[Above] These colourful plaques can be seen in the pavement all around Buenos Aires, Argentina. This post is an explanation of their significance.
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On 24th March 1976 - whilst anti-government sentimet was rife - the military took over the government during a bloodless coup. The seven years that followed was one of the darkest periods in Argentina’s history.
It was a period of military dictatorship which involved the illegal arrest, torture, killing and forced disappearance of anyone who opposed their regime (real, suspected or alleged) - mostly intellectuals and students.
It was not restricted to people who were clearly against the regime, but also anyone who was slightly opposed or had reservations about their ideas. For example, government spies would infiltrate universities and students who openly professed even slightly leftist political opinions would simply disappear. It was a period of indisriminate brutality and it was called "The Process of National Reorganization" or El Proceso.
[Above, left]"Here worked Nelida Beatriz Ardito; Disappeared detainee; 12-10-1976; By the terrorism of the state." [Above, right] "Here studied Ines Cobo; Disappeared detainee; 01-09-1976; By the terrorism of the state."
It has been estimated that up to 30,000 died during this time. General Videla , who was the de facto president during this time, said "They are neither dead nor alive, they disappeared". And hence, in Argentina, they are referred to as los desaparacidos ("the disappeared").
In addtion to physical torture leading to dealth, there was also frequent psychological tortures to decrease people's desire to protest against the government and to intimidate and scare them into conformity. The police would abduct people from the street, detain and torure them and then release them. They would pull over cars for no reason, beat the occupants and then leave without explanation. There is one documented example where a family was detained and the father was shown his wife’s underwear with blood all over it.
[Above] "Here was kidnapped Guillermo Pablo Jolly; December 1978; By the terrorism of the state."
Below is an account of the tortured father, a medical doctor. Please note: this is very graphic and not to be read if you have a weak stomach:
"One day they put me face-down on the torture table, tied me up (as always), and calmly began to strip the skin from the soles of my feet. I imagine, though I didn’t see it because I was blindfolded, that they were doing it with a razor blade or a scalpel. I could feel them pulling as if they were trying to separate the skin at the edge of the wound with a pair of pincers. I passed out."
"They tied me up and raped me slowly and deliberately by introducing a metal object into my anus. They then passed an electric current through the object. I cannot describe how everything inside me felt as though it were on fire."
During the trail of the military leaders (or the junta) in 1985, El Proceso was referred to as the "Dirty War." The junta claimed that a war - albeit with "different" methods (including the large-scale torture and rape) - was necessary to maintain social order and eradicate political subversives.
People started disappearing from the beginning of the military regime. But at first no-one really knew what was going on. Family members would go to the police asking about their children and they would be sent from place to place, indefinitely, always being told they were not in the right building and never getting answers. And if they were too persistent, they themselves would disappear. Eventually, forced disappearances and arrests on completely unsubstantiated accusations became common.
[Above] "Here served and were kidnapped Juan Arang, Luis Cervera Novo, Ricardo Gomez, Carmen Roman; By the terrorism of the state; 20-05-77."
My friend told me, “Many stadiums and highways were built during this time.” At first I didn’t understand the context and then she explained that it was to hide the bodies of the desaparecidos in their concrete foundations. Though some years later - during some construction work - some bodies were found.
Many of the desaparecidos were heavily drugged and thown out of planes, alive, into the Río de la Plata or far out over the Atlantic Ocean, leaving no trace of their passing. These were termed vuelos de la muerte ("death flights"). Without any dead bodies, the government could easily deny that they had been killed. And this they did.
An Argentine court later condemned the government's actions as crimes against humanity and "genocide".
- Nunca mas ("Never Again") Report
- The Offical Story (Oscar-winning movie)
- Memorial Park, in Buenos Aires
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- Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo