Study Abroad in
In 1976, a military junta seized power in Argentina. For the next seven years, it carried out the National Reorganization Process, a period of state terrorism against left-wing guerrillas, political activists, and anyone believed to be associated with socialism. The repressive regime instilled great fear among its people by extreme acts of violence including kidnapping, torturing, and murdering many young people – as well as elderly, children, and pregnant women. The number of people to be killed or “disappeared” during this time ranged from 10,000 to 30,000.
The military officers created a frightening atmosphere that kept Argentines from speaking up about the disappearances of their loved ones. Following the fall of the junta, many Argentines sought answers from the government in order to learn the truth about los desaparecidos (the disappeared). The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an organization that confronted the government of the past, constantly fought for justice and the memory of their disappeared children. The government responded by telling them their children had fled the country, or “perhaps” they were dead without giving any concrete confirmation of their exact condition or whereabouts.
La Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA) was the deadliest of the regime’s secret detention camps. The officers allegedly burned victims while others were drugged and thrown out of planes flying over the Atlantic Ocean. An estimated 100 babies were born to detained mothers in ESMA, and were given away to military families – thus adding to the demographic of people with lost identities known as the “living disappeared”. Legal action against the crimes committed and officials associated with the military dictatorship began in 1983 once democracy was restored. President Alfonsín brought an end to the trials in 1986, arguing that the country needed to look towards the future rather than dwell on the past.
Eight years ago, then-President Néstor Kirchner re-opened the cases, overturning the existing amnesty laws. In October of 2011, the biggest trial against the military dictatorship occurred, sentencing 19 military officials from ESMA for crimes against humanity. There are 70 more accused of crimes committed at the ESMA against 900 victims. These trials are currently occurring under the titles ESMA I, II, III, and so forth. The trials include hearings over 800 testimonies of witnesses including family members o the disappeared as well as survivors.
William Janover, international student from Brown University, attended a hearing this past week of two men who were detained in the ESMA at ages 11 and 14. “It was strange to hear how calmly and bluntly the witnesses were able to describe the horrible things that happened to them and their family. When I spoke to my host parents about the hearings, they said they had heard of them but had no plans to go; they brought back too many bad memories”
On Thursday, a woman whose two older sisters were disappeared gave a testimony to the courts. She was 14 years old at the time of the first disappearance. Claudia, the eldest sister, was taken on October 4, 1978. Her middle sister, Andrea, was three months pregnant when she was kidnapped by the front door of her own house. Neighbors believe they saw the disappearances, but it was always difficult for people to speak up and recall what they may or may not have seen. The woman was asked to describe her sisters, from their eye to hair color and give any details she might know about their disappearances. She explained that no one could deliver correct information to her family about her sisters’ disappearances. Many times the woman said, “No me recuerdo. Nadie sabe exactamente.” She said she was prepared for justice now. When the final question was complete, she was asked if she had anything more to say. She responded, “Nada más.” as tears filled her eyes and she exited the stand.
Many other Argentines agree that although they are happy that justice is finally being served, they have no intention of attending the hearings. 28-year old freelance artist, Victoria ** said it is still a very sensitive topic for most people. “My parents had friends who were of the disappeared. One of my high school friend’s uncle was a desaparecido as well.”
The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, women who have told and retold the story of their disappeared children, are still pained by their tragic pasts. Ilda I. de Micucci, a Mother, lost her two children Victoria and Daniel in 1977. “We are fighting for justice, memory, and an end to the violence. It’s been many years, but it still brings me pain to tell my story – to talk about my children. But it’s important to our mission of their memory.” “Estamos luchando por la justicia, la memoria, y un fin a la violenica. Ha sido mucho años, pero todavía me trae dolor a contar mi historia – a hablar de mis hijos. Pero es importante para nuestra misión de su memoria.”
Many hope to find solace in the trials and the accused finally committed for their crimes. Clara Franchini, Student Coordinator at the CIEE Buenos Aires Study Center, said, ““The trials for the memory, justice, and truth are the beginning of a long road that seeks to recover the social ties the dictatorship wanted to destroy. The recovery of memory; learning about our history and realizing the process of social reorganization attempted on the entire society are just the start to recover social solidarity, empathy and political participation.” "Los juicios por la memoria, justicia y verdad son el comienzo de un largo camino que tiene que ver con transitar una recuperación del lazo social que la dictadura quiso destruir. La recuperación de la memoria, aprender sobre nuestra historia, darnos cuenta que el proceso de reorganización social atentó sobre toda la sociedad, es solo un comienzo para recuperar la solidaridad social, la empatia, la participación política."
The trials are expected to last 24 months.