WORLD

Argentina examines its dark past

NANCY MACDONALD May 7 2007
WORLD

Argentina examines its dark past

NANCY MACDONALD May 7 2007

Argentina examines its dark past

WORLD

NANCY MACDONALD

Former Argentine president Reynaldo Bignone will stand trial for crimes associated with the so-called Dirty War of 1976-83, a federal judge in Buenos Aires, the capital, has ruled. Bignone,

Argentina’s last dictator, and six ex-officers, are accused of baby snatching, among the ugliest crimes committed under the military junta when thousands disappeared during the dictatorship’s seven-year crackdown on leftist dissent. (Bignone, a former army general, describes the charge as “an invention.”)

To the Catholic military class, abortion was a sin, even though murder apparently wasn’t. And so, in clandestine torture centres, pregnant political opponents were kept alive long enough to deliver their babies, who were then given to ideologically “right-minded” families, says Rita Arditti, professor emerita at the Union Institute and University in Massachusetts, who has studied the children of the “desaparecido”—the disappeared. These children, now in their twenties, numbered close to 500, of whom 87 have been reunited with their biological families.

Though cathartic, it is disheartening for Argentines, who have always prided themselves as the most civilized Latin Americans, to understand the depth of past horrors, says professor Albert Berry, an area specialist at the University of Toronto. In 2005, the Argentine Supreme Court broke with a tradition of leniency for past sinners, repealing amnesty laws shielding military officers from prosecution, and clearing the way for the many trials of former officials that are currently unfolding. In breaking with the old, Berry sees hope, for the courts are becoming theatres for the larger question: where Argentina is heading. For many, the goal is a true democracy—where evildoers can be brought to justice. M