there are ways in which we can cooperate, even though in two years we are going to compete again in an election process. But in the meantime we will show our citizens that what they are demanding, is going on. That we work together.

What a concept — two sides looking for compromise. The public seems to like it — Macri’s approval ratings are over 60 percent, but it’s early. Trade unions are threatening strikes, and the only other non-Peronist presidents in over 30 years were both forced out of office before the end of their first terms.

Lesley Stahl: What’s the pressure like on you at this moment? You’re doing so much so quickly.

Mauricio Macri: That we have to do more. That’s the pressure. We are in a very bad starting point, but let me tell you, I’m here running the country because I believe in my people. I have the luck to choose what to do in my life. And I have chosen this because I believe that everybody can do much better than what they are doing now. So I’m trying to do my best. Trying to do my best.

After we interviewed him, another big development. President Macri has settled a multibillion dollar battle with New York hedge funds that will allow Argentina, after 15 years, to once again raise financing overseas and help attract foreign investment.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

A representative for Argentina’s Catholic bishops says church authorities are working to declassify their archives from the time of the country’s 1976-83 military dictatorship.

Episcopal Conference Secretary-General Carlos Malfa tells the official Telam news agency that the date of the release isn’t set.

Many senior clerics were close to the rulers at the time while some radical priests were persecuted and killed by them. Pope Francis was then head of the country’s Jesuits. He’s been criticized for not speaking out publicly, but credited with saving the lives of some victims.

Three people who were disappeared by the regime are scheduled to meet Francis on Wednesday, a day before the 40th anniversary of the military coup.

The U.S. also announced plans to declassify documents. President Barack Obama visits Argentina this week.

19 March 2016

(Reuters) – Argentina settled with an additional 115 individual creditors holding defaulted sovereign bonds for $155 million, Daniel Pollack, the court-appointed mediator in the long-running case, said on Friday.

Pollack’s announcement brings the total amount of settlements agreed in principle with U.S. creditors for more than the original $6.5 billion pot of money committed to end the dispute. The most recent settlement also moves Latin America’s No. 3 economy closer to ending a festering 14-year legal battle over its historic default.

“The parties anticipate that most of these bondholders, all of whom have both money judgments and injunctions, will opt to receive 70 percent of their claims rather than 150 percent of the principal of their bonds, both of which are options available to them,” under the terms offered by the government on Feb. 5, Pollack said.

Since the election of President Mauricio Macri in November, Argentina has moved swiftly to settle the debt dispute, mainly with U.S.-based hedge funds that sued in federal court for full payment on sovereign bonds defaulted upon in early 2002.

On Feb. 2, it reached a $1.35 billion agreement to settle with a group of Italian investors who held defaulted bonds.

On Feb. 5, it committed to spending $6.5 billion in order to settle more than $9 billion worth of claims in the U.S. courts before U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa. So far it has agreements from more than 85 percent of remaining holdouts.

It reached agreement in principle with four major U.S. holdout creditors on Feb. 29 for $4.65 billion. They have until April 14 to deliver the cash.

“As with all such settlements, these are subject to the lifting of the Lock Law and the Sovereign Payment Law by the Argentine Congress and the lifting of the Injunctions by Judge (Thomas) Griesa,” Pollack said.

Griesa’s 2012 ruling barred Argentina from paying creditors who settled previously in 2005 and 2010 for less than 30 cents on the dollar without also making a court-awarded payment to the holdout creditors.

The injunctions were removed by Griesa on March 2. The issue is now being heard before the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

“This group of 115 individual bondholders had appealed the vacating of the Injunctions by Judge Griesa, but have now withdrawn their appeals with prejudice,” Pollack said.

On March 16, Argentina’s lower house of Congress supported Macri’s legislative efforts, voting 165 to 86 in favor of removing those legal impediments.

The dispute shut Argentina shut out of the international capital markets.

Legislators loyal to former leftist president Cristina Fernandez, a Peronist who refused to negotiate with the bondholders, argued Macri was selling out to Wall Street investors by offering repayment terms of 70-75 cents on the dollar.

Argentina plans to sell three bonds for a total of $11.68 billion in mid-April in order to pay the creditors in cash.

By Daniel Burke CNN Religion Editor
18 March 2016

(CNN) — President Barack Obama plans to visit Argentina, the homeland of Pope Francis, next week in his first presidential trip to the Latin American nation.

