Delayed Justice

After a 30-year struggle, the wheels of justice in Argentina get a solid turn

| June 22, 2006

Thirty years ago, the military regime that controlled Argentina waged a 'Dirty War' against its own citizens, kidnapping, torturing, and killing an estimated 30,000 Argentineans who came to be known as los desaparecidos, or 'the disappeared.' The government tried to erase the victims and all memory of them, but according to Adam Karlin of the Christian Science Monitor, after decades of vigilance by dedicated activists, the first in a series of trials finally began on June 20, signaling a move toward remembering the victims and bringing justice to their families.

A key force behind the movement for justice has been the Mothers and the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Marc B. Haefele of the Boston Review reports on these women who, armed with white bandanas and signs reading 'Silence is treason,' began marching around the central plaza of Buenos Aires after their sons and daughters began disappearing. The group paid a high price when, Haefele reports, '14 of its original protesters, including the founder Azucena Villaflor and two French nuns' were abducted and murdered.

Rather than give up, the women became relentless, and continue to this day in the search for their children and grandchildren -- a search made difficult because many were given new names and falsified birth certificates. 'Up to 500 children of desaparecidos, some born to imprisoned mothers and others only babies when they were kidnapped along with their parents, were given away, mostly to police and military families,' reports Joseph Huff-Hannon of In These Times.

One of these children was Juan Cabandie, who spent 26 years as Mariano Falco after he was separated from his parents in the detention center known as ESMA (Army School of Mechanics). 'I was born here at the ESMA,' Cabandie told a rally of supporters on March 24, 'a national day of memory' declared by President Nestor Kirchner. 'I spent only 15 days here with my mother before they took her away.'

ESMA, one of the most notorious places of torture in Argentina, has been turned into a museum and 'memory space' by Kirchner. According to Haefele, the military once tried to cover up the past by renovating the building, but it now stands as a memorial to honor the memory of people like Cabandie's parents. 'The ESMA memory space is a key part of this swerving new democracy's campaign against its past,' Haefele writes.

The trials that began June 20 are the next step in this campaign and the path towards justice. Trials were held before, but they amounted to little more than a kangaroo court, since the perpetrators of the atrocities were protected by amnesty laws. Last year, the Christian Science Monitor's Karlin reports, the supreme court of Argentina deemed the amnesty laws unconstitutional, so this time the trials could make a difference. The very possibility of justice can be seen as a direct result of the decades-long vigilance of groups like the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. 'It has been a continuing struggle,' says Nora Corti?as, one of the Mothers quoted by Karlin. 'We are reclaiming, day by day, truth and justice.'

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