desaparecidos (historical context)

by Pablo Fontdevila

From 1976 to 1982, the year I was born, Argentina suffered it’s last and most cruel dictatorship. A de facto military government led by successive Juntas (boards) integrated by the 3 armed forces proposed and called itself a Process of National Reorganization. Half way through a decade marked by heavy political fractures and intense armed left and right wing activism, the main premise was to establish the definite social stability and bring peace and order to a convulsed society. On the way, Argentina started embracing the recipes of Neo-liberal economic thought and with it, its conception of politics.

The dictatorship proved to be a very thoroughly thought plan in articulation with its contemporary dictatorships in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay (facilitated by the CIA and Operation Condor). The ultimate systematic fighting strategy against left wing (Marxist) subversion included a practice that, though clandestine, became emblematic: the so called (forced) Disappearance of people.

Following exercises realized actually before the coup d’etat, the military government implemented a system for kidnapping, torturing and killing the broadest range of political adversaries (both peaceful and armed activists). The category included anyone who could have any connection to a previously identified target (politicians, activists, human rights activists, students, journalists, artists, etc).

After the end of the dictatorship it was proved that the Disappearance of people had been systematic. There was an extensive network of Illegal Detention Centres (Centros Clandestinos de Detención) in military and police facilities where prisoners, kidnapped (detained without legal acknowledgement), were taken to be tortured, interrogated, kept sometimes for years, and eventually murdered. All constitutional resources such as the request for Habeas corpus or trial, were cancelled by the denial of the kidnappings. Police and military operations were conducted without uniforms or identifications, but with logistic support and approval of local police authorities and security forces. As proved by the testimonies of survivors, the tortures were also systematic.

The distinctive aspect of Disappearance was the denial of the kidnapping and the murder, and the absence of a body. The location of the bodies of the Disappeared (Desaparecidos) is yet unknown. There are about 10.000 Disappearances documented. Human rights organizations estimated numbers up to 30.000.

In the 80’s the first investigations were held and Disappearances were proved to be systematic. In spite of their self-amnesty, the Juntas were tried. The complete military had been involved in unjustifiable crimes. Intense debate followed on the possibility and convenience of judging all the criminals. Military uprisings occurred in 1987 and, in smaller scale, twice in 1988. Eventually two historical laws were passed: Due Obedience, taking off the responsibility from the lower military ranks, and Final Period, setting an arbitrary end to the whole process. In the beginning of the 90’s the (few) convicted generals were given presidential pardons. After more than a decade of discussion, in 2004, the two laws were finally declared unconstitutional by a renewed Supreme Court, and nullified, unlocking a whole wave of trials for torture, murder, rape and kidnapping. Today most of the leaders and higher ranks of the dictatorship are either too old to be in prison, or dead.

In 2010, Argentinean society still debates on whether the issue should or not be dropped for good.


1 Comment»

  Pablo A wrote @

En estos últimos años, todos los jefes militares que integraron las Juntas fueron sometidos a proceso por crímenes de lesa humanidad y la mayoría condenados a prisión perpetua. Los juicios siguen con otros responsables de los crímenes cometidos en las provincias argentina y por primera vez se ha sometido a juicio a un responsable civil como el ex Ministro de Economía Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoz. La Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada, uno de los centros de detención clandestina mas famosos ha sido entregada por el gobierno argentino a la agrupación Hijos de Desaparecidos para que funcione alli el Centro Cultural de la Memoria.

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