Obama’s visit will coincide with the 40th anniversary of Argentina’s military coup, which began a period of political strife and violent government oppression known as the “Dirty War.” Alongside the Argentine people, Obama is expected to honor the war’s many victims on March 24.

The Rev. Gustavo Morello is a sociologist and Jesuit priest who spent years digging into the Catholic Church’s role in the Dirty War. When the junta seized power in 1976, it began a systematic campaign to wipe out suspected dissidents, and thousands of people were kidnapped and “disappeared.”

Morello’s book, “The Catholic Church and Argentina’s Dirty War,” examines the context of the disappearances. In particular, he investigated the kidnapping of five seminarians and an American priest in 1976.

Morello spoke with CNN about what made him want to explore this dark chapter in his native Argentina’s history, and whether his research tells us anything about the country’s most famous Catholic, Pope Francis.

Q: What is your book about?

It’s about an American priest and five South American Catholic seminarians, all of them of the Congregation of Our Lady of La Salette, who were kidnapped in Argentina in 1976. That case is like a tree; from it I went to explore the forest.

I explored the increasing political violence in my country at the time, the dictatorship, the “disappeared,” and the struggles of those who were trying to save them.

The story of the kidnapping is very amazing, almost movie-like. The seminarians left the house in the afternoon to attend classes, but agreed to come back immediately after because Sister Joan McCarthy, an American nun, was visiting them. They planned to have dinner together.

While the Rev. James Weeks was taking a nap and Joan was knitting in front of the fireplace, a mob from Cordoba police department broke into the house. A long nightmare began that evening, a nightmare that to some extent is ending now, as the people responsible for the kidnapping are in finally in court for human rights violations.

The priests were “disappeared” for a couple of days, but since Weeks was American and his family knew Ted Kennedy and the Rev. Bob Drinan, a Massachusetts congressman at the time, State Department got involved. Weeks was expelled from the country after a week and started a campaign to release the South American seminarians.

While Weeks and McCarthy were demonstrating in front of the Argentinean Embassy in D.C., the seminarians were sent to a concentration camp and tortured, by other fellow Catholics. The discussion at the torture chamber was about what “true” Catholicism was. It was bizarre.

Q: Sounds bizarre indeed. Of all the kidnappings that occurred during the Dirty War, what made you want to investigate this one?

I was interested in the relations of religion and violence. I have done research about the Montoneros, a guerrilla army in Argentina’s 1970s, and the links of that organization with the Catholic faith.

I wanted to know about the Catholic Church and its behavior during the dictatorship. It is still a very discussed issue in my country. And I was intrigued by the fact that many good, honest people did nothing when the government was kidnapping and killing innocent people. Why didn’t any alarm sound? Why weren’t there, from the religious leaders, any red lights? Was it just complicity, agreement with the government?

Q: How complicit was the Catholic Church in the Dirty War?

Religious people don’t live in a vacuum, but in interaction with politicians, students, workers, military. I wanted to place Catholics in that context. I realized that state terrorism, and the persecution against certain types of Catholics, started before the military dictatorship, under a democratic government.

When I was attending a conference, I actually found one of the seminarians and we started to talk. My conversation with Alejandro Dausá snowballed to other people, and I realized that I wanted to focus on the people, the regular guys, and not in the church’s official documents, though I used them a lot.

I discovered that Catholic people reacted in different ways facing violence. Some viewed secularization as a threat to the world they loved, and therefore supported state terrorism. There were others who saw in the transformation an opportunity to craft the world in the way they wished, and they were mostly the victims of state terrorism.

And there was a third group, who acknowledged the transformations brought about by modernity, but were afraid of social violence, and wanted to preserve a good relation with the authorities.

Q: Whatever happened to the seminarians?

The Rev. Weeks and Sister Joan passed away last year. James was living in in a nursing home in Connecticut. Joan was in La Rioja, northwestern Argentina, helping a rural community there.

I was able to find three of the seminarians. One of them is a priest in Argentina, another was ordained as a priest but left the ministry and helps communities in Bolivia, and another one left the congregation, got married and had children.

The case was brought to court, and is under trial now, after almost 40 years. Last May when I visited my family in Argentina, I was called as a “contextual witness,” so I went to court and gave my declaration. I talked about the research I’ve done, so it was a good way to make use of my studies. My work is not just for other colleagues, but it also may help other people to understand what happened and also to get justice.

