As you probably know, Argentina experienced a right-wing politically led ‘dirty war’ on its own people between 1976 and 1983 when anyone suspected of involvement in ‘socialism’ or other forms of political dissent were ‘disappeared’ by the Junta. Incredibly, Argentina was said to have ‘hosted’ over 520 clandestine detention centres, many of them of course in Buenos Aires such as the infamous, ironically named Club Atlético, very close to us over on Paseo Colón, imprisoning as many as 1,500 people. The building has now been demolished making way for a huge flyover. There’s some scant reference to what went on here pinned to a dirty chain-link fence facing the street with heavy local traffic whizzing by as if without a thought, or perhaps not. It’s hard to think about what went on during this time as the more you delve into it the more gruesome the stories become.
People were often snatched off the street and from their homes late at night. Kidnapped, interrogated, horribly tortured, humiliated and dehumanized by the hands of the Junta (who were these people, and where are they now I wonder – justice?), many losing their ability to talk, eat or sleep. Some of them were eventually released onto the streets blindfolded and bewildered, but many of course were murdered and ‘disappeared’.
It’s unbelievable to me that this was going on here (and in Chile) whilst I was just leaving school and starting work. Thatcher was PM and by 1982, as we all know, Britain was at war with Argentina – but not because of the murderous dirty war, no, over the Falkland Islands, far away at the bottom of the South Atlantic. Islands none of us had ever heard of but of course now etched in our memories.
We also now know that Thatcher not only supported Pinochet’s murderous junta in Chile but also, scandalously, was acutely aware of the atrocities being committed by the Argentine junta against its own people, and did nothing other than sell them arms!
The subject of Los Desaparecidos remains raw here even today and touchy to raise, though there’s a very public display of grief by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo to this day. Every week they hold a vigil outside the gates of Casa Rosada, when back in 1977 they joined forces to look for their children who’d been abducted by the military dictatorship.
On my walks around town I sometimes stumble upon a memorial or memory of this time, such as these small worn plaques embedded into Paseo Colón that reads in part:
‘Popular militant arrested and disappeared by state terrorism in this neighbourhood.’
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There’s a museum you can visit at the creepy torture centre that was the Naval Training School (Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada, commonly referred to by its acronym ESMA). Chilling. Its address is 8151 Libertador Avenue, in the barrio of Núñez. It’s quite a long bus ride. The day we went we were asking our fellow passengers where to get off the bus and got a few dirty looks. Remember, some of those torturers are still out there. (Shudder!)
Thanks for this Ian, though I think we’re a tad spooked out to focus on a museum of atrocities….and yes, chilling to think that the tortures are still out there! There’s an old chap who we call General Galteri who positions himself day in day out in the middle of Defensa and Humberto Primo (our hood), dressed in full military fatigues, sporting a large knife in his belt – I’m sure there’s a gun there too if I was game enough to look, but having once caught his eye and got yelled out, I tend to ignore him! I’ve seen cars slow up and hand him money whilst the very visible cops on the street here ignore him. There’s a local rumour that he killed someone….
They’re still finding and imprisoning the tortures from the 70’s and 80’s – https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/world/americas/argentina-ford.html