Ireland and the Falklands War
The aftermath of Operation Condor. Washington, September 21, 1976
From Dublin Review of Books:
The morning of September 21st, 1976 was unusually dull. Rain had been forecast. I was in my office on the second floor of the Irish embassy, occasionally looking out on the tranquillity of Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Avenue, Washington. I was still in the process of taking up my new job as counsellor (political). Under the direction of our then foreign minister, Dr Garret FitzGerald, Sean Donlon, then assistant secretary in Iveagh House, and my ambassador, the late Jack Molloy, the wisest and most charming of diplomats, we were beginning to work with John Hume, Speaker Thomas P (“Tip”) O’Neill, Senators Edward Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to build a political engine which would help rebalance Anglo-Irish relations. The plan was to break through the historically exclusive and impermeable (to Dublin) leverage of London on the White House and the state department on all matters without exception concerning Northern Ireland. It was a busy and exhilarating time for a fortunate thirty-year-old official.
As I recall, it was late morning when I heard the report of an explosion immediately outside the embassy. In the early 1970s I had heard that sound more than once in Belfast while collecting directly from the victims and their families the abundant evidence of human rights abuses by the security forces against the minority population for the case of Ireland vs the United Kingdom in the European Commission for Human Rights in Strasbourg. Unmistakeably it was a car bomb. From my window I could see the shattered chassis of a car and some human remains and car parts on the street. My first thoughts were that this had been aimed at the Greek embassy directly across Massachusetts Avenue from us, possibly an echo of the “Colonels’’’ regime in that country, or possibly an atrocity connected with the Turkish embassy, which also fronted onto Sheridan Circle, or the Romanian mission round the corner. Within hours we learned that the victims had been Orlando Letelier, a former minister in the Allende government in Chile, and an associate Ronni Moffitt. A few weeks later it was confirmed that the attack had been carried out by US and Cuban-American agents of Operation Condor, a highly organised conspiracy of security agents of the then brutal military dictatorships of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay (today all ruled by democratic governments) which had been formed during the previous year.
In 1992, José Fernández, a judge in Asunción, Paraguay, visited a police station in Lambare, a suburb, and found an archive of Operation Condor which recorded in extraordinary detail its past activities in killing, kidnapping and torturing the citizens of its former constituent member countries: fifty thousand murders, thirty thousand “disappeared” and four hundred thousand incarcerations. The driving force behind Condor was the military junta in Buenos Aires and the largest single group of its victims were Argentinians or non-Argentinian victims of Argentina’s security agents, uniquely barbarous in their methods of torture. They had gained particular notoriety by throwing many dead, but sometimes live, tortured detainees from helicopters into the River Plate or the shark-infested Atlantic.
This was the junta, led by General Leopoldo Galtieri, that on April 2nd, 1982 invaded the Falkland Islands. His motive was classical: the regime had become deeply unpopular both because of its economic failures and the grinding poverty and inflation which afflicted the mass of the people, as well as through its own atrocious record of human rights abuses. The junta then successfully appealed to the patriotic instinct of the masses in reclaiming ‑ and “repossessing” by force ‑ national territory, as they saw it, “occupied” by the British since 1833. Patriotic euphoria ensued and obliterated for the moment the masses’ detestation of the military dictatorship. General Franco, among others, had used this ploy by raising the issue of Gibraltar when times were difficult in Spain; we Irish had experienced its occasional stirrings during the thirty-year efforts of the Provisional IRA to “take power in Ireland” by violence.
An example I have discussed with several officials who were directly involved was Mr Haughey’s decision to use Ireland’s membership of the UN security council to try to frustrate Britain during the Falklands War.