Latin America Case Assessment: The Dirty War

The year is 1985, she carefully reconfirms (the illusion of ) her safe surroundings as she dashes across her university campus to head back home to her family. It is 2 pm and the sun is beating down on her, making the weight of her backpack and her pregnant stomach feel warmer and heavier than it normally is. While keeping her head down, the cries of mothers and grandmothers call her attention. She looks up to see many elderly women linking arms; conversing, whispering, crying together while all wearing similar white headscarves, most of which looked like diapers. They were simple, clean, white. A headscarf that proved to demonstrate self-identification. A headscarf that deemed the woman wearing it was aware, strong, and most importantly, missing their children. She is almost at her salvation — so focused on her home, she did not notice the three military men strategically stalking her for the past few weeks as they hid in the shadows. The street is empty then she can go home to her boyfriend, to her little sister, to her parents; her family. She can go home to her family to ask if they knew of anyone else who has been “disappeared”. Her pace quickens with excitement as she walks down the isolated street before she feels a sharp pang in the back of her head, then all is black.

She wakes up in a moving car, everything is black as her vision is obscured by some kind of bag over her head. She tries to move but she finds that her ankles and wrists are bound together. She tried to break free, she begins to sweat, her heart-beat picks up, she cannot become one of these rumored disappeared. With this final thought, blackness unceremoniously greets her again. She awakes to the sound of her mother crying and asking questions, por favor, she hears. She tries to call out to her mother but her mouth is taped and she is tied tighter than she was before. She hears a deep man’s voice, he identified himself as the authority and stated that he has no idea of her whereabouts. She is held as a prisoner, she is starving, she loses her baby, she is raped, she is tortured, she is killed, she is an unknown; she is a disappeared.

After assessing the cases of Argentina and Chile, I believe that Argentina did a worse job of the two in terms of addressing reparations and with coping with human rights violations. With the Argentine case, there were no international trials, no form of International aid nor was there any kind of involvement. The military coup was left to try themselves, but what form of punishment would they give themselves after seven years of catastrophic upheaval? Although the assessment of the Chilean case also proves to demonstrate horrific violation acts of human rights and social injustice, an effort, and succession of reparations were made not only by their own government but with international courts as well. I believe what is missing from the Argentine case and that was implemented in the Chilean case, was the United States’ involvement and act to infiltrate democracy back in their legal system. While I do not necessarily believe that either case proves to be a positive and notable achievement after their inner war, whereas Germany demonstrated their dedication to moving forward by condemning their own country, I can, however, appreciate that efforts were made to reconcile their wrong actions.

An authoritarian populist, anti-democratic, attempted mirror image of Mussolini, Juan Peron is the perfect demonstration of what initiated the military dictatorship in Argentina. After serving nine years as president, in 1955, he was finally removed by the military. The inception of “El Proceso” was born by the military in efforts to reconcile national reconstruction. Argentina was, however, hidden in darkness. Although the world had access to the internet, global communications, satellites, and mass mediums of travel, no one knew the Dirty War that was creeping upon Argentina. No one knew that a government’s own military would abduct, keep hostage, rape, sell infants, torture, and kill their own citizens of the state. No one knew and no one acted.

This clandestine act of terror took 30,000 lives of Argentine civilians, so much so that the ‘disappeared’ became a verb. I question why no other country intervened, I question how no other country knew, I question how the military was able to keep everything an enigma, a secret. There were kidnappings at night because that was when there was the least amount of traffic and there were abductions during broad daylight because it gave the illusion of the situation seeming less suspicious. Individuals, such as young women ranging from 18–30 years old were abducted, pregnant women had no leeway; entire families and friends were abducted as well to diminish any form of word reaching the public about the disappearances. From cafes, schools, campuses, midnight break-ins, thousands upon thousands of kidnappings were made and no one was able to stop the military coup, no one was able to find their disappeared.

While assessing the Argentina case of the Dirty War, I find myself mourning with the mothers and grandmothers as they marched across plazas, demanding the whereabouts of their children and grandchildren from the military and authority officials. I feel just as lost as the newborn infants who are sold to other people. I feel the pain of those who were dehumanized, tortured, and killed. I believe that Argentina proves to be the worst example because while the military agreed to step down and despite the nationwide and International recriminations, the military demonstrated absolutely no remorse or regrets. To me, that is an international human rights failure. There were severe human rights violations and social injustices that were made but minor repercussions, reparations, or improvements for the future were made. How can a nation progress if they are unable to understand the wrong that they have committed? I am steadfast in my belief that Argentina proved to have coped with the disappeared and after-math in the worst way.

