By Andrés Jaroslavsky*
In 1983 Argentina embarked on the return to democracy after a period of military dictatorship which made systematic use of state terrorism. For a society which cried out for justice, it was a stage of euphoric liberation.
The Armed Forces, however, would not allow themselves to be judged for their crimes and waged a campaign of constant threats against the fragile democracy. It was not long before the governments of Alfonsín and Menem blinked and the Armed Forces won legislation which guaranteed them impunity for their crimes.
The climate in those years, for the relatives of the victims of state terrorism, was one of deep frustration as impunity appeared to consolidate its position for ever.
What made matters worse was that, as democracy could not produce miracles, anti-democratic sectors of the population propagated the myth that the dictatorship had been a time of ‘order and security’. Towards the end of the 1980s, while this period of impunity and disillusionment was still continuing, the province of Tucumán, in northern Argentina, achieved the sad distinction of seeing one of the leading dictatorship oppressors proclaimed candidate for state governor.
In 1995, General Bussi, one of the principal criminals of the Argentine dictatorship, was elected Governor of Tucumán. Bussi was directly responsible for the kidnapping, torture and assassination of hundreds of Argentinians, among them my father, Máximo Jaroslavsky, a doctor and cardiologist, who was kidnapped while visiting his patients. Bussi’s crimes remained unpunished.
This election was one of the factors which forced me to leave Tucumán and settle in Córdoba. There I discovered through a friend that a group was being formed to bring together the children of disappeared prisoners and victims of state terrorism. The group had been christened HIJOS (Children for our Identity and Justice against Silence and Oblivion). HIJOS soon became a place which brought us together, both for emotional support and for activism.
Some years later I decided to return to Tucumán to complete the university course which had been interrupted. General Bussi was coming to the end of his term of office in the midst of corruption scandals. Despite this, his party, Republican Force, was putting up the general’s son as candidate for Governor, which would ensure the continuation of his power.
I was elected secretary co-ordinator of the Tucumán Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and took an active part in the campaign to prevent the re-election of Republican Force.
This is when I began to work on the idea of writing a book to gather testimonies from the young people who, through their memories of their childhood, could give the lie to this myth of the dictatorship as a time of order and security.
I felt that this book should portray the different cases of young people whose parents had been the victims of state terrorism: the children of the disappeared, of those who had been assassinated by the dictatorship, of those who were driven into exile or imprisoned and the children of young parents who were seized at birth by the military. It should be a book through which all could share with others of their generation what they had lived through under a dictatorship.
To ensure the truth of the events described I included in the book documents which showed the mediaeval and paranoid character of the regime, as evidenced especially in the speeches of the military.
This project eventually comprised more than ninety interviews which I conducted in most of the main cities of Argentina. I also sought out a huge number of documents and press cuttings. I had to work on this in my free time, and it took me nearly two years.
At the beginning of 2000, my wife won a scholarship to do her doctoral studies in England, so we settled in York. There I began to organise all the material I had collected and I sent out dozens of copies of my manuscript to different publishers.
By good fortune one of the copies came into the hands of Marcela Lopez Levy, who was working at the time at Latin America Bureau. Marcela, with tremendous patience and judgement, edited the material, negotiating changes and corrections with me.
It’s now 8 years since the publication of The Future of Memory*. This book is now on the reading lists of Latin American studies courses in a number of universities and, as a result, I receive quite a number of invitations to speak about the testimonies.
I find myself obliged to revisit The Future of Memory quite often and I am happy to be able to report some of the profound changes which have taken place in Argentina in recent years. The fight by human rights organisations, together with a government with clear principles, finally led to the repeal of the impunity laws.
In 2003 the Argentine Congress voted to annul two statutes aimed at halting criminal prosecutions against military officers, the Due Obedience and Full Stop Acts; in 2005 the Supreme Court resolved that the ‘impunity laws’ were unconstitutional, thus paving the way for the Courts to end the appalling situation of impunity in the country. Argentine society has matured and no longer looks to the Armed Forces for solutions to social conflicts.
The book also strengthened my personal commitment and the work I do on human rights. I continued to write on the subject and am now Country Co-ordinator (Venezuela and Paraguay) for Amnesty International and I am a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York.
I do this work as time permits, for there have been other changes in my life: two ‘earthquakes’, one called Anna, a three-year-old with beautiful eyes, and the other Max, 11 months, who bears the name of his grand-father, that doctor who disappeared while visiting his patients.
For them, my children, I am keeping a pair of copies of The Future of Memory.
* This article was translated from Spanish by Mike Gatehouse, from LAB.
Further reading by Andrés Jaroslavsky
Copies of The Future of Memory can be ordered from http://www.centralbooks.co.uk/acatalog/