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The Dirty War In Argentina: Popular Struggles Against State Violence Essay Sample

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The Dirty War In Argentina: Popular Struggles Against State Violence Essay Sample


            The Dirty War in Argentina was said to be one of the darkest chapters in modern Latin American history. Terrorist violence, torture, disappearance and killings made during that time served as a threat to the basic right to life and freedom of the people. The same event resulted also in the emergence of groups who struggled and lobbied for government action against said State violence. This paper hopes to give an overview of what happened during the historical Dirty War in Argentina and the emergence of groups who have lobbied against the government for accountability of persons responsible then. Finally, the paper hopes to give its observations and comments on the said events that took place.

The Dirty War in Argentina

            According to Marcelo Suarez-Orozco’s article, the Dirty War during the 1970s was characterized by increasing violence against the military and police officers, government officials, diplomats, journalists, industrialists and intellectuals and even with the way children were treated (378). The Argentine economy then was collapsing, bringing about extreme inflation, soaring unemployment, labor unrest and strikes (378). High ranking members of the military, the police hierarchies and even heads of major international companies in Buenos Aires were kidnapped and/or assassinated in ultra-leftist terrorist operations almost weekly (378). Ultra-rightist para-military organizations also began to systematically produce their own brand of terror (378). Union leaders, leftist politicians, world renowned academics and journalists were not spared from this violence (379).

Thus, it became apparent that members of all sectors of the society were vulnerable to random flying bullets (379). Because of the increasing discontent of the Argentine people with what was happening then, this set the stage for a military take over of civilian institutions removing Peron from the post (379). However, instead of order, what ensued was a regime noted for a long history of brutality (379). The Argentine military installed a de facto junta composed of the chiefs of the Army, The Navy and The Air Force 379). The El Proceso de Reorganizacion Nacional began whose purpose was to reorganize the Argentine nation (379). The military was seen as an isolated entity of superior men entrusted with a historical duty to protect the fatherland from foreign and particularly domestic enemies (379).

            Upon the return to democracy in the early 1980s, the Argentine people began more fully to realize the extent of crimes committed on the name of saving the fatherland from leftist subversives (379). Thousands of innocent Argentine citizens including children were said to have been kidnapped, brutally tortured and ruthlessly executed without any pretense at due process of law (379). Death squads became autonomous units taking full initiative in seeking out victims (380). Clandestine detention camps had been set up in military, police and other installations throughout the country to house and torment the kidnapped (380). During the years of terror, the children of those who were suspected of subversive activities became victims of brutal and systematic abuse (382).

In some cases, the children were allowed to remain behind, at times to stay at home all alone through the night or were taken to a neighbor who was told to keep them and to keep quiet (382). Children thus became very valuable pawns in the psychotic war (382). According to Orozco, widespread evidence showed that children were either brought into torture sessions to witness how a parent was tortured with electroshocks, drowning and burning, or were themselves tortured in front of the parents to make the adults talk, sign a confession or to implicate others in subversive activities (383). Children were used as informants or baits to single out subversives to be picked up and tormented (383). Pregnant women were also treated like all other subversives, tortured and often raped (383). The culture of terror was used to capture brutal social control and the dirty war was required to cleanse the country of political contamination (384). The reorganization of society also reorganized the basic social unit, the family which produced destruction of lives (384).


            The Asociacion de Madres  headed by De Bonafini, representing the insistence on telling about the atrocities of the Argentine dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 and the continued acts of repression (Kapplan 128). De Bonafini and the other Madres insisted on a full historical reckoning of what went on during the Dirty War which was said to be an important part to play in shaping their country’s future and fulfilling their children’s political and social goals (129). Through continued demonstrations and with the help of reporters the Madres are able to send their message out (130). Making people and ideas visible has been the central dynamic of the Madres’ effort to keep their version of history alive through street demonstrations (130). Aside from the Madres, groups such as the Founding-Line Madres of the Plaza de Mayo and the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo also continued to demonstrate and speak out about the abuses of human rights and about the worsening economic crisis (130).

The Madres insisted that the new government find the records which would provide additional evidence to reconstruct the junta’s actions (134). By publicly documenting the history, the Madres hoped to prosecute individual soldiers, sailors, and police and punish them for their crimes against humanity (134). Thus according to the Madres, the government needed to establish a historical record of what had transpired during the Process of National Reorganization (134).

