No one can believe it. These days in Argentina, no crime is so highly condemned by popular thought as the denial of justice, and today, Menem has committed it. Just in time for the holiday season, our presidente terriblemente honorable has pardoned Videla, Massera, Galtieri and the slew of other ex-commanders and Proceso leaders who had been convicted in 1985.
Thousands of protestors have taken to the streets. There have been food riots regularly since Menem was elected last year, as he has only deepened the economic crisis that Alfonsín left us with, but what catches me off guard today is the vast number of porteños showing their faces in public disapproval. On my way off the Subte, coming home from la facu, I saw la calle Santa Fe crowded with signage and brimming with howls. The supermercado COTO around the corner from my building is occupied by activists—they are peaceful, for now. Once again, I find myself timid in response to the same injustices that carry most to the streets, but if my diary may be another form of protest in itself, some testimonio for the future, I’ll continue to express my dissent in this way. I listen to the radio as I write, hear the crowds at La Plaza de Mayo as they loudly challenge Menem’s impunity and even—as some interviews let on—demand his resignation. In my heart, I know that Menem is weak. Afraid of free assembly, equity, change; out of fear, driven to side with Bush, driven to privatize his way to a neoliberal modernity, to sweeping cutbacks in public spending; driven to grant amnesty to mass murderers in the name of moving on, letting go, and through it all, calling us terrorists because we have refused to accept his doctrine of collective amnesia.
No act has so deeply saddened me more than Menem’s pardon since I learned that papá had died. In 1983, many political prisoners were released. It has been unspeakably sad—and in some cases I heard, traumatic—to watch families attempt to reconstitute themselves. Esteban, Maxi’s friend from colegio, came home from his camp to find that he no longer had a home, for his only remaining family in Buenos Aires had been forced into exile and to this day has not returned from México. In 1984, I received in the mail an anonymous letter about my father. I have no reason to trust the content of the note, but I do. He had passed, the letter said, in 1981. He had passed in the Alejandro Posadas Hospital in las afueras, which had been converted into a detention center after the coup. He had been in Posadas for the entirety of his stay. It had taken three years for the officers to kill him. Or for him to die. To wither away. The letter didn’t say. And I’m not sure why exactly, but the first thing I felt when I read the letter was shock that my father had not been in la ESMA all this time, and then came a rush of foolishness for having assumed that he would have been in la ESMA because of its notoriety and for no other reason, and then a final surge of intense shame for caring about that detail at all.
I remember that the sadness came later. Hours later, I think. I was numb. At that point, regarding papá, I hadn’t known what to expect, or felt capable of evaluating the status of my hope for his life.
This decade of trials has presented a new breed of hardship for Argentina. A new form of agony. Each prosecution has been too intense to resemble relief, too theatrical to resemble truth. The genocide seems on the constant brink of de-legitimization. Additionally, many families are afraid to testify because so many still feel instinctively that to accuse the government—even in retrospect—is to participate in capital crime. In 1984, several months before I received the letter about papá, I had gathered testimony for the local commission of the CONADEP, which coordinated a search for my father and for others who had been disappeared locally, other disappeared union authorities. I met many compassionate figures and became acquainted with a number of human rights resources, but I did not find my father, his captors, or anyone with a clue.
So no, since the testimony, I had been scared to qualify my hope. The letter described papá’s situation while incarcerated. Apparently, he was forced to masquerade around in the uniforms of hospital staff. Another thing, far worse and which I am only barely willing to write here, is that the agents had stolen a family portrait when they stole my father; a torturer in Posadas had kept the picture in its frame—along with other frames holding a myriad of other victims’ family portraits—in his office, every so often bringing it out to show papá in his chamber. It was an exercise in the infliction of deliberate tantalization, an unthinkably evil sort of suffering. It is only now that I recall mamá asking me over and over how that portrait had gone missing from our apartment. I never gave it a second thought. It makes me want to vomit. Speaking of my mother, I will transcribe a final chilling consideration: both of my parents spent their final days in hospitals, and both died because of the dictatorship–the only difference was the number of degrees of separation.
My son just turned 6. I gave birth to him shortly after learning that his abuelo was gone, definitely. Emiliano, after papá. He will never experience this dictatorship, but I have no doubt that he will play an important role in the reconciliation, reparation, for those who did. His name is an ode to memory, to remembering, because to remember is to repair. Nunca más.