But, unfortunately, it’s true.
After an epidemic of terrorism, Argentina’s dirty war began and a military junta ran the country from 1976-1983. And the junta did put a stop to much of the terrorism. People could now go back into downtown Buenos Aires without fearing bank explosions and kidnappings. But the generals in power didn’t stop there. To be on the safe side, they decided to clean house. If you were a leftist, knew a leftist, went to a party meeting in college, were a university teacher, had long hair, or someone gave up your name-often as a result of torture where fifteen names were required-then a government-issue Ford Falcon might just be waiting outside your front door on your birthday.
The National Intelligence System (SIDE) liked to arrest people on their birthday—another touch that might fare well in a late-night thriller.
The stories are too horrific to detail. They’re available for anyone who wants to do a search. But an organized network of garages and detention centers, right in the middle of Buenos Aires, one of the most modern, cosmopolitan cities in the world—the Paris of South America—swallowed up the desaparecidos (disappeared ones). While porteños went to see Saturday Night Fever or sipped cappuccinos, twenty to thirty thousand of their countrymen vanished. Of those that did return, most were silenced by systematic torture on an industrial scale.
If the arrestee was a young mother, there were plenty of childless military couples waiting for her soon-to-be orphaned child. And if she was pregnant, after a caesarian operation, she might be executed. Or allowed to live long enough to nurse the infant before it was given up. Then the mother might be given a sedative and taken for a late night flight over the Rio de la Plata. Where she and others were tossed out.
Argentina is finally coming to grips with this dark episode in their recent history. Today many of those responsible have been sentenced as the country moves forward.
Meanwhile an entire generation has had to come to terms with what their government did to them.
Before we smugly condemn what happened in Argentina we might look at ourselves. The United States and Argentina have much in common. We are very similar countries: made up of immigrants who cherish opportunity, a way of life, liberty. We both abhor terrorism. We share similar political frameworks. And we are also people who might let go of freedoms in order to reestablish order. Have we not already done some of that here? Who says we won’t do more-if pushed?
About five hundred Argentines are said to be “adopted” children of the disappeared ones. They are in their mid-thirties today.
Some don’t want to know their origins.
Who can blame them?
FYI: My latest novel – Lethal Dispatch – features Argentina’s stolen children as a theme.