Hence, during the government of President Alfonsin, the Comision Nacional Sobre la Desaparicion de Personas (CONADEP), was created to respond to the public outcry (Orozco 385). Prominent Argentines became members of the CONADEP whose objective was to systematically document the nature and extent of the repression unleashed following the military take over of 1976. According to the Madres, such body of inquiry was weak (Kaplan 134).  The Madres were outraged by Alfonsin’s failure to arrest the leaders of the security forces and put their fate in the hands of newly appointed civilian judges or to provide subpoena powers to a bicameral investigatory commission to condemn those responsible for the flagrant violations of human rights perpetuated in the country (Kaplan 134). Nevertheless, CONADEP presented a report and a secret addenda listing officials implicated in the assassinations (Kaplan 136).

With the list of horrors circulating so freely but not indictments for the guilty, the Madres intensified their efforts to shape public opinion through print and through constant mobilization (Kaplan 137). This forced Alfonsin to address the nation about his human rights program by announcing his decision to prosecute the leaders of the dictatorship as well as the left-wing organizations (Kaplan 137). Alfonsin’s administration nevertheless accomplished some by indicting, prosecuting and convicting leaders of three of the four juntas and commanders of the military regions into which Argentina had been divided (Kaplan 137).

            Although the Madres experienced a lot of criticisms along with its separation with the Founding-Line Madres, they continued to fight to shape the official history of the dictatorship and they have been willing to risk everything to shock their compatriots into remembering (Kaplan 150). Hence, even if the two groups of Madres differ about how best to prevent their country’s amnesia, creating historical memories is intrinsic to both groups and to their hopes for the future (Kaplan 150). Though differing tactics and rhetoric, both groups of Madres extol the need for direct democracy (Kaplan 151). Only by open argument with those in power can they ensure that their version of history will get a fair hearing in Argentina (Kaplan 151). As Kaplan puts it, the democratic project, which both groups of Madres pursue, of combating the potential for state terrorism continues with the next generation activists (151).


            As can be seen, it has always been the State’s aim to put peace and order among others to achieve prosperity and development for their country. However, in trying to achieve this, more often than not governments repress the basic rights of the citizenry, their basic right to life and liberty. As shown by the Dirty War in Argentina, in the military government’s aim to restore peace and order in the country, the military resorted to means which was brutal in itself and considered a crime against humanity. Torture, disappearances of members of the society, children used as informers or baits were just some of the results of the Dirty War. As the famous phrase puts it, the ends do not justify the means. No matter how noble the purpose then of the military government to prevent the spread of terrorism and subversion against the government, torture, kidnapping, using children in order to pinpoint the other subversives cannot at all be justified, as these atrocities are in itself against the basic human rights. Furthermore, government often misses out of the root causes of disorder in any society, the economy’s collapse and failure to address the basic needs of the society, such as what happened to Argentina prior to the subversive activities by the leftist and rightist groups thus forcing the military government to have the so-called ‘Reorganization’ as shown by Orozco’s article. But nevertheless, State initiated violence and merciless killings, in order to achieve order in any society can never be justify nor compromise the right to life and liberty of the citizenry.

There have been a lot of accounts of disappearances and tortures which would not only affect the military’s dealings with the citizens then but also to future generations whose trust and confidence in the government have been heavily affected. As related by Orozco’s article, some people who have experienced or have relatives subjected to State violence opted to keep quiet, thinking that any information divulged may be used against them. The military and the government should not only be tasked to protect the State but also the people who comprise the State which is the citizenry. Hence, indeed all those responsible must be brought to civilian justice and be accountable for what had taken place.

The emergence of different groups has been very helpful in lobbying for the government to identify those responsible for the State violence that happened in Argentina. Through mobilization either through demonstrations or airing their grievances through the media with the use of printed newspapers. It has entirely helped in reaching across to the government what should be done and that history should not be forgotten. Thus, in Kaplan’s article, through the persistence of these groups to address the issues, Alfonsin’s administration was in a way forced to provide for a human rights program.

There may have been differences of strategies or methods among the groups which resulted in the separation of the group called Madres, but nevertheless, the very purpose of their existence continued to persist. This certainly provided for a model for future activists and groups trying to organize to lobby for government action.

Works Cited

Kaplan, T. “Memory Through Mobilization.” Taking Back the Streets: Women, Youth, and Direct Democracy. Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 2003. 128-151.

Suarez-Orozco, M. “The Treatment of Children in the Dirty War: Ideology, State Terrorism and the Abuse of Children in Argentina.” Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology. Eds. Hughes and Burgeoisie. Malden MA: Blackwell Press, 2004. 378-388.

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