Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone
were prominent Argentine generals when they helped
launch and lead a military coup in March 1976. After
overthrowing the presidency of Isabel Peron they began
to repress the Montoneros guerrillas, and the Revolutionary
Army of the Poor (ERP). Rule by the generals ushered
in one of the bleakest periods in the countrys
history. State terror, torture, murder, disappearances
and anti-Semitism, all became the hallmarks of military
rule. Unmarked cars cruised city streets offering
a no-return taxi service to the River Plate, the only
stops along the way being one or more of the three
hundred torture centres dotted throughout the country.
When children failed to return having been last seen
in the company of the military, their mothers took
to the streets every Thursday. Soon, some of these
pioneering mothers shared the fate of their children
as the military cracked down on every public utterance
was a world in which God too had turned his back.
When Lieutenant Laborda, as a twenty three year old
military officer, told a priest of his involvement
in killings, there were no words of reproach, no advice
to desist, merely an assurance that he would be rewarded
for destroying the enemies of Christ.
one part of a Navy establishment the 1978 Argentinean
world cup football team led by Daniel Passarella were
preparing to become national heroes to the accolades
of an adulating media. In another, hidden from public
gaze kidnapped victims were expiring from the effects
of prolonged electric shock torture. In the media
world few apart from Jacobo Timerman were courageous
enough to raise the issue. By the time Argentina had
defeated Holland to become world champions, Timerman
too had been silenced; imprisoned and his paper La
Opinion, closed down. It had committed a capital sin.
In his words, it used precise language to describe
actual situations so that its articles were comprehensible
and direct. Power crazed totalitarians simply
fear plain speaking.
childless rich stood to gain considerably from the
repression. While Timerman was battling bravely against
the odds, Ernestina Herrera de Noble, who before her
2002 arrest for child theft owned Clarin, Argentinas
biggest selling daily paper, was claiming that her
first adopted child landed on her doorstep
in 1976, to be followed by her second adopted
child in 1978. If lightning found difficulty striking
twice in the same place, the abducted children of
the disappeared seemed to manage it quite easily.
For some in the newspaper world truth seems not to
strike at all.
the children of many Argentinean citizens found their
way as coveted trophies into the homes of the rich and senior army officers their parents ended up drugged and drowned in the
River Plate. Pregnant women were detained until ready
for caesarean section. When Ronald Reagans majestic
general, Leopoldo Galtieri died last year Laura
Bonaparte, one of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo,
a human rights group formed during the dictatorship
years, observed ruefully that he went without
telling us where they hid the bodies of our children.
Her husband, three sons, and three other relatives,
all disappeared. But even Galtieri failed to prevent
75 children of dirty war victims being identified
and reunited with their biological families.
voice of Jacobo Timerman, if not a solitary sound,
was certainly a minority one. Even after the military
junta collapsed there was still a pervasive reticence
to confront the issue. On the 28th anniversary of
the military coup President Kirchner asked for forgiveness
for the shame of a democracy which stayed silent on
these atrocities during the past twenty years.
Today in Argentina imposed silence has been deprived
of much of its potency. Voices seemingly rise in proportion
to the fall of the iconography of the military regime.
March Argentina's Defence Minister clambered up an
improvised ladder and removed portraits of Videla
and Bignone from the entrance hall of the military
training college in Buenos Aires. It was a sign that
Argentina far from erasing the past was casting serious
aspersions on its glorification. The week that the
portraits came down, President Nestor Kirchner opened
the Navy School of Mechanics to the public. He signed
a bill which transformed the one time murder site
and torture chamber into a 'museum of memory' dedicated
to the protection and promotion of human rights.
almost 100 military personnel languish in prison,
availing of conditions immeasurably better than those
they had custody over. Most of them have been detained
since Kirchner became president and promised to vigorously
prosecute those who engaged in human rights abuses.
This is so different from the stance taken by the
elected government of Carlos Menem who absurdly pardoned
the armed forces have displayed a certain willingness
to deal with the past, not all in its ranks approve.
When Navy chief Jorge Godoy apologised for the reign
of terror an admiral and several high-ranking officers
walked off in disgust, probably to nodding approval
from Henry Kissinger, a Jew who disgracefully supported
terror perpetrated by the most emphatic anti-Semitic
regime since Hitlers Germany.
with Kirchner putting it up to the military at home
and confronting the International Monetary Fund on
the international front, hopes are growing in Argentina
that the darkness is finally slipping into abeyance.
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