Erasing traces of Argentina’s dictatorship: 30 years later

The military coup took power at exactly 3:20 a.m. on March 24, 1976. The dictatorship immediately released an ultimatum warning that if military or civil police witnessed any suspicious subversive activity they would administer the “shoot to kill” policy. Some 30,000 activists were kidnapped and murdered during the military junta dictatorship which ruled Argentina from 1976-1983. Along with the support from the U.S. the military junta leaders set out to wipe out “communism” and install a new order and economic model in Argentina.

The military coup had a clear target: of the 30,000 disappeared, 80% were workers. The dictatorship wiped out an entire generation of working-class resistance, which the nation decades later is still recovering. In the 1970′s leading up to the coup, Argentina’s working class struggles thrived. Workers formed internal union delegations outside of traditional unions to demand better salaries and better conditions. Groups of militants had taken over factories and other forms of direct action. However by 1976, unionists were sorted out and disappeared in factories and workplaces.

Dozens of disappearances occurred at many single work-places. Some factories even served as clandestine torture and detention centers for the military. At the Ford Motor’s General Pacheco plant 25 union delegates were detained and disappeared inside the plant’s very own clandestine detention center for days, weeks, or months until they were secretly transferred to the local police precinct transformed into a military cartel. Pedro Troiani was a union delegate for six years in the Ford plant in the Greater Buenos Aires district of Pacheco until the 1976 coup. “The company used the disappearances to get rid of unionism at the factory,” said Troiani. Ford management even donated vehicles, such as the chilling Ford Flacon, to transport prisoners to clandestine detention and torture centers.

The 1976-1983 military dictatorship ushered in unimaginable methods of terror—drugging dissidents and dropping them from planes into the Atlantic Ocean in the “vuelos del muerte,” using electric prods or “picana” on the genitals of men and women who entered the clandestine detention centers, raping women and forcing husbands, wives, parents, brothers, and compañeros to listen to the screams of their loved ones who were being tortured.

“In a year the real salary of workers has dropped 40%. (They are) freezing salaries with the butts of rifles while prices are going up at the point of a bayonet, destroying any form of collective demands, prohibiting internal labor assemblies or commissions, making work hours longer and raising unemployment to the record level of 9%. When the workers protest, the dictatorship characterizes them as subversive, kidnapping entire delegate commissions. In some cases the bodies turn up dead and in other cases they never turn up.”

Over 1,500 workers from the Rio Santiago Ship Yard in Buenos Aires commemorated the ship yard’s 48 disappeared. “This is the first time in 23 years that the workers have come together to commemorate the 30,000 disappeared. I want to thank the /compañeros/ who in the 70s gave everything, even their lives to defend their ideals that were little more than improving the work and social conditions of workers,” remarked a worker during this year’s commemoration. The workers built a massive steel sculpture and inaugurated a plaque with the names of each of the 48 workers.

During the Dirty War in Argentina, much of the population remained silent due to the censorship imposed by the military government. Those who did not stay silent risked being disappeared themselves. This year, in factories, universities, high schools, and /barrios,/ activists organized local events to keep history alive and defend human rights so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Fellow workers commemorated their disappeared with the best homage possible-promising to continue the disappeared activists’ legacy of struggle against exploitation. Many traditional human rights have criticized social organizations’ declarations and demands to end today’s human rights abuses: end to impunity for ex-military officers responsible for torturing and murdering thousands, the release of political prisoners currently held in Argentina and an end to policies causing joblessness, poverty and hunger. Despite conservative sectors of human rights NGO’s position, the struggle for all human rights (social, economic, political and cultural rights) is alive along with the struggle for historic memory in Argentina.

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