Ghosts of Argentina

‘Terrorism’ is a complicated, politically charged word with a definition that varies from person to person; one that is used to perpetuate the dangerous and short-sighted mentality of “us” versus “them”. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. This is a photographic essay that documents what I learned on a trip abroad to Argentina about the tumultuous years 1976-1983 where the State became the worst terrorist of all. 

On March 24th, 1976 Argentina’s government was overthrown by a military coup in an attempt to rid the country of “dangerous”, subversive ideology. Though there were acts of violence from both the leftist groups and the government, the violence and terror were far from equal. Deaths inflicted by leftist groups such as the Montoneros are estimated at 6,000 while kidnapping and deaths by the government top the scales at 13,000 (with less conservative sources estimating up to 30,000). These “terrorists” that the government fought so diligently to eradicate mostly consisted of young university students and workers, guilty only of thinking outside the box and having “communist” ideas. A full blown witch hunt ensued; innocent people pointing their fingers at neighbors, friends, and classmates in hopes of dodging suspicion and protecting themselves. These people thought to be subversive were snatched from their homes in the middle of the night and off of the street in broad daylight. They were held in underground detention centers where they were tortured for days, weeks, or even years, but almost always facing the same fate: death. Pregnant women were tortured and kept alive only until they could give birth, their babies given away to military families while the mothers were killed and “disappeared”, never to be heard from again. These disappeared people are the ghosts of Argentina, unable to find peace because their whereabouts are still unknown. Regardless of other shortcomings and failures, the Presidents of recent years have done a good job at keeping historical memory alive in Argentina, understanding that collective memory is an important part of the healing process. In order to prevent such horrific events from ever transpiring again, we have to remember. Never forget.

My study abroad group began our investigation in Cordoba, and this is what we saw:

The front of the D2, a police station turned clandestine detention center. My own professor spent time here when he was captured as a teenager in Cordoba.
A close-up of the finger prints that decorate the outside of the D2, now a Memory Site to commemorate the disappeared and survivors alike. Names of the disappeared make up the fingerprints, which symbolize their place in Argentina’s collective identity.

cordoba d2

The inside of the center has been left the way it was found, with walls knocked down and peeling paint.

A hallway inside the D2 that hundreds of people were herded in and out of during the years between 1976-1983.

“They tried to rip out our dreams to bury our hope of fighting”.  “Uncover the Memory”

cordoba

Meters away from the underground detention center, D2, is a bustling, beautiful plaza in Cordoba.

cordoba argentina

The church that was right beside the D2. Many prisoners talk about hearing church bells and people singing. To think that people were getting tortured right beside a church while others worshiped and went about their daily lives is a chilling reminder of the evil that lurks just beyond the surface. Did these members of the church and other passerby really not know what was going on right beside them, or did they merely wish to ignore it?

La Perla, another clandestine detention center located in the province of Cordoba where it is estimated over 3,000 prisoners passed through in the 8 years of the Argentine dictatorship.

The three leaders of the three branches of the military looking on at the bloodied Argentina.

The childhood home of Che Guevara in Alta Gracia, Cordoba:

che guevara

“I don’t believe we are close relatives, but if you are capable of shaking with indignation each time that an injustice is committed in the world, we are comrades, which is more important…”

Our next stop was Buenos Aires:

La Plaza de Mayo:

abuelas plaza de mayo

Every Thursday these grandmothers and other supporters gather in front of the Pink House, the Presidential house in Buenos Aires, to march around. This act started back in the 70’s when women went looking for answers about where their pregnant daughters were taken. Some grandmothers have had the amazing luck to be reunited with their grandchildren, the babies that were adopted by other families after their mothers were killed. Others have not been so lucky, and have died before finding the answers they so desperately sought after.

abuelas plaza de mayo
Las abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo
abuelas plaza de mayo
The grandmothers during their march with their famous white handkerchiefs.

Parque de la memoria:

Sign after sign make statements about the State Terrorism and the many disappeared.
A huge wall with names of all of the disappeared, by year of disappearance.

parque de la memoria buenos aires

“Pensar es un hecho revolucionario”– To think is a revolutionary act.

parque de la memoria

A statue in memory of Pablo Míguez, one of the many young people to be “disappeared”.

ford falcon

The Ford Falcon is the infamous car used to kidnap people during the dictatorship.

censorship argentina

“Space given over to terrorism of the State”. An extreme censorship ruled Argentina during the dictatorship. Certain books, movies, and music were blacklisted and banned because of their “subversive” material (The Little Prince, El principito was banned!!)

parque de la memoria

A sign that depicts a pregnant woman behind bars, symbolic of all of the pregnant women that were kidnapped, tortured, and killed by the government.

parque de la memoria

Perhaps the most chilling and disturbing sign in the entire site, one that reminds us of how the majority of the “terrorists” were dealt with: drugged, loaded on to a plane and pushed out into the middle of the huge River Plate.

