March 30, 2010
Preserving memories of terror and loss in Argentina

A woman walks along one of the slabs at the Memorial Parque to the disappeared in Buenos Aires. Photo: Peter Eisner

I was irritated some weeks ago by the comments of Jose Moya, a Barnard College professor, who said on Worldfocus that Argentinians have increasingly little memory of the “Dirty War” of the 1970s and 1980s. “Eventually it will become something like Franco in Spain that fewer and fewer people remember,” Moya said.

He was wrong about Argentina, and wrong about Spain. Both countries are doing much to make sure new generations remember the victims of state-sponsored murder.

The depth of my disagreement with Moya became clear recently during a visit in Buenos Aires to the Parque de la Memoria along the River Plate, which commemorates the deaths of at least 20,000, perhaps 30,000 people at the hands of Argentina’s military government. It reminded me in some way of the Vietnam Memorial, listing thousands of names on slabs of stone, giving substance to the names of mostly young people whose lives were swept away.

Strange thing about the place. It has the look of a monument that hasn’t been finished yet, although it was authorized to be built 12 years earlier.

A statue offshore, commemorates missing Argentinians during the
Dirty War. Their bodies were sometimes hurled into the waters of the River Plate. Photo: Peter Eisner

It is surrounded by barbed wire, empty spaces patrolled by lone guards, at first it seems no one has been there. And then, moving in on the names, I saw little yellow flowers crammed in the chinks. People have come to see the names and remember the loved ones who disappeared often without a trace. When I focused in on the names, I could see each was listed by year with their ages when they died. Most of those listed were very, very young.

From 1976 to 1983, the Argentinian military government practiced state terrorism. They dragged away supposed agitators and terrorists who most of the time where innocent teachers, students, union activists, philosophers, musicians, then tortured and killed them.

Beyond the windswept monument, I looked out to the broad, ocean-like River Plate. On a rock, just offshore, stands the statue of a person facing the waves, symbolizing the people whose bodies were dumped in the river and swept away.

“The list of names on this monument include the victims of state terrorism, those detained, disappeared and murdered, and those who died fighting for the very ideals of justice and fairness.”
Photo: Peter Eisner.

Argentinian writers still focus on the Dirty War, artists produce pictures and sculptures, filmmakers make movies, in order not to forget. In some cases, mothers and grandmothers still search for children who were taken in infancy, given fake names and adopted by the torturers of their parents.

In Spain, meanwhile, more than 70 years after the Spanish Civil War, family members are still hunting for mass graves of the victims of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s regime. The Civil War still haunts Spanish society. In both countries, there are revisionist historians and extremists who try to minimize the brutality or rewrite history, as if the cause of the murders was somehow more justified with time. But monuments, journalism and art will protect and ensure the persistence of memory, and the accuracy of history.

– Peter Eisner




The Dirty War is vivid in my American mind.
Amazing that Moya wasn’t aware of the things
you write of. Bob


Really sorry that this program will be coming off the air. Enjoyed the stories from around the world that are certainly not available elsewhere. Will miss you. Hope to see you back again– Thank you for all your good work. Sue

Peter Eisner is an editorial consultant with Worldfocus and a 30-year veteran of international news. He has been an editor and foreign correspondent at The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press. He co-authored “The Italian Letter,” which details fraudulent intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. He was founder and president of Newscom, an international online news service, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

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