Saturday, 29 October 2011

Areas of darkness

So a few of the most notorious of Argentine murderers have finally been found guilty, more than thirty years after their crimes. (BBC)

The dark past is only slowly receding. A recent story in a UK newspaper: police burst in on an Argentine man in his early 30s in Buenos Aires. They had come to take his DNA. Not that he was suspected of anything criminal, but he had been adopted in the late 1970s, and the Argentine state now has power to take DNA to establish the real identity of anyone adopted during 'the Process'. His worst fears were confirmed: his parents had been murdered in the ESMA centre after his birth there, and he had been adopted, to be brought up in a true Christian and catholic tradition, rather than the socialist tradition of his birth parents. (Irony wasn't a stong point of the military.) He was told his birth name, but he's currently going through the courts to be allowed to retain his adopted name as he believes his adoptive parents acted in good faith. Adoption can be difficult in the best of circumstances, and these must be the worst.

I read this story about the same time as Tangocherie posted about Dark Tangos by American author Lewis Shiner. He's made it available for free (link on Tangocherie). (In fact he's made all his novels available for free: I wonder what his publishers think of that.) I was immediately gripped when I read his description of a demonstration over the 'disappearance' of Jorge López just hours before he was due to give his final testimony against a former police chief accused of running one of the detention centres. This must have happened about a year before my first visit to the city. I heard the story of López when I took the tour of the ESMA centre in 2008. I was shocked: I thought people 'disappearing' was all in the past. Later, I found everywhere a little spray graffiti, a blank facial area beneath a cloth cap: López, a bricklayer by trade, had worn such a cap. Like other old political graffiti it's a simple and haunting image.

ESMA, where around 5,000 people were killed, is now one of the centres for researching and remembering every last detail of what took place during the 'dirty war' in the hope that, by remembering, such events can never recur. We were also told that no one from the armed forces has ever broken ranks to testify in court. The will and the money are still there to intimidate witnesses – and to make them disappear.

It's a reminder that despite the very normal appearance of the city and the wonderful milongas, just below the surface there are areas of darkness. Many people suffered terrible loss, and if you've been there you might well have danced with them. I believe that only a few of the oppressors – among them torturers and murderers – have ever appeared in court: the human rights movement has identified them, but they remain free, if now ageing. Unlikely, but you might have met them too, or passed by them in the streets.

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