April 19, 2005: Scilingo convicted

What hurt me most when Scilingo’s confessions rocked Argentina in 1995 wasn’t the atrocity of his crimes. After all, the death flights in all of their mechanized, inhumane barbarity had been detailed more than a decade earlier in the 1984 Nunca Más report. Indeed, as much as the country may have wanted to ignore them, the facts were already published. No, what hurt me the most was that very will to blindness, the fearful desire to ignore, the knee-jerk impulse to question the the hell out of the victims but lap of every word of a perpetrator like Adolfo, President Menem’s cowardly accusation that Scilingo was “rubbing salt on old wounds,” the complicity of not just twisted military torturers and power hungry politicians but doctors, priests, the ostensible healers of society!

Today, a decade from 1995 in the other direction, Argentina has still avoided sentencing men like Scilingo. Though in spite of some progress this national sickness of ours has yet to heal fully heal, I am filled with hope for another reason. Luckily, the world is bigger than just Argentina: today, a Spanish court convicted Scilingo (poor soul; while his suffering in the public spotlight is not undeserved, he bears the symbolic guilt of the entire Proceso while others higher up in the chain of command escape conviction) crimes against humanity, terrorism, and torture under the junta.

Scilingo sits in the High Court in Madrid 10. An ironic flight of fancy: after centuries of injustice in Latin America wrought by one (royal) Spanish court, another court (judicial) bears justice where Argentina won’t?

Though the human rights organizations heralding this decision as a monumental step forward in universal justice may be overly idealistic (as Menem’s pardons in 1990 demonstrated, convictions for even the most unquestionable crimes can overturned for political reasons… if criminals of Videla’s and Massera’s magnitude can walk free five years after their sentencing, it seems naive to celebrate decisions like this with any assumption of permanence), this ruling is a huge step forward. For the first time in history, Spain tried a defendant for crimes against humanity committed in another country under the principle of universal jurisdiction. No longer can those guilty of crimes against humanity enjoy a guarantee of impunity if their home country’s judicial system refuses to pursue action.

I sense a pattern in this journal: only when I’m warmed by the flame of hope do I have the energy not just to latch on to events in my world around me but turn me gaze inwards. My last entry, feeling deflated after Menem’s 1990 pardons, shivered in the absence of that flame. It’s a pity, because I didn’t get to talk at all about Carlos ! The flame in me surges and I smile as I think of him now, even these years later. He started teaching at the same escuela inicial in 1985, two years after I did, and we hit it off almost immediately. For the first three years some remnant of the closed silence that gripped Argentina kept us from confessing anything more than friendship. But we grew closer and closer, and only a year after beginning to officially date in 1988 we married in 1989! Our only child, Mercedes (after my hero, La Negra) was born a year later, and as we grew in to our roles as parents and as elementary teachers in equal measure. In our daughter as in our five and six year-old students, we contribute our act of resistance, our sacrifice to the past, our tribute to the future we want, by trying to instill the compassion, emotional awareness, open honesty, and loving acceptance that Argentina lacked so tragically during the Proceso and has yet to fully own.

[I can’t seem to post a comment on this entry, so will do so here: Lénica – only now do you tell me about Carlos! Qué te pasa, hija? What good news, and a daughter, Mercedes. How wonderful to hear that you are both committed to raising more children than your own. In the end, I think that’s the only real payback, the way to keep the horrors of the past from being repeated in our own age.]

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