Q: A lot of people will want to know if your research tells us anything new about Pope Francis, who was the Jesuit leader (superior) in Argentina during the Dirty War.

The book is not about the Pope, but two months before the La Salette seminarians were kidnapped in Cordoba, two Jesuits were kidnapped in Buenos Aires.

In those years the pope, then known as the Rev. Jorge Bergoglio, was the superior of Argentine Jesuits. I didn’t focus my research the Jesuits, but since I explore the historical and political situation of Argentina and the Catholics in those years, I think my book provides a good understanding of what was going on. I explore the context where the pope comes from, and I do think that context matters when we try to understand a person.

I show the complexity of the historical situation and the different forces any religious superior had to navigate to be faithful to the people and at the same time protect their priests, a situation where people were hurt and now need to be healed, even 40 years later.

By Susan Segal
18 March 2016

(CNN) — President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba and Argentina next week will be rich in both substance and symbolism.

Early in his first term, President Obama said he was determined to open a new chapter of engagement between Latin America and the United States, one based on mutual respect and shared values. By abandoning the policies that for decades were the hallmark of U.S.-Latin America relations, the Obama administration has therefore succeeded in building stronger and more productive ties between the United States and its southern neighbors.

This is the right approach for a region that, despite some notable exceptions, has over the past 30 years overwhelmingly embraced democratic institutions, held regularly scheduled elections, and, more often than not, respected political alternation.

Of course, Latin America was hardly at the top of President Obama’s foreign policy priorities when he came to office, given challenges facing the global economy and the growth of extremism across the Islamic world, among other issues requiring his immediate attention. Still, the administration can chalk up a list of important achievements across the region, from the historic opening of relations with Cuba, to trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, to continued security support for Colombia, which contributed to a major peace breakthrough with left-wing guerrillas.

Meanwhile, despite the current inflammatory political rhetoric, commercial ties between the United States and Mexico are at an all-time high, with trade between the two countries reaching $1.46 billion per day.

The region has also benefited from Obama’s critically important decision to designate Vice President Joe Biden as his point person on Latin America. Using both his natural charm and his deep knowledge of a region he has visited 14 times over the past seven years, Biden has successfully bridged a gap in relations with Brazil and persuaded the U.S. Congress to approve crucial aid for Central America.

True, it has not all been a succession of victories and achievements. U.S. relations with several Latin American governments remain testy, and the administration has maintained a war of words with Venezuela over the need for greater democratic pluralism in that country. However, President Obama has understood that the region is not a monolithic block, that in every country democratic institutions will evolve at their own pace, and that the role of the United States is to support and encourage rather than dictate and interfere.

This is underscored most clearly in the fact that Barack Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in almost 90 years. His policy toward the island is, without a doubt, his boldest hemispheric initiative, as it chips away at a more than half-century-old embargo policy that has hurt ordinary Cubans, put U.S. commercial interests at a disadvantage compared to those of other countries, and poisoned the U.S. relationship with the rest of the continent.

Critics of the rapprochement cite Cuba’s human rights record, and they are right to do so — it is a topic of considerable concern. But we are in a better position to have a real impact if the United States establishes a more fluid rapport with Havana. The truth is that the embargo has ultimately failed to persuade the Cuban authorities to allow a more open and democratic society. It is time to try a different approach.

President Obama’s decision to visit Argentina just over 100 days into President Mauricio Macri’s term, meanwhile, is also very significant. The trip, which is the first visit by a U.S. president since 2005, clearly recognizes the newly elected President’s determination to reinsert Argentina into the global economy, as well as his willingness to build a mutually beneficial relationship with the United States. In Buenos Aires, there will be an opportunity for both leaders to engage in a substantive dialogue about the future of the region, as well as expand on an extensive bilateral agenda that includes trade, investment, education, renewable energy and climate change, citizen security, and drug policy. Most importantly, the trip recognizes Argentina’s new direction under President Macri’s leadership and the unique opportunity it represents for both the people of Argentina and the hemisphere.

With just over nine months before he hands the reins over to a successor, President Obama continues to implement his strong vision for the region, anchored in building new relationships and renewing old ones as well as creating partnerships across countries linked not just by geography but by shared history, interests, and values. This is the right path for increased and long-lasting prosperity for all.

Governors will leverage their congressional influence to gain significant concessions, probably including a new revenue-sharing regime, given the urgency of the issue. However, they are aware that Macri will have little to offer them if the deal fails, making eventual passage likely.

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