Category Archives: Plaza de Mayo

Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos “The space for memory and human rights”. Part 1.

Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos

“The space for memory and human rights”

Ex ESMA (Naval School of Mechanics)The space of Memory, Truth and Justice

My visit to the “museum” began as I entered the building. Faces of the victims fill the windows and glass walls that welcome you to the Officials House, a former site of both the Argentine Naval School of Mechanics and, beginning in 1977, one of the more than 600 clandestine detention centers the military dictatorship created as concentration, torture and extermination centers during Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship from 1976-1983.

Fifteen buildings occupy the 42-acre property renamed the Space for Memory and Human Rights, known as ex ESMA. ESMA was the Spanish abbreviation for the former base of operations and living space for the officials who worked in this detention center, one of more than 600 detention centers located throughout Argentina. No wonder our bus driver corrected me when I indicated we wanted to exit the bus at ESMA. “EX ESMA?” he asked. “Si.” The space it formerly occupied no longer exists. It is undoubtedly EX ESMA now. I stand corrected.

So far I have visited four of the fifteen buildings so far: the “Casino de Oficiales”; the Casa por la Identidad; 30,000 Compañeros Presentes, and the Harold Conti Cultural Center. IMG_2882

Throughout the site appear various photographic, story panels that show some of those who were disappeared, telling the story of their short lives. Each records the dates of their entries into and disappearances from the ESMA detention center.

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Hand-painted portraits of political activists from those years through today appear on the exterior walls of some buildings, like this one of Milagro Sala, a political organizer in NW Argentina who was imprisoned in January 2016 for her beliefs and work on behalf of the people who live in the Tupac Amaru community.IMG_2922

Other buildings on the 42-acre property are vacant, some are being used for educational, artistic, research, film, music, theatre photography, workshops, guided visits for schools, seminars and debates, programs for young children and many educational and cultural events—a place where the power of art is transformative! In the following posts, I write about visiting three other buildings/exhibits on the property: the Harold Conti Cultural Center; 30,000 Compañeros Presente; and the Casa de la Identidad.

Espacio Memoria

In the actual detention and torture center, the former Casino de Oficiales, I toured the building with a Spanish-speaking guide. I wandered alone throughout the rest of the buildings and around the property itself. Except for 2 or 3 text explanations in English all of the text panels and printed materials are exclusively available in Spanish. And while it is true that a photograph is worth a thousand words, the words of those who survived this horrible place with its horrible activities, it is especially poignant to read from their memories. It is possible to arrange for a tour of this space and the property in general—in English, but I didn’t do so. With English speakers, however, I recommend an English-speaking guide so you don’t miss the moving testimonies of the survivors.

Much of what is known and spoke about in this space is based on survivors’ testimonies and various historical documents. Large video screens display interview excerpts with many survivors. The building, now empty, except for the display panels and multiple video screens it is stark and quiet. But not always. Not then. Then the torturers blared rock music throughout the detention center, though it rarely muffled the sounds emanating from the rooms where the detainees were kept. As if loud hard rock music could block out the screams from the men and women being questioned and tortured, while the capucho or hood blocked their faces from their captors and from each other.

 

The building tour took us to the military and prisoners’ housing spaces, bathroom, torture centers, and birthing center. Yes, this was where pregnant prisoners “dieron luz”, that is, where the women gave birth to their babies, and then lost their own lives as well as their newborns’. This space and its macabre reality struck me as very very powerful, and left me more than ready for the beautiful testimonies to the families of the disappeared children I saw on display in the Casa de la Identidad.

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How was it possible that children were born in this place?

INSIDE THE DETENTION CENTER

The Capucha

The principal space where the prisoners were kept was known as the “Capucha” (literally, the hood). Each small cubicle had a bed on the floor. Those detained had their hands and feet tied and each wore a hood or silk mask that covered their faces/eyes. Prisoners here weren’t known by their names, but by their numbers.

Some prisoners remained here for hours, days, or months, while others were kept here for years. Every Wednesday the guards would call a group of prisoners by their numbers. They were made to form a line and descend two flights of stairs down to the basement where they would be “transferred.”

Entryway to ESMA memorial site

Looking out from the former detention center

The basement

The basement was used for torturing and eliminating victims It was the first place where those abducted were taken to and gathered to be killed. Torture was the main activity of the center. Prisoners were taken their after arriveal, where they were interrogated. Officers wanted information from them aboth other political activisits. Also located here was the Infirmary where prisoners were kept alive after their torture and where the military gave prisoners sedatives for their “traslado” once it was determined that they would die. Here, wrote Alberto Girondo, “Torture happened practically every day and when I was in the infirmary I could hear perfectly well the screams of those being tortured, in spite of the music played to ‘cover up’ their screams and the voices of the torturers who also screamed very loudly to demand information from the prisoners.

IMG_2774  Los Traslados

The euphemism for death. “Traslado” (transfers) was what the military called the disappearance of those imprisoned here. Their prinicipal method of exterminating prisoners here consisted in rounding them up alive, drugging, stripping and dropping them from airplanes into the sea or the Rio de la Plata. This method was later known as the “death squad.”

Pieza de las Embarazadas

The registries show that more than 30 pregnant women were sent to ESMA, even though it is believed that the number is actually larger. A number of the children born here would be returned to their families (after 1983) thanks to the work of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. These women did and continue to work tirelessly on behalf of the children of those disappeared.

