It was a decade ago that ex-Navy captain Adolfo Scilingo told Argentina that he had participated in two death flights during the war. He told us that he had obeyed orders to drop several dozen drugged bodies into the sea, and that he had thought of them as non-violent, Christian ways to die. For a decade, we’ve all been watching, listening closely to Verbitsky talk about it on la tele, on the radio, simultaneously addicted to and repulsed by his accounts, simultaneously horrified to hear the cold, slippery voices of these notorious, almost mythical ex-commanders, ex-operatives, ex-officers who come on the news, who entered our homes acoustically… and at the same time, desperate for them to come on, to tell us the things we don’t want to hear but know in our hearts we ought to know…
Throughout the latter half of the 90s, things have been different in Argentina. The social mood has changed. I do not mean to suggest that by any means this neoliberal democracia de mierda has meant the implementation of any sort of structural liberation for our pueblo argentino, but perhaps that liberation has taken forms I never would have, at one point, thought possible. Scilingo’s confession, his fierce criticisms of his superiors, his court actions against them, have ruptured some pact of silence. Many more have come forward since he spoke up. The people who were silent, too, during the dictatorship are gaining their voices. People are willing to talk. People want to talk. They are pressing military enforcers who have come forward to come out with exactly how, when, and by whom loved ones were killed. Many are demanding redress on the part of the government, demanding that the government actions of today and yesterday are held accountable, and demanding that victims of their actions are commemorated accurately and wholly.
Against silence. Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia, contra el Olvido y el Silencio. They read, they talk, they protest. They are the politicized grandnieces and nephews of Las Madres. They are dedicated to re-defining and re-remembering the stories of their parents, and integrating those stories into the very threads of Argentine society for the present and future. Today, it was the Spanish court opened its mouth at last. It has decided that Scilingo has committed crimes against humanity and ought to spend 21 years in Spanish prison—21 years for each life he dumped so non-violently into the black waves. Today’s victorious issue of Página/12 is already littering the streets, and people are collecting them as if this morning, it rained gold. Salt in old wounds? No, Menem. We need this.
I turn 65 next month. My son will be 21, I can’t believe it. He’s studying at la UBA just as I did, though studying English literature in la sede Filosofía y Letras. Sometimes I think about being an old mother, and indeed I conceived him at an odd age—it was an appropriately-timed birth in history, I do maintain—but what moreso makes me wonder—or worry?—is his capacity to absorb. Was it an injustice to deny my child his own memories of a crucial turbulence in our nation’s history? How and what will he be able to contribute to this new surge of commemoration, and will he even bother? Someone once said that the past has already happened, but its meaning can change. I want for Emiliano to participate in Argentina’s meaning-making, for mamá, papá, for my old colleagues from UNICEN, for the students, for the workers, for the silenced ones and the ones who fell for rejecting the silence. Truth commissions and the retrospective arrests of murderers may prove momentarily soothing, but they don’t feel like enough. Healing for the country will happen only if future generations bother to understand and address the social trauma of my generation. Constantly on the verge of letting deniers convince me that what I feel is the result of one long nightmare, always told to move on, move on, move on (Menem), or that it was our fault, our fault, our fault (Massera)… it will take the voices of those who believe for me—for us—to feel immersed in a society that refuses to deny the truth and that trusts the emotional realities of the historically silenced. Especially as an educator, I believe this.