The Kids Argentina Misses, Colltalers
As the new bloodbath inflicted by Daesh on Europe upstaged President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, it’s hard to make a case for any other issues that were also quickly dropped from the world headlines. That includes the week’s all other suicide bombings.
The 40th year anniversary of the military coup in Argentina, however, which started the infamous Dirty War that killed thousands and wrecked the country, deserves a few notes, specially in the light of the president’s particularly ill-timed stopover there.
Aspects of that dark time are still pretty raw in the country, as shown by protests that marked the visit. One of the most sensitive is the so-called Stolen Kids, children of the ‘desaparecidos’ killed by the military, who then ‘gifted’ them amongst themselves.
Kept in the dark, dozen of these children found out about the truth only much later, and most still struggle with the trauma of learning that those who had raised them had, in fact, ordered the murder and disappearance of their biological parents.
Most of these now adults were tracked and identified for whom they really were by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers who camped in the front of the Casa Rosada presidential palace, in Buenos Aires, practically from the coup’s zero hour.
Whereas the four-decade is a sad milestone for Argentina, the courage of these women is what’s worth celebrating. They were certainly
behind every effort to oust the military, which finally happened in 1983, at first, with little consequence to the perpetrators.
Unlike Hollywood, though, the process of national reconciliation takes more that a few trials and jail sentences, which did happen too. From the exact number of missing opponents to the regime, to the limitations of current laws to punish and curb others from attempting another betrayal of democracy such as the Dirty War, the pain from those years is now very much part of the Argentine soul.
Just like in Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil, as well as other Latin American nations, which in larger or lesser extent have experienced, or are still dealing with, the damage the military have caused to the whole continent between the 1960s and 1980s.
In Brazil, for instance, where military rule was not nearly as extensive but still brutal, some of those wounds seem to have been reopened in the past years, as rallies have called for the return of the dictatorship that started with the bloodless coup of 1964.
It’s been a disturbing sight to see, in the middle of crowds demanding President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, signs begging the military to come back. And the fact that Rousseff was detained and tortured by the dictatorship doesn’t even begin to explain it.
To some, Brazil and other nations ruled by barrel and bayonet haven’t really had a thorough, and surely painful, process of examination of that period. It explains, at least in part, the lack of awareness of the cost of such a military adventure to any country.
Argentina and Chile, where former junta members were put on trial and, in some cases, sent to prison, are exceptions. As it turned out, that’s only the start of a still much needed national conversation. The issue of the disappeared and their stolen kids is as current now as it’s always been, and if terrorism upstaged Obama’s latino tour, he himself was accused of upstaging Argentina’s soberest date.
A day the mothers, and now grandmothers, have marked ever since Juan Perón’s wife, President Isabel, who took over after his death in 1974, was herself deposed but not before assuring safe heaven for her and her allies. Most of everyone else, though, got screwed.
But as part of the Argentine society was hopeless running for cover, or savagely being tracked down and killed by the regime that counted among its own allies then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the mothers stood their ground. And prove their worth.
They have so far successfully found and DNA-identified 119 kids who were picked by the military to become a perverse form of reward to their friends. If the U.S. opens its files on the dictatorship, as President Obama promised, this number is sure to increase.
Now adults, the group was unwittingly granted a lifetime of psychological challenges, which have caused some to fight attempts to contact them, so naturally attached they are to the fictional narrative about their past, taught to them by their current families.
In some cases, even coming out from behind forged names assigned to them by the military, to finally meet biological relatives, some chose to remain fiercely private. It’s their choice, of course, but it somehow undermines the fight to locate others like them.
This is but one collateral heartbreak of the military coup, visited upon them by a right-wing elite that, in 1982, did not hesitate engaging Argentina into an unwinnable war with the U.K., over the Falklands Islands. In order to hold on a little longer to power, the junta sent thousands of young, inexperienced Argentines to fight the British professional forces; 649 of them never returned.
The regime would take a few years to finally relinquish power, but the damage was already done. Even in jail or dead, most of those mad generals also became wealthy. No such luck was likely granted to what some estimate to be over 2,000 other Argentines.
As for the current world’s most famous Argentine – apart perhaps of football star Lionel Messi – Pope Francis: it took a bit of wriggling but he finally agreed to meet, in 2014, Estela Barnes de Carlotto, one of leaders of the Mothers movement, and her then just identified grandson, Ignacio Guido Montoya Carlotto. Still, he went farther than President Obama, who missed a great opportunity to do it.
Francis has been on the receiving end of some pretty charged accusations for his actions at the time, but so far has managed to come out clear. Perhaps, one day we’ll know exactly what the then Cardinal did, or did not, during the military rule. But perhaps, not.
Going to Cuba was a remarkable, if predictable, act for an American leader, and we’re glad that it took President Obama to do it. Latin America as a whole, however, has been an afterthought to his, and at least the two previous White House occupants’ foreign policies.
Sadly, things may not improve much, regardless who’s the next president. And there’s even little hope for relations with South and Central America if a Republican wins, judging by party leaders’ recent comments. But that’s for another day. Have a great week. WC