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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Fallen Generals

The continuous weeping, the very odour of adrenaline that comes from those who can feel their end coming, their desperate cries begging us that if we were really Christians we would swear we weren't going to kill them, was the most pathetic, agonizing and saddest thing I ever felt in my life and I will never forget it
- Lieut Col Guillermo Bruno Laborda

Anthony McIntyre • 15 July 2004

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 country’s 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 of dissent.

It 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.’

In 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.

The 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, Argentina’s 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.

While 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 Reagan’s ‘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.

The 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.

In 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.

Now 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 military.

While 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 Hitler’s Germany.

Nevertheless, 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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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


Historians and economists {subsidized by governments} are very good at creating and perpetuating myths that justify increasing the power placed in the hands of government.
- Reuven Brenner

Index: Current Articles

15 July 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Helping the Brits
Geraldine Adams

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa
Dolours Price

Antebellum Antrim Town - still a cold house for Catholics and a fridge freezer for Irish Republicans
Sean Mac Aughey

Throughly Middleclassed Millie
Marc Kerr

Treating Opression and Depression
Sean Fleming

Wake up, Ireland!
Patrick Lismore

Response to US Designation

Fallen Generals
Anthony McIntyre

John Negroponte: Dorian Gray Goes to Iraq
Toni Solo

11 July 2004

Miscarriages of Justice
Martin Cunningham

Dolours Price

Yes, Let's Do
George Young

Interview with Bill Lowry:
Forbidden Fruit
Out from the Shadows
Political Policing
Anthony McIntyre


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