Under Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, it was a state of terrorism and forced kidnappings. The ‘disappeared’ had spread to many Latin American countries, Chile inclusive. Similar to Argentina, thousands of civilians were abducted by authorities and military where they were then physically and psychologically abused. The notion of disappearing originated because the military wanted to eliminate those who were leftist-thinkers. It was an era of “politicide” or “political genocide”, where the military rule was leading a systematic suppression. Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation stated, “He shut down parliament, suffocated political life, banned trade unions, and made Chile his sultanate. His government disappeared 3,200 opponents, arrested 30,000 (torturing thousands of them)… Pinochet’s name will forever be linked to the Desaparecidos, the Caravan of Death, and the institutionalized torture that took place in the Villa Grimaldi complex,”.

After further assessing the case, I discovered that both men and women were repeatedly raped by different military officials throughout the day, even though women were the primary target. Immense and various forms of torture such as electrocuting the civilian’s private parts and other areas of their bodies while trapped to metal bed was just as common as water boarding. The military threatened to kill members of their victim’s families if they did not corporate and release information. In addition to the continuous physical abuse, there was also psychological. The prisoners were dehumanized to their core. They were stripped of their clothing, trapped in dark cells, unable to eat, sleep, or even see their surroundings. Insults and threats were told the prisoners. It was years of torture before they eventually met their demise. “The military junta often framed leftist individuals and groups, in order to justify its agenda to target and torture political dissidents. The Junta fostered fear of leftists by staging arsenal captures and portraying leftist extremists in an extremely negative light.” I believe that it was an embarrassment that the world was not involved sooner for either case. The ongoing psychological torture that was used to destroy a prisoner’s will, dignity, moral and physical revolve was not enough for the military coup or Pinochet. After Pinochet was overthrown, I do not believe that it made a significant difference because the Amnesty law was still in effect. “While Pinochet was detained under house arrest on October 30, 2006, over charges including murder, torture, kidnapping in the years following his 1973 coup, he was never formally convicted. He died before the investigation process reached a conclusion.”

I believe that in cases like Germany, Argentina, and Chile, it is immensely difficult for Human Rights groups, other countries and even the UN to assess what kind of prosecutions should be made and who should be charged. I believe that these social injustices were a failure because they were never reconciled with justice, there was no immediate urgency to dismantle the military coup or intervene. Even though Pinochet lost and stepped down during the 1989 election, he placed himself in the senate which made the Chilean government even more controversial as it returns to democracy.

In March of 1990, progression began to be evident. During Aylwin’s inaugural speech, he stated that he wanted to seek the truth and reconciliation. Chile now faced a negative international image and it was time to repair itself. There was the establishment of an investigative commission which helped to reform the judiciary. Progression was made as anyone who wanted to present their case was interviewed, staff members (sixty) studied documentations of violations during dictatorship gathered by human rights organizations. There were approximately 7,000 people that were targeted for reparations, $380 monthly salary was given for a specific period, health and educational benefits were given to those families of the disappeared. Although nothing would ever be able to ease family members, friends, and neighbor’s minds, at least the proper step toward progression was being made. Unfortunately, Pinochet’s absolute defiance reflected on his military coup. They never apologized, never admitted to their wrong doing and stated that they would have done the same horrific acts again if given the chance.

However, what I believe is significant about the Chilean case is that: Chilean Human Rights groups were formed and acted, the Latin American Institute for Mental Health and Human Rights began to do public studies, radical groups such as the Movement of The Revolutionary Left advocated a Marxist revolution, Great Britain and Spain became involved when Pinochet traveled carelessly to Europe and the United Nations got involved as well. Any form of domestic or international involvement is the right step towards improvement and growth.

Another contributing factor that I think helped to shape Chile towards moving to democracy was when Pinochet thought he was safe to visit Great Britain. Upon entering the international land, it gave Great Britain the opportunity to hold him captive and hold a mirror to Chile. While it is difficult for international actors to intervene given their limitations, I can appreciate how Chile’s court system became the new forum for forwarding progress on human rights issues. Mesa De Dialogo established a fact-finding agreement, Lagos was the second truth commission where they especially focused on torture and reparations for survivors and there was now a new image of Pinochet. He was deemed corrupt, money laundering, directly at odd with the domestic and international image of cleanliness and austerity.

According to the assigned course packet, “Most commissions have not tried to reconcile the old, which oppressed, with the new, which enshrines democracy; but the Chilean commission did…there is a positive value in what truth commission seek, especially those like the Argentinean and Chilean versions — where the explicit goal was to restore a just society… Chile’s special commission compensated the survivors of human rights abuses and the families of victims,”. I believe that while it is important for this kind of events to bring international attention, it is also important for the state to try to make its own ramifications to correct itself from within. In this sense, I believe that Chile did the better job of dealing with the aftermath by the wrongdoings that were made by Pinochet and the military. The new Chilean government returned to democracy and tried to correct its past by helping the affected families. To me, that is a significant amount of progress and improvement that a country can make.

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