Tex Harris

Summary

Franklyn Allen "Tex" Harris (May 13, 1938 – February 23, 2020) was an American diplomat best known for his work as a political officer in the United States embassy to Argentina between 1977 and 1979, where he tracked the victims of "enforced disappearances" during the Dirty War of the Argentinian military dictatorship. Despite a lack of official support and even obstruction, his work proved consequential in exposing the junta's abuses and majorly influenced American foreign policy towards Argentina and human rights. He later served as consul to Melbourne, Australia and president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) before his retirement in 1999. He would later become a model of constructive dissent in the Foreign Service, being granted the Distinguished Honor Award by the State Department and getting an award for constructive dissent by AFSA named after him.

Tex Harris
Tex Harris and Thomas Allen 1997.jpg
Harris (left) as AFSA president in 1997
Consul General of the United States to Melbourne
In office
September 1997 – July 1999
PresidentBill Clinton
President of the American Foreign Service Association[1]
In office
July 15, 1993 – 1997
Personal details
Born
Franklyn Allen Harris

(1938-05-13)May 13, 1938
DiedFebruary 23, 2020(2020-02-23) (aged 81)
Height6 ft 7 in (201 cm)

Early and personal lifeEdit

Franklyn Allen Harris was born on May 13, 1938 in Glendale, California, and spend his childhood in Dallas, Texas. According to Harris, his father Murray (originally Shlimka Simselowitz) was a Russian Jew who fled from persecution there to Germany and later the United States. His surname was actually the result of a misunderstanding where Murray replied to a request for his name with "Herr S.", which was interpreted as "Harris". Additionally, Harris stated that his first name is spelled with a "y" (as opposed to "Franklin" with an "i") as the former was a "Republican" spelling while the latter was considered "Democratic".[2] He graduated with a B.A. from Princeton in 1960 and a law degree from the University of Texas in 1965, where he gained an interest in human rights after joining a group of law students advocating for civil rights.[3][4][5] The same year, he joined the State Department, and married Jeanie L. Roeder in 1966.[3]

ArgentinaEdit

Harris was assigned to Argentina in 1977 as the embassy's human rights officer in the midst of the "National Reorganization Process", the military dictatorship that ruled the country between 1976 and 1983. The United States originally supported the regime due to its perceived stability following the "chaotic" rule of Isabel Perón. However, Harris soon learned that the "Dirty War" of state terrorism and human rights abuses perpetuated by the government, ostensibly to fight violent extremists, actually targeted many civilians that were or were accused of being dissidents.[6][7][8] The atrocities included "forced disappearances" on a large scale, but as the intelligence sections of the embassy blamed the disappearances on "extremists" on both sides rather than the government, relatives of the missing were not allowed inside the embassy and there were only a few records collected.[9] Harris successfully campaigned for the families of the disappeared to be able to deliver testimony at the chancery itself.[8] He went to one of the demonstrations by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and handed out his contact info. At first, the Mothers didn't trust him, but eventually one came, leading to other family members of the disappeared coming as well.[10]

 
Cards used to record the victims of forced disappearances, with "D" marked in the top-right corner to signify "disappeared"

Eventually, many people would come to the embassy, with up to thirty to forty families coming per week. To assist him with collecting the data, Harris made his secretary Blanca Vollenweider, a Swiss-born Argentine librarian who had survived the Holocaust, as his assistant. They established a system where relatives would come in, Vollenweider would get their basic information such as their names, Harris would then talk to them in greater detail, and they would record all information on index cards.[9][11] The Argentinian government attempted to intimidate those who went in by using phone taps and filming everyone who went in and out of the embassy; nevertheless, Harris' records have been described as the most complete, with around 13,500 individual documents.[12][13] The reports had immediate effect; Patricia M. Derian, at the time the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, used the data Harris and Vollenweider collected to put pressure on officials in both Washington and Buenos Aires, ultimately leading to Congress passing a law prohibiting military aid and arms sales to the country until the human rights situation improved.[8] As his reports continued to be sent, he eventually started conflicting with other officers in the embassy as his demonstration of continuing human rights abuses was diplomatically inconvenient.[8]

