Delayed Justice

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.’


Go there >>
Argentina Seeks Justice for ‘Dirty’ Past

Go there too >>
Memory Place
Locating Argentine Memories

Related Links:
State Department Opens Files on Argentina’s Dirty

Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo

Related Links from the Utne Archive:

Starting with the Mothers

Liars: Latin American News Spin

A Conversation with President Hugo

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