The Dirty War

By Fr Luis Sabarre OMI

The last year has seen the collapse of the Argentine economy and near revolution in the streets coming not from the poor but from the middle classes who have seen their savings in the banks destroyed through the collapse of the Argentine peso. But Argentina’s troubles began further back in the ‘80s when the ruthless military government introduced what was almost a reign of terror. One feature was the snatching away of people and making them disappear…sometimes by dropping them from helicopters into the sea. Everyone was scared and even the Church did not speak up as it did in the Philippines. However one courageous group of women, mothers and relatives of the ‘disappeared’, started their famous silent walk around the Plaza de Mayo which fronts the Palacio Rosada where the President resides. These women have become known as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Fr. Luis Sabarre, a Filipino missionary in Argentina, takes up the story.

It was 1982 when I arrived in Argentina that I first heard about the much talked-about “Guerra sucia” or the dirty war. The last coup d’etat in the country on March 24, 1976 brought down the government of Isabel Peron, the legitimate successor on the death of her husband, Juan Domingo Peron, founder of the Peronist Party. Isabel Peron was the first woman president of Argentina. The military junta found her to be weak and unable to handle the government and to control the resurging unrest of the populace due to the constant threat and disturbances of the guerillas influenced by Che Guevara.

Military operations against civilians

With the military in control a series of massive operation started all over the country against university students, workers, professionals and religious people. Bombs and explosions, skirmishes were frequent occurrences during this period. This war against the so-called subversives was later on dubbed as “the dirty war”.

Lost People

On the part of the military government the war, they said, had to take place to save the country from chaos and restore the democratic process, then the situation would return to normal. The means they claimed were legitimate so they performed tortures and kidnappings, which brought worldwide attention to the famous “desaparecidos” – the missing or lost people.

Madres de Plaza de Mayo, they are the group of mothers whose children and relatives were victims of the military campaign who were either tortured, killed and dropped into the sea or into a common burying ground. Other victims, pregnant women, were sequestered and after giving birth were either set free or counted among the “desaparecidos”. Their newborn babies were then given away to military couples or taken over by childless couples.

Protest March

The weekly marches and manifestations of the “Madres de Plaza de Mayo” still go on to this day and is a constant demand to shed light on the whereabouts of their respective sons and daughters and grandchildren or give any indication of their present state.

Plaza de Mayo

1983-2001: After 18 years since the first “Plaza de Mayo march”, for the more than 30 thousand missing people only a few were able to get information on the tragic destinies of the “desaparecidos”. Many questions remain unanswered to the present day on account of the amnesty announced by the new democratic government that took over in July of 1989. Almost all of the military junta officials were given amnesty and so they were given freedom to move around and even out of the country. Some were tried and condemned but the majority is still around.

Only time will tell, if it will ever come, when the real culprits are all brought to trial and the demands for a reconciled country will arrive to a real solution and peace for everybody.