Argentina seeks justice for 'Dirty' past
The first in a series of trials for perpetrators of the 1973-86 'Dirty War' starts Tuesday.
[Editor's note: The original subhead incorrectly stated when the Dirty War took place.]Skip to next paragraph
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For Mirta Baravalle, to know justice is to know the story behind her daughter's disappearance.
For decades, she and fellow members of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group, have demanded to know the fate of their children, Argentines who vanished during a period of state terrorism known as the "Dirty War."
Now, for the first time in 30 years, answers – and justice – for Ms. Baravalle may be forthcoming. This week, the first in a series of trials against the alleged perpetrators of Argentina's worst era of state repression begins. The suspects, who have lived freely under controversial amnesty laws for decades, are variously accused of kidnapping, torturing, and killing thousands between 1976 and 1983.
Trials against Dirty Warriors have long been avoided here in favor of a contentious version of reconciliation with the military. But the atmosphere has changed over the past decade, thanks to activism by groups like Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, "truth trials," and a political shift to the left, which some see as the coming of age of the generation that was persecuted 30 years ago.
Today, many Argentines say their nation should focus on its present economy rather than past atrocities. But others are still outraged at the fate of some 11,000-30,000 desaparecidos (disappeared), citizens who were often kidnapped in broad daylight in full view of their family members. Prisoners were practically guaranteed beatings and shock torture, and were often killed and left in unmarked graves.
Baravalle says she needs answers before she can move on. For her, closure is someone filling in the narrative gaps that surround her daughter Ana Maria's final days.
"To know what happened to my daughter, who gave the order to enter our house, where that person is today ... without these answers, I cannot have justice," she says.
One of the first politicians to demand answers was former president Raúl Alfonsín, who will testify at the first trial, Tuesday, of Miguel Etchecolatz, accused of overseeing 21 clandestine detention centers during the Dirty War. Another trial later this summer will deal with administrators of ESMA, the naval mechanic school that earned a reputation as the final destination for thousands of desaparecidos. ESMA is now being converted into a memory museum.
The Dirty War was fought on behalf of Jorge Videla's right-wing regime, which came to power during a chaotic period of left- and right-wing terrorism. Then, many Argentines were enticed by promises of enforced peace and stability.
"As many people as necessary must die in Argentina so that the country will again be secure," said Mr. Videla at the time.