The daughter of a couple kidnapped during Argentina's Dirty War chastizes the country's leader for appointing a suspected war criminal as army head.
From 1976 to 1983, Argentina was mired in the so-called “Dirty War.” Amnesty International estimates that some 20,000 people suspected of being opposition activists or leftists were kidnapped and/or killed by the military junta. They are known as the desaparecidos — literally, the disappeared.
When the junta was overthrown, the leaders of both the army and the resistance guerrillas were tried, although many were granted freedom upon the introduction of pardon laws in 1986 and 1987 by President Carlos Menem.
In 2003, these laws were repealed by the government of Nestor Kirchner. Compensation and DNA testing have since allowed family members of desaparecidos to receive payments from the state, and to enable the children of the desaparecidos who were kidnapped and placed with other families to be reunited with their biological relatives.
Since succeeding her husband in 2007, President Cristina Kirchner has continued to prosecute the military and security officers responsible for the disappearances. But her appointment of Cesar Milani as head of the Army last month has horrified much of the Argentine population, as documents have emerged showing his signature in the case of a soldier's “disappearance.”
As a result of this polemic, and in the run up to the legislative elections in November, Victoria Donda, national deputy for the left-wing opposition political party Libres del Sur and the daughter of two desaparecidos, has written an open letter to President Kirchner.
- OpEd -
BUENOS AIRES - I am not, Cristina, one of the people that accused your government of vote-hunting hypocrisy when it took up the fight for human rights. Today, at the end of this letter, I can sign with my real name thanks to Argentina's citizens and the Abuelas a human rights organization founded by mothers of the desaparecidos, those who disappeared during Argentina's Dirty War. The organization fights to locate the children who were taken during the repression who at a certain point decided to go in search of truth and justice. I am the result of this. And I am proud of it.
Nor am I, Cristina, one of the people who accused you of “retaliation” or “revenge,” and I never have been. I am, given my family history and my activism, a fighter for all the men and women who had their human rights violated under the last dictatorship and also those who today, throughout our country, continue to suffer human rights violations.
I did not vote for the pardon laws. I was just 10 years old when they were passed. But as soon as I understood what they stood for, they repulsed me and led me to become an activist for Libres del Sur, the political organization that I have belonged to for the last 15 years. We fight for truth and justice in memory of those who gave everything, including their lives, for the country that many of us dreamed of. We are far from a commercial enterprise.
I want to clarify these last two points because you claim that the people who today criticize your appointment of César Milani as Head of the Army are the same people who supported the pardon laws — or else people whose views are solely based on their business interests and who don’t care about the victims or human rights in the slightest.
I am the same person who couldn’t stop crying on March 24, 2004, the date the ESMA, which was used as a detention center during the Dirty War, was and converted into a Remembrance Museum. A pregnant colleague was stood next to me. I asked her: “How far along are you?” She replied: “Five months.” I was that small when I set foot in this place for the first time. The woman who gave birth to me after being tortured, who had me knowing that she was unlikely ever to see me again, deserves for her daughter to know what her eyes looked like. That day, despite the pain, I decided to do a DNA test.
I am the woman who, on Oct. 8, received the results of a DNA test and, sitting down and holding tight to the hand of a close friend, listened to the judge say: “Your results show a 99.999% compatibility with María Hilda Pérez and José María Donda Tigel. She was 23 years old; he was 21.”
Lydia Vieyra is a survivor of the ESMA and the woman who helped my mother during the birth and the woman who ever since I have called “Auntie.” She told me my mother was kidnapped in the west zone, and that no one knew where my father was kidnapped. She told me my mother had me in the ESMA, and that she named me Victoria.
I left the courtroom, phoned my colleague Isaac “Yuyo” Rudnik a director at Libres del Sur and told him “I’m Victoria.” I felt that in homage to my mother, the one with the beautiful big eyes better known as Cori, I had to take the name that she gave me when she saw me for the first time, lying on a wooden table thinking about how she would find me if they separated us.
Cristina, today it deeply shocks and saddens me to see that the concept of due obedience — which prevented low-rank soldiers who committed crimes on the orders of their superiors from being prosecuted — is alive and well in our country. It pains me to hear men and women that I respect – Kirchnerist icons – say that César Milani “signed something that he couldn’t not sign, because he was 20 years old,” or that “in the year 1976 Milano was a sub-lieutenant, which is the lowest military rank,” as though these facts were enough to justify wiping clean the dark criminal record of the man that you named head of the Army. The mere suspicion of such links should be more than enough for Milani to face the courts and see the faces of those who say they were kidnapped by the “young” César Milani.
I used to be part of Kirchnerism, this is true. But of the Kirchnerism that tried those accused of genocide and repealed the shameful pardon laws. Of the Kirchnerism that reclaimed the ESMA as a space for remembrance and took down the portraits of the military leaders accused of genocide. At Libres del Sur, we left Kirchnerism over five years ago, criticizing the aspects that we couldn’t share and that distressed us. Today I see that we were right to do so.
I was part of a government to which, in theory, the Milanis would never return. A government where the corruption of the previous president was supposedly rejected, but then news of the Kirchner corruption case came to light. A government that spoke of the importance of sovereignty over our natural resources, and yet recently Barrick Gold Corporation and now Chevron have appeared on the scene. They are the ones, not us, that represent the Argentina of the past, of betrayals, of human rights violations, of corruption, of looting, of impunity.
Today, Cristina, real life and politics are on two completely separate paths. I feel like the portraits that we took down have symbolically been put back up; the companies that we asked to leave the country — Repsol in 2012, for example — have come back to take what is ours and contaminate us; and corruption has been revived in the worst possible way.
Today I see that Kirchnerism lives on only in speeches based on memories. A political process that started a decade ago and excited many of us is now reproducing many of the worst traits of the system that it once supposedly denounced.
For many years now, in my roles as a political activist and as a national deputy in opposition to your government, I have been working for a better Argentina. Working to achieve the country for which my parents and their generation gave everything. A country that, considering your recent actions, is getting further and further away.
In recent years, your government has been lowering flags that it took us a long time and a lot of effort to raise. I’m sorry, Cristina, for throwing all this at you from my “commercialised-media trench” that is Libres del Sur. I’m sorry for being someone who, according to you, does not recognize the victims of the dictatorship or the human rights violations that occurred, simply because I denounce what I do not agree with. And I’m sorry if I’m reminding you of the inconsistencies in your position. But whether you like it or not, I am Victoria.
National Deputy for Libres del Sur and a refound granddaughter