Argentina, 1976-1983


Many Latin American countries experienced violent, right-wing military dictatorships during the Cold War. In Argentina, a military junta led by General Jorge Rafael Videla seized power from President Isabel Peron on March 24, 1976. Between 1976 and 1983, an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 people suspected of involvement with leftists guerrillas were “disappeared” by the authorities in what was known as the “Dirty War.” Victims were taken to clandestine detention centers, where the majority were tortured and killed. Some were dumped out of airplanes—dead or alive—over the Atlantic Ocean. Those taken came to be known as the Desaparecidos, the Spanish word for “disappeared.”

Approximately 30% of the disappeared were women. Some were abducted with their children, and perhaps 3% were pregnant or became so while in detention, usually through rape by guards. Pregnant prisoners were routinely kept alive until gave birth, after which they were killed. As many as five hundred newborns and young children were taken from disappeared parents and given, their identities erased, to childless military and police couples and others favored by the regime.

As early as April 1977, mothers of the Desaparecidos began demanding to know what had happened to their children. The Madres de Plaza de Mayo marched every Thursday afternoon at half past three for thirty years, joined by a grandmother’s group. The Madres de Plaza de Mayo stopped marching in 2006, but haven’t given up the fight to bring the military leaders of the junta to justice.

The U.S. was a key provider of economic and military assistance to the Videla regime. In 1982, however, the military junta invaded the British-controlled Falkland Islands. Argentina’s crushing defeat increased public outrage and forced leader General Leopoldo Galtieri to resign. A combination of factors caused the junta to dissolve, and a civilian government was returned to power in 1983 with the election of Raul Alfonsin.

In 1983, the National Commission on the Disappeared (CONADEP) was appointed to investigate the fate of the Desaparecidos. The report revealed about 340 well organized secret detention centers, including the infamous ESMA Navy Mechanics School in Buenos Aires, and the systematic use of kidnapping, torture and murder. CONADEP found “the repressive practices of the military were planned and ordered by the highest levels of military command, but then de-facto President General Reynaldo ordered the destruction of military documentation that could have proven responsibility within the chain-of-command.”



Confronting Evil: Engaging Our Responsibility to Prevent Genocide

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