Published: Updated:

FBI documents and testimony by U.S. diplomatic staff, exposed in 1986, have implicated U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) in the 1976 Argentinean military coup. The coup deposed elected president Isabel Peron, placing in power an ultra-conservative military dictatorship. During the eight-year nightmare which followed, a reported 30,000 Argentineans fell victim to torture and murder at the hands of police, military, and death squads. Jesse Helms and his top staffers played a key role, promoting the coup through political support, encouragement, and by funding at least two tactical advisors during the conspiracy according to a report by a KRON-TV “Target 4 investigative unit. KRON’s documentation included an FBI memo which placed Helms in Buenos Aires with coup conspirators in 1975 and 1976.

Ramon Molina, a Cuban exile leader and soldier of fortune, said in a KRON interview that he participated personally in the conspiracy and stayed in the generals’ secret command bunker throughout the action. Molina’s expenses were covered by one of seven “foundations” which Helms’ legislative staff runs out of a townhouse on Capitol Hill. According to Molina, Helms urged top generals and admirals to move in and depose President Peron. By Molina’s account, Helms’ top aide James Lucier, rather than Helms himself, was at the 1976 meeting. This contradicts FBI documents which state that Helms was present in person. Helms had no comment on the 1975 trip but denies he made the 1976 one.

A second military advisor, Lt. Gen. (ret) Daniel Graham, also traveled to Argentina with a top Helms staffer to meet with the Argentine military. His visit occurred between his January 1976 retirement as chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the March 24 coup, as evidenced by KRON’s FBI documents; expenses were paid by the same “foundation” account which paid for Molina’s trip.

Additional confirmation of Helms’ complicity in the coup was provided to KRON by Frank Zambito, the U.S. Embassy’s political officer in Buenos Aires at the time. Zambito said “They (Helms, Molina, and Graham) were there to talk about why somebody in the United States thought it would be a good idea to have a coup.”.

Helms’ activities appear to have violated Constitutional principles which provide that only the President may represent the U.S. in foreign policy. His failure to report the two trips at the time also would violate disclosure laws which apply to members of Congress. To date, no action has been taken on the legality of Helms’ activities nor have the media widely publicized the involvement of a United States Senator in the fascist military conspiracy which ushered in an eight-year reign of terror in Argentina.


KRON-TV “TARGET 4,” 8/7 & 8/8 & 11/18/86, “HELMS AND THE COUP,” by Kevin McCullough, Washington correspondent, and Brian McTigue, “Target 4” investigator and producer.