BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – More than 40,000 people rallied in front of the Casa Rosada to condemn the 34th anniversary of the coup that established the country’s military dictatorship that oversaw tens of thousands of murders from 1976 to 1983.
“The struggle is always the same,” said María Estela de Carlotto, the head of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo who organized the rally, which included several human rights organizations and celebrities. “It’s the fight against economic powers.”
Hours before the rally, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner presided over a ceremony at the School of Naval Mechanics (ESMA), where thousands of dissidents were allegedly tortured and murdered by the country’s military, whose members were accused of tossing those whose views were perceived to differ from the government’s out of planes over the Atlantic Ocean. Fernández de Kirchner said she will appeal to the World Court at The Hague to try those accused of crimes during the dictatorship, if her country’s court system does not rule in ongoing cases against those alleged of having a role in the atrocities.
Fernández de Kirchner, however, may have a tough time backing her words with action against members of the military junta that suspended civil liberties, dissolved congress and political parties and eradicated freedom of the press during the dictatorship’s seven years.
“[The president] made a promise that is impossible to keep,” Adrián Ventura wrote in his column for the newspaper La Nación. “No rule allows the executive branch, representing the state, to sue the state or the [ministry of] justice in order to satisfy their own internal politics.”
Beatriz Sarlo, who writes for newspapers La Nación and Clarín, added: “Cristina Kirchner did not give a grand speech. To understand the great Argentine drama, it must first be understood that there is still no consensus on the achievements of democracy in relation to crimes of the dictatorship.”
Fernández de Kirchner’s mission to hold accountable those who committed crimes during one of the country’s darkest chapters is opposed by former President Eduardo Duhalde (2002-03), who wants the government to end what he calls a “witch hunt” for those associated with the military dictatorship.
“The statements of former President Eduardo Duhalde fill us with pain and fear and are intended to grant impunity to the oppressors that caused the demise of over thirty thousand Argentines,” Julio Alak, the minister of justice, told the Télam news agency.
But Alak wasn’t the only member of Fernández de Kirchner’s staff to back her strong stance on human rights.
“Duhalde must believe that these statements will give him some sort of benefit with a sector of the right, but the truth is that the quest for justice is something imperative for all Argentines,” said Aníbal Fernández, Fernández de Kirchner’s chief of staff, to La Nación.
The day, however, was marked by a violent episode. During the rally in front of Fernández de Kirchner’s residence, members of Quebracho, a left-wing political group, hurled sticks and stones at the headquarters of the Unión Industrial Argentina (UIA). The extremists justified the attack, claiming the UIA was “an accomplice” of the last military dictatorship, according to Clarín.
“Beyond the quality of the speeches and political flags, the important thing is that society has demonstrated its attachment to the continuity of democracy,” said Peter Otaola, who attended the rally.