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In Argentina and Cuba, Obama tries to shed U.S. past

President Barack Obama and Argentinian President Mauricio

President Barack Obama and Argentinian President Mauricio Macri pay homage to Dirty War's victims at the "Parque de la Memoria" (Remembrance Park) in Buenos Aires on March 24, on the 40th anniversary of the 1976 military coup. Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Nicholas Kamm

President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba continued the process of moving past the Cold War, bridging the gap between neighbors whose estrangement had done little good for too long. But he faced a second reckoning with the deep effects of U.S. policy while visiting Argentina on the 40th anniversary of its so-called Dirty War.

The phrase does not capture the one-sided repression wreaked by the country’s authoritarian leaders. During the reign of the military junta from 1976-1983, tens of thousands of Argentineans were killed or “disappeared.” They were citizens abducted from homes or public spaces, tortured, some dropped from airplanes to their deaths at sea. Few of the country’s institutions, from the military to the church, escaped blame.

The American government, however, is implicated, too, in its tacit approval for the junta — documents declassified beginning in 2002 revealed that then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger insinuated agreement with the junta achieving a “stable situation.”

Of course, the United States did more than insinuate in the region. In a Cold War effort to combat Communism, the U.S. government armed strongmen across Latin America, from Guatemala to Panama to Chile.

Obama has promised to release further documents about U.S. involvement in the Dirty War era. This is one in a series of steps shedding the past, but also a reminder of the far-reaching foreign policy decisions taken in our name.

In a world in which Hillary Clinton namechecks Kissinger; where drones carry war effortlessly abroad; where Republican presidential candidates advance hardline positions in the fight against extremism, we do well to remember that decisions have consequences that future citizens will have to bear. — The editorial board