Argentina’s Dirty War

~Kristen Ziccarelli, A&E Editor~

Forty-three years ago, one of the deadliest periods in Argentine history began. Marked by death, disappearance and control of almost all sectors of society, the ‘Dirty War’ lasting from 1976 – 1983 resulted in the estimated deaths of 10,000 – 30,000 people under Argentina’s military dictatorship. 

Beginning with the military’s successful coup and takeover of Jorge Rafael Videla’s three-man military junta in March 1976, immediate political reforms radically diminished citizen’s freedoms, eventually extending to severe infringement on their human rights. Videla brought state and municipal government under military control, enacted wide censorship, closed their national Congress and banned trade unions. 

During Videla’s right-wing regime, large-scale civil rights violations intended to suppress political dissidents, socialists or leftists and other minority groups. After thousands of Jewish refugees fled Germany during and after World War II, their communities were targeted in an effort to build a ‘master race.’ His regime used hidden detention camps to torture, jail and persecute those subversive to the government. 

With a massive government cover up claiming their actions were a civil war against terrorist leftists, many Argentinian citizens are still unable to trace the disappearances of their relatives and friends. The junta referred to the entire campaign as the ‘Process of National Reorganization,’ and framed their repression as an attempt to crackdown on terrorists.

Absent media coverage of the state terrorism left many vaguely aware of the tragedy (as so many people were disappearing) but silent in fear of retribution. Eventually, a group of women called the “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” troubled by their lost children and grandchildren initiated a form of protest through weekly Thursday afternoon vigils in the ‘Plaza de Mayo.’ With signs bearing the names of their abducted children and grandchildren, these women drew international attention and made a statement domestically.  

Activist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel won the Nobel Peace Prize three years after his death for vocalizing his criticisms of the violence that occurred during Videla’s regime. In 1977, Esquivel was arrested, tortured, and held without trial for 14 months. Although many of the human-rights violators under Videla’s regime have been imprisoned for crimes against humanity and genocide, citizens are left to only speculate of the fates of their disappeared loved ones. 

Weakened by their involvement in the Falklands war, the military junta remained in power until center-left political candidate Raul Alfonsin won the 1983 general election. Alfonsin ensured the prosecution of many of the military personel and nine of the former junta members were placed on trial. Their return to democracy prompted a bilateral relationship between Argentina and the United States.  

All information found in this historical article can be sourced to Britannica and the “Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.”

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