Daily Archives: March 24, 2006

Thirty Years of Life Defeating Death!

Argentines Mark 30 Years Since ‘Dirty War’
By Bill Cormier of the Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Thousands of Argentines swayed to protest songs Friday at an early morning vigil marking the 30th anniversary of a military coup that ushered in the country’s Dirty War.

The gray-haired Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo took center stage at the rock concert-styled rally, wearing the trademark white handkerchiefs of their long human rights struggle.”Thirty Years of Life Defeating Death!” and “Not One Step Back!” read large banners strung alongside black-and-white photographs of hundreds of “desaparecidos” — Spanish for the “Missing” victims of the seven-year dictatorship and its bloody crackdown on dissent.

It was just after 3 a.m. on March 24, 1976, that coup leaders announced they had toppled the government of Maria Estela Martinez de Peron, widow of the former strongman Juan Domingo Peron. She was flown away by helicopter from the pink Government House, steps from where the rally was held Friday on the Plaza de Mayo.

The junta would remain in power until 1983, leaving a trail of nearly 13,000 now officially listed dead or missing during the era. Human rights groups put the toll for a systematic crackdown on dissidents, now known as the Dirty War, at nearly 30,000.

I’m a little disappointed that both the Washington Post and the New York Times choose only to carry the AP story of the anniversary, rather than reporting on it themselves. I can’t think of a better warning for us now, of the road that we’ve been travelling since 9/11, than the example of Argentina. Indeed, all of the countries of South America that were involved in Operation Condor, with the cooperation of the United States, in the name of fighting any number of -isms, terrorism included, should really be bright red flags, telling us to stop this madness.

Only we call it interrogation, not torture. We call them enemy combatants, not political prisoners. And we say extraordinary renditions, what used to be called “disappearing” someone. The AP story above translates “desaparecidos” as the “missing.” I really feel that that doesn’t capture the chill, the horror, that the “disappeared” give us. And who knows now how many men my government has disappeared, has rendered extraordinarily?

I remember reading, and weeping over, Lawrence Thornton’s Imagining Argentina, blending the Dirty War and magical realism, in 1987. And yet it was all so far away, even, back then. We could imagine all sorts of horrible things about Ronald Reagan, insasmuch as we could see his always sunny and cheerful, and disgusting, support of the juntas in Central and South America, but we could hardly envision this happening in the US. Even more recently, Louis De Bernieres’s The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, with its grand scope, the fictional country a composite of all the Operation Condor countries, but especially Chile and Argentina, mined similar territory. We could read it and weep, but it wasn’t here. We would never have thought that the disappearing would happen here, that we would become what we beheld.

So today I honor the AsociaciĆ³n Madres de Plaza de Mayo. And I hang my head in shame to them too, knowing that I have not even a fraction of their courage. And honor and prayers especially to you, Azucena Villaflor. Your son Nestor and his wife Raquel were disappeared on November 30, 1976, and, after months of useless petitioning to the Interior Ministry, you began marching on the Plaza on April 30, 1977. You were yourself disappeared, probably to the Navy Mechanics School, on December 10, 1977. Your remains were finally discovered and identified in 2005 and are now interred in the center of the Plaza. And on the Plaza they march still. They’ve never stopped.

Nunca mas, Senora.