So regardless of your political position, I think we can all agree that any time a government tortures and kills its people instead of protecting them and their rights, there is a huge problem. Sometimes these people were captured, tortured, and killed because of their actions against the government, but more often than not, they were considered “terrorists” simply because of their ideas and beliefs. Argentina wasn’t alone in its endeavors, however, but rather one piece of a giant, transcontinental scheme called “The Condor Plan”, where the governments of several countries in South America (Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia) simultaneously fought against communism and any ideologies deemed “dangerous” to their right-wing, westernized idea of Nation. The saddest part of all, I fear, is that the United States supported this plan (just read about what Henry Kissinger said and did), and was willing to do whatever it took to prevent South America from turning to full-fledged communism like their Cuban neighbors. Argentina is a beautiful country, but one with a gaping hole in the middle of its heart–the space that should have been occupied by all of the disappeared; a space that is now filled with only ghosts and the memories that their loved ones hold onto.

argentina dirty war guerra sucia

21 Responses

  1. I had no idea of Argentina’s haunting past. Thank you for posting this. Everything is heartbreaking, but what they did to the pregnant woman is absolutely tragic.

    • innercompasstravel

      This is only the very, very tip of the iceberg, I’m afraid :(. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and look at the photos Natasha!

  2. A thought-provoking and informative blog post. The striking photos together with the well-chosen words bring recent history to the fore – so important – no matter how uncomfortable that is.

    • innercompasstravel

      Thank you for reading, Becky, I’m glad it was informative.. just wish it wasn’t so sad!

    • innercompasstravel

      Thank you so much for reading, Becky. This subject is very important to me, everyone needs to educate themselves about human rights violations.

  3. Amazing post…I had no idea.

    • innercompasstravel

      Thanks for reading, Rebecca. Please share with others so that they can educate themselves as well!

  4. That essay breaks my heart. Good job with the descriptions and the photos.

    • innercompasstravel

      Thank you, Jaynie! It really is a tragic story, and I only covered the very basics… there’s so much more, unfortunately :(

  5. Alicia Tagliani

    En el post hay un error fundamental, el golpe militar no se llevó a cabo el 24 de marzo de 1974 sino el 24 de marzo de 1976.

  6. innercompasstravel

    Si, fue un typo

  7. You should Check el Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires (CNBA), the most important secondary school in Argentina. I graduated from this school last year and is has a very dark past, because a big part of the students in the 70s were desaparecidos. The youngest desaparecida in our country history was a 15 years old and she was a student in the CNBA. You should also check Marcelo Grodsky’s picture about his class in the first years of highschool and the comments he wrote about what happened to his partners. It’s really heartbreaking. Great article, by the way, congratulations

  8. I think you did a great job summarizing the horrors of those years. I live in Argentina and it saddens me how some groups try to use this painful past for their own political ends. The good thing is that my generation (the ones who were born after the dark years) will always keep this in our memory and will work so that the future generations do the same and join our voices to say “NUNCA MAS!” (NEVER AGAIN!)

  9. Holy hell. Thank you so much for writing this post. I strongly believe in understanding a country’s history when visiting it to get deep into the culture and process what you’re seeing today. An article well written and needed!

  10. Great insight into a period in a country that I wasn’t very familiar with. All good points, and it’s crucial that we recognize and grow from the mistakes governments have made in the past, regardless of political belief.

    • innercompasstravel

      Exactly! Regardless of political standing, people need to recognize human rights violations and keep them from happening again. Thanks for reading!

  11. Wow, such a dark part of Argentina’s history. This is so interesting and terrifying at the same time. Great images and recounting of the things you’ve learned. Its so important right now to question actions of governing bodies and of organisations that use terror to control. Thank you for sharing

    • innercompasstravel

      You’re right, Kate.. we always need to think critically when it comes to our government. Thanks for reading!

  12. Arturo Emilio Garcia Mendez

    I understand perfectly that you, as young and foreigner had only spoted the “official story”, it is ok. But would be nice also to recall the over thousand state servants, police officers, armed foreces personal, entrepreneurs, foreign companies managers and simplely civilians kidnapped, bombed or shoot to death betwen 1970 and 1979, particulary betwen 1973-1976 when guerrillas striked the harder to provoque the fall of the Peron democratic rule.

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