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Argentines want news from Albright on CIA files


BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -- Argentine human rights groups hope Wednesday's visit by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will spur Washington to declassify U.S. documents about Argentina's 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Albright invited representatives of human rights groups to meet at the U.S. embassy residence early on Wednesday during her one-day visit to Buenos Aires while on a five-country Latin American tour.

Among them will be the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, which tracks down the children believed stolen from pregnant women killed during the dictatorship. The activists believe the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has kept secret vital information.

Estela Carlotto of the Grandmothers told Reuters she went to Washington last October "to seek the declassification of files on the repression in Argentina."

Encouraged by the declassification of U.S. files on Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship in neighboring Chile last year, the Grandmothers want access to files from the CIA, which Carlotto said "had a clear role in the repression in the region."

Argentine human rights groups estimate that 30,000 people died or disappeared in the military's "Dirty War" against leftists, while official records list 15,000 victims.

"I'm hopeful because I heard (Albright) is especially interested in Argentine human rights and wants to end her time in office with an accomplished record," said Carlotto, one of Argentina's most respected rights campaigners.

Latin American human rights groups are critical of U.S. support for dictatorships like Pinochet's in the 1970s, which were then seen as the best way to combat leftism in the form of elected governments like Chile's Socialist President Salvador Allende, or armed guerrillas like Argentina's Montoneros.

But the anti-American feelings of the 1970s have given way to enthusiasm for imported U.S. consumer goods and culture. Diplomats like to point out that the fast-food chain McDonalds is now one of Argentina's biggest employers.

"The visit reaffirms the good relations between Argentina and the United States, not just for what's left of (President Bill) Clinton's presidency but also the image he wants to leave for posterity, underlining Middle East peace and human rights in Latin America," Carlos Raimundi, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in Argentina's Congress, told Reuters.

Albright will also pay homage on Thursday to the 86 people killed by a car bomb in 1994 at a Jewish cultural center, two years after a bomb killed 29 people at the Israeli embassy in the city.

Argentina's large Jewish community, Israel and the United States have blamed the Iranian-backed Moslem Hezbollah, but so far Argentine police have arrested only a gang of car thieves and police who supplied the van used in the bombing.

As the secretary of state's visit approached, former President Carlos Menem, a close U.S. ally when in power, also renewed his calls on another sensitive issue, urging Argentina to adopt the dollar as its currency.

Underlining Argentina's role as the firmest U.S. ally in Latin America, its peso currency has been pegged to the dollar since 1991 to stabilize the economy. Washington, however, has remained cautious about dollarization, which has long existed in Panama and is now being adopted by beleaguered Ecuador.

Dario Loperfido, spokesman for President Fernando de la Rua who receives Albright on Wednesday, rejected Menem's pro-dollarization remarks as "dangerous comments which do the country no good."

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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La Presidencia de la Nacion Argentina (Spanish)
Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Spanish)
Human Rights Watch, 1999 Report on Argentina
U.S. Department of State, 1999 Argentina Human Rights Report

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