Harris was transferred out of Argentina in 1979, to which elite officials in the junta allegedly raised toasts.[6]

Later life and legacyEdit

After his time in Argentina, Harris was reportedly denied advancement opportunities for several years in retaliation for his efforts there. In 1984, he was interviewed on television by Bill Moyers about his work. This broadcast would lead to him being bestowed with the William R. Rivkin Award by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) and a promotion.[6]

Through the 1970s and 1980s, Harris worked on task forces that studied the negative impacts of climate change and environmental issues on diplomacy.[6] He was stationed in South Africa during the country's transition from apartheid and led anti-HIV efforts as the deputy director of the Office of Southern African Affairs.[13] He would later work in Venezuela and Australia, and served as the Consul General of the United States to Melbourne before his retirement.[6] AFSA inaugurated the "F. Allen 'Tex' Harris Award for Constructive Dissent" in 2000 for Foreign Service Specialists to recognize them in the same way that Foreign Service Officers have been awarded for particularly constructive dissent since 1968.[13] He was also awarded the Order of the Liberator General San Martín in 2004 by then-president of Argentina Néstor Kirchner.[14]

Harris died on February 23, 2020 at the age of 81.[6] The Argentinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship expressed their regrets.[14]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "AFSA Presidents". afsa.org. Retrieved February 11, 2022.
  2. ^ Harris, F. Allen Tex (December 10, 1999). "Interview" (PDF). Foreign Affairs Oral History Project (Interview). Interviewed by Kennedy, Charles Stuart. Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. p. 1.
  3. ^ a b "Harris, Franklyn Allen [Tex]". www.tshaonline.org. Retrieved February 11, 2022.
  4. ^ "Larger Than Life: F. Allen "Tex" Harris, 1938-2020". afsa.org. Retrieved February 11, 2022.
  5. ^ "F. Allen Harris '60". Princeton Alumni Weekly. June 17, 2020. Retrieved February 11, 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "'Tex' Harris, U.S. diplomat who exposed human rights abuses in Argentina, dies at 81". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved February 11, 2022 – via www.washingtonpost.com.
  7. ^ Dube, Ryan (February 28, 2020). "'Tex' Harris, U.S. Envoy Who Exposed Argentina's 'Dirty War,' Dies". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved February 11, 2022 – via www.wsj.com.
  8. ^ a b c d Sikkink, Kathryn (2004). Mixed signals: U.S. human rights policy and Latin America. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. pp. 131–132. ISBN 978-1-5017-2990-4. OCLC 1036561127.
  9. ^ a b Guest, Iain (1990). Behind the Disappearances: Argentina's Dirty War Against Human Rights and the United Nations. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-8122-1313-3.
  10. ^ Walker, Vanessa (2020). Principles in power: Latin America and the politics of U.S. human rights diplomacy. Ithaca. ISBN 978-1-5017-5269-8. OCLC 1152354823.
  11. ^ Cox, David (2008). Dirty Secrets, Dirty War: Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1976-1983 : the Exile of Editor Robert J. Cox. EveningPostBooks. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-9818735-0-3.
  12. ^ Beard, David (2014). "Controversies Surrounding Argentina's Dirty War: An American Government Official Protested Strongly Against Alleged Human Rights Violations in Argentina". In Chalk, Frank; Hay, Jack (eds.). Argentina. Genocide & Persecution. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Greenhaven Press, Gale Cengage. pp. 104–105. ISBN 978-0-7377-7011-7. OCLC 880852952.
  13. ^ a b c Andersen, Martin Edwin (March 3, 2020). "Legacy of Late State Department Human Rights Champion Tex Harris Reverberates Today". Just Security. New York University School of Law. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  14. ^ a b "Buenos Aires Times - 'Tex' Harris, US diplomat who detailed dictatorship's crimes, dies at 81". www.batimes.com.ar. Retrieved April 11, 2022.