Monday, February 6, 2012

Argentina's Dirty War

I just watched a movie "The Disappeared", which deals with those who disappeared in Argentina, and I wanted to write in this history, my views of this dirty war during the time I was in Argentina.  In 1976 a military government took over.  I was called on a mission to Argentina in 1977 and arrived in Argentina in January of 1978, during the summer.  I quickly learned that documents and visas were important.  There were some missionaries who had to stay at the MTC (Missionary Training Center) longer waiting for visas.  I quickly learned to never go any place without my "documents".  These were papers you had to carry with you at all times, even local citizens.  This was part of overcoming terrorists and seditionists.  The government made a wide sweep, and these are those times they crossed my path. 

My first contact was with a police check point.  It was a place we passed often, and so it was a bit strange that one day the police officer held his shot gun on us, Elder Ellsworth and I, and asked to see our papers.  My next contact was with Elder Findley, where we (everyone on the bus) were asked to get off a bus and our documents were inspected. 
About this same time, in the  community of San Fernando, we were asked to talk to a woman who lived in a high-rise complex.  She told us her story.  Her son had gone missing, taken by the government.  She was without a husband.  She was trying to make ends meet by knitting.  However her sadness was for her missing son, who had become part of the disappeared.

We missionaries were aware of the political situation, and faced it as something we couldn't change.  It was something you just put up with.  About this time I became aware of "Las Madres."  This was a group of mothers of those who had disappeared who would meet at Cinco de Mayo Plaza on a regular basis to march, demanding to know of their children.  I happened upon them on one occasion, a small group for the day, and they were outside the Cathedral, which also was on a corner by the Plaza.  The Pink House (President's Mansion) was on the opposite side of the plaza. 

When I and my companion moved to Don Torcuato, we were setting up a new area, and were looking for a place to live.  In doing this we met the brother of Presidente Aramburu.  He told us the story of his brother, how we was kidnapped, and later murdered by members of the Montoneros, a radical Peronist group which had turned to violence.  He was in tears, and very bitter as he told the story, which had taken place eight years earlier.  His brother was a former president of Argentina at the time of his kidnapping.

My next contact with the Disappeared was in Don Torcuato.  In this area a member family was the Bonavena Family.  They talked of a sister or brother and spouse of Hermana Bonavena who had to flee to Spain.  This was because they worked for a program teaching the illiterate to read.  This program was thought to harbor many seditionists.  As a result the net of suspicion lead towards this family.  They went to Spain, as Spain is the mother country of Argentina, they could get in without a visa.  They left their house and most of their possessions behind.  The house was occupied by a military family.

Also in Don Torcuato we came upon the story of Dr. Santillan.  After we met the doctor, the Bonavena family told us the story as they lived close to his office and home.  The Doctor had an office close to a train station called Kilometro 26 (an original name.)  A terrorist had been wounded.  There was a flight of stairs up from the train station to the road where the doctor had his office.  This wounded terrorist made it to the top of the stairs and to the office of the doctor.  It was shortly after that that the doctor became one of the disappeared.  However he was returned after a couple years of captivity and torture.  The Bonavenas said he aged a great deal during his captivity.   He was a grey-haired man when we met him.  I know he continued on with his career and was bettering himself.  He was studying herbal medicine and improving himself.

There was another incident when we were on that train.  There was a field area which separated Don Torcuato form the next town towards the Capitol.  One time while returning by train from the Capitol, we observed a tank in a villa miserable (slum) carrying on some operation.

Although I didn't realize it at the time, this area was important to the military government as it was close to "Campo de Mayo," a large military base where many of the disappeared were held and tortured and I am sure murdered.  I took the bus through the base on a couple of occasions.  The attitude was to not talk about anything while on the base, for fear you might say the wrong thing.

I had one other experience with the military government.  On one occasion my companion and I were on the street when a military truck passed us.  It came to a stop and a group of soldiers jumped out of the truck confronting the few pedestrians, which included my companion and me.  They were armed.  They asked to see our documents.

The Argentina World Cup Soccer was a big thing while we were there.  The home team actually won.  The movie that got me thinking of these things pointed out that the T.V. connection was brought into the prison.  However it also asked the question, how many were tortured during the match, how many were killed?  It puts a different light on things.

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