President Jimmy Carter once used a comic strip to joke that he wanted to be a “former president” when he grew up, noting that life in office can be stressful, while service afterward using the presidential platform can be extremely rewarding.
But the Nobel laureate, who has racked up honors for his humanitarian work through the Carter Center, last month was officially recognized once again for his strength of character while holding the reins of power.
Argentinian President Mauricio Macri in March moved to honor the former president with the Order of the Liberator San Martin, Grand Cross, the country’s highest honor, for his commitment to human rights.
In mid-November, Argentinian Secretary of Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism Claudio Avruj traveled to Atlanta to give Mr. Carter the medal during a decoration ceremony at the Carter Center.
It’s a fitting topic for Mr. Carter, who has been committed to the promotion of democracy and human rights for decades (often sparking controversy with his outspoken views on topics like Palestine and Israel or electoral politics in Venezuela.)
But the topic has a particular resonance for Argentina. Mr. Carter’s election year, 1976, coincided with the rise of a military dictatorship that presided over tens of thousands of “disappearances” of political opponents. These arbitrary detainments, conduct without any due process, often ended in the deaths of the accused.
In a news release, the Argentine foreign ministry said Mr. Carter’s administration put forth a policy framework that allowed State Department staff to stand against the actions of the right-wing junta that took over under the guise of national restoration.
The head of the political section of the U.S. embassy at the time, Allen “Tex” Harris, accepted the same award during the presidency of Nestor Kirchner. Mr. Harris told CNN in April the Carter human rights policy saved lives and helped accelerate the end of Jorge Rafael Videla’s dictatorship.
During an acceptance speech in Atlanta, Mr. Carter said he’d been to Argentina eight times and praised the country’s progress on human rights while outlining actions taken during his presidency, according to a release from the Argentina foreign ministry.
The award itself, though, has come with a bit of controversy. Originally slated to be bestowed during Mr. Macri’s visit to Washington in April, CNN en Espanol cited unnamed sources in reporting that U.S. President Donald Trump had nixed the ceremony. Scheduling conflicts during the brief visit were cited as the official reason for the change, but CNN said the request for came directly form the White House.
Martin Lousteau, the former ambassador interviewed by Global Atlanta earlier year, pushed for the decoration, according to a notice in the government’s official gazette.
A source that informed CNN of the scheduling change in April said Mr. Macri had agreed not to award Mr. Carter the decoration in Washington to “avoid conflicts” and focus on shared priorities.
That’s in line with what Mr. Lousteau told Global Atlanta during a visit to Georgia in January, when he said the two former businessmen (who have been seen as too cozy by some) had a close relationship that should help them get along smoothly. (Mr. Lousteau also delivered a critique of populism in that discussion — Read: Argentine Ambassador Foresees Little Conflict With Trump Administration)
Locally, the Carter award ceremony in mid-November was part of a broader “Argentina Week” of business and cultural activities, including the “Globalization Crossroads” event on Argentina’s tech industry sponsored by the Georgia State University CIBER.