Argentina: Coming to Terms With Its Past
The wind never rests along the river. Some days it’s great kite-flying weather. Other times it’s a soft breeze. But it never ends.The wind continually smooths the lawn like colossal fingers striving to flatten the folds of a history loaded blanket.
Walking on the trails or rambling in the meadow, a person can see young sweethearts scattered on quilts, a group of school children whose grandparents have been their only attachment to the experiences reflected and a solitary man strolls past. It’s not difficult to think he may be the elderly father of somebody whose name emerges on one of the walls.
What isn’t seen here are sightseers and tourists. Memorial Park, situated on the Rio do Plata in Buenos Aires is a place that has dissolved into history where tourists don’t go.
It’s not that they want to bypass Argentina’s pitiless past. The 34 acres don’t register in guide books or in the Chamber of Commerce’s four-color pamphlet of things to do.
While most explore Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada or Evita’s mausoleum, very few know about the park where history doesn’t so much come quick as much as it positions itself, waiting to be noticed.
Built in the first years of the 21st century, Memorial Park is open, roomy and gives plenty of room to roam amid sculptures, signs and names.
Evocative of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, the names are etched in rock as a monument to people who vanished during the country’s “Dirty War”. Emerging from four walls, set at disconcerting angles, the park’s centerpiece is an irregular record that brings to mind the jagged crack that the Dirty War broke upon this South American nation.
From 1976 until 1983, 30,000 were victims of the military junta’s purification in Argentina.
30,000. That’s “just” the death toll. Cruelty was common as well. Even babies, born in detention centers to rebel mothers were abducted and carried away to new parents who persisted in the blessings of the military. Today, of 500 children abducted, just over100 have been found.
The disappearance was carried out in an especially heinous manner. The victims were drugged, tied up and flown over the Rio de la Plata. When airborne over the estuary, each was thrown into the river where they were washed out to sea — never to be found. In a few cases remains got washed up on the shore very close to where Memorial Park is today.
The flights were announced as “transfers” as though someone was simply going to a new prison. Today we know different.
The majority simply disappeared.
It is ironic that the strategy of making the prisoners disappear was connected to the fact that human rights groups like Amnesty International had won so much weight. The military concluded that it was more advantageous not to have any political prisoners — simply get rid of them altogether.
Torture frequently involved electric shocks as well as practices still in use today, like waterboarding. Virtually all of the training in torture was given by the United States of America.
Just like the 2nd Bush administration, the torture centers had medical staff onboard. Doctors who would oversee the extent of the torture and render medical care to the sufferers to get them ready and fit for the net round.
Coming to terms with its “Dirty War” has been a sluggish process for Argentina.
The park is an abstract affair. There is no informational material, no tablets with photos. No artifacts and no answers.
Instead, there are 18 sculptures and zigzagging walls of names, arranged by year and name. A dozen of the sculptures were chosen through a competition, and the other six are by artists with a confirmed dedication to human rights.
One display is explicit in its telling. From the eastern end of the 34-acre complex, a succession of signs, looking like traffic symbols, follow the walkway that wraps the shoreline to the northern apex of the wall-of-names.
Many are plain enough to understand. One shows a soldier’s steel helmet lying upside down and under it the year 1982 — a nod to the Falklands War. America’s responsibility is covered through signs revealing the dollar symbol, the name of the School of the Americas in Spanish and a sign showing the letters “CIA.” Ashamed of its part in ghastly history, America’s Department of Defense became Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2000.
The park was formally inaugurated in November 2007. The ceremony was well-attended. Several thousand, including then-president Nestor Kirchner and his wife, Cristina, who would end up succeeding Nestor. In 2008, park employees went on strike since they had not been paid for several months by the city government. The strike occurred shortly after Mauricio Macri was elected mayor of Buenos Aires. Macri was elected President of Argentina in November 2015.
The park’s entrance is at Avenida Costanera Norte Rafael Obligato 6745. Next to the Rio de Plata, just beyond the regional airport, the park is six miles northwest of Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires’ center.
The parks location means it is out of the way of the usual tourist trails and out of reach of the city’s metro system. The best way to get there is a taxi, about 75 pesos (less than 10 USD) from anywhere in Center City. The park reopens each day at 10 am and ends at 6 pm. There is no admission fee.
Plan on spending between 45 minutes and an hour to completely grasp the park’s significance.
ESMA, a major detention center during the Dirty War is only about a mile away. For several years, ESMA has been undergoing development into a memorial complex, and many of the former detention buildings are now open for viewing.
For more information, visit the park’s website