It was on a Saturday afternoon in April 1978 when I was locked up in a police cell in Buenos Aires for forgetting my ID at home. The other mistake I made was to accidentally point my camera at the US consul’s home. When I reached the corner, two undercover policemen ran from behind and stopped me pointing guns and yelling at the top of their voices.
One of the matters I thought of inside the cold and humid cell was President Jimmy Carter’s human rights foreign policy that had raised a lot of controversy in the region. At least it made a lot of sense to me locked up in a cell without the right to counsel and due process of law.
I was released in the evening. The police took mug shots and and a record of my fingerprints.
One of them warned: “If anything happens to the US consul, it’s your fault.”
That’s how a citizen of a country gets treated when an autocratic regime is in power and has no respect for human rights. I was lucky, though. Over 30,000 people vanished under similar circumstances during Argentina’s dirty war (1976-83).
Even if former and present US presidents cared less about human rights in Latin America and elsewhere, the 39th president did. Carter’s human rights policy sent an important message to despotic military regime’s that Washington wasn’t going to give carte blanche to de facto governments to murder and torture.
At a human rights conference in Dublin, Carter blasted President George W. Bush’s, Israel’s and the European Union’s decision as a mistake to reopen aid to Mahmoud Abbas’ West Bank while denying the same to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
He considered Bush’s decision not to accept Hammas’ 2006 election victory as “criminal.”
While Hammas’ refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel is a mistake, it was a grave error by Washington not to recognize Hammas after it had won fair and democratic elections.
Washington’s refusal to recognize the radical Palestinian group sends the wrong message to other groups that believe violence is a more effective method for political change than the ballot box.
But possibly what’s behind the US’ mistaken Middle East policy in Palestine is intentional. Israel and Bush, who are obsessed with terrorism, care less for the Palestinians and the best way to rule that troubled region is by dividing and creating mayhem.