After the mothers were separated from their newborn children, their jailers would make them write a letter with the child’s details. They assured the mothers that they would get these letters to the families where their children would be sent. But it wasn’t so. A few days after giving birth most of the women were assassinated and their babies given away. There is only one exception to this. The son of Elizabeth Patricia Marcuzzo, who she named Sebastian, born on APRIL 15, 1978, is the ONLY child who was ever reunited with his biological family, in part because his mother Elizabeth’s letter actually did reach Sebastian’s new family.

A small photo appears in an exhibit focusing on the perpetrators of the crimes against the people. It shows the official Héctor Febrés, in charge of the clandestine efforts that took place here, where more than 30 children were given away. Febrés, the only one implicated during the first trial of those responsible died in his cell after taking cyanide pills only a few hours after being sentenced, in December of 2007.IMG_2915

Los Baños

It was in the bathrooms that those abducted by the Navy Intelligence Service were able to communicate with one another. If not actually speak, at least they could look at one another in the mirrors of those bathrooms. IMG_2767As a result, survivors identified many of the disappeared and their testimonies were part of the main evidence provided in the court trials afterwards.

Condemned

The last stop on our tour was a long, rectangular room with floor to ceiling windows separated by cement columns. It was completely empty, except for the 16 slide projectors overhead that projected onto all the walls photographs and histories of the military officials responsible for the disappeared at ESMA during these painful years. How moved I was to reach the end of this horrific slide show, to read the word Condenados and see the sentences meted out by Argentine courts to the torturers. Then. And now.

 Continue on to read Part Two: Espacio de Memoria y Derechos Humanos, Casa de la Identidad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under bilingual American guide, Buenos Aires, Dirty War, Golpe Militar, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Los desaparecidos, Parque de la Memoria, Plaza de Mayo, The disappeared, Visiting Mendoza

Turning 25 in Buenos Aires

thumb_FullSizeRender_1024.jpgNoooo, not me. My blog. I’ve reached a milestone 25 posts on seebuenosaires.com since I started it five years ago. This post, #26, is really an index of the titles of each of my previous posts. I’ve written them to share my experiences, impressions and photos. Now in 2016 with almost 4,000 reader views I’m still finding new things I want to share. So far I’ve written about — well, go ahead, click, read, enjoy–and come visit to seebuenosaires for yourself!

Holy, holy, holy

On politics in Argentina: Without freedom of speech there is no democracy

Parque de la Memoria

Come along and walk with me if you like what you see: Morning walks in Buenos Aires

Viva Jujuy!

argentina image

La Vida Salteña

In red and white: walking against injustice

Your special Buenos Aires tour: the same and not the same

Carnaval 2014, Montevideo, Uruguay

Visit Buenos Aires in 2014

Buenos Aires and Iguazú Falls

Buenos Aires Street Art Graffitti

From Ice to Fire: Visiting Tierra del Fuego

Visiting Argentina’s glaciers

January, 2013 from my southern home

Museum Afternoons

Visiting Mendoza: Argentina’s wine country

People to meet, places to go, food to eat
Welcoming 2012 in Buenos Aires

November

Cycling in Buenos Aires

Bienvenido a mi querida Buenos Aires

On language, culture and friendship

Tango Energy

See Buenos Aires with me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under bilingual American guide, Buenos Aires, MALBA, Montevideo, Mothers of the Disappeared, Museums in Buenos Aires, Parque de la Memoria, Plaza de Mayo, Politics, public art murals, Recoleta Cemetery, Religious buildings, Street Art, The disappeared, Travel in Argentina, Ushuaia, Visiting Jujuy, Visiting Mendoza, Visiting Salta the Beautiful, Visiting Uruguay

Holy, holy, holy

Thanks to friends who asked me what I knew about Jews in Buenos Aires, in 2015 I began to learn more about the various cultural groups and religious faiths  here. First up: religions and religious institutions.

l had heard that Argentina was pretty much a Catholic country, although I’d never participated in  religious ceremonies of any kind when I’ve travelled within Buenos Aires and Argentina. While 70% of Argentinans identify as Catholics, down from 90% previously, there is indeed religious diversity in Buenos Aires. Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Mormons, as well as various Protestant and Christian groups each have their own places of worship, and in some cases, of burial too. Let me take you on a tour of the major religions and their institutions.

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Altars, Metropolitan Cathedral

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Side altar, Cathedral

The Metropolitan Cathedral, the most important Catholic Church in the area, is filled with marvelous tilework (not unlike the spectacular Teatro Colon’s), among its many altars and statues. The Cathedral was once the home parish of Pope Francis Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires who lived next door to the cathedral in a simple apartment so he could minister easily to his flock. The cathedral is set across from the Plaza de Mayo.

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Overlooking Recoleta Cemetery

Not exclusively a Catholic cemetery but filled with many catholics, the Recoleta Cemetery where many of BA’s nobility and military elite are buried, dates from the early 18th century. Prior to becoming a cemetery, this area was once part of the land attached to a Catholic cloister with the church–La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar—below it.

 

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From the cloisters overlooking the Recoleta Cemetery

While the land became the burial ground of Argentina’s rich and famous, the church still stands, as does it’s former cloisters. It is possible to visit what has become an interesting museum of Catholic religious art including various oil paintings, carvings, pictures, silverware, books, furniture, and liturgical vestments, etc. that date from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century. The view from the cloisters offers a panoramic view of this famous cemetery.

 

The largest mosque in all of Latin America, the King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center, is located in the Palermo neighborhood.

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Mosque entryway

thumb_DSCF0247_1024Both a mosque and a center for Islamic culture, the center hosts a primary and secondary school, as well as a divinities school and a dormitory for 50 students. The mosque is home to about 1% (400,000-500,000 people) of the city’s population.

I had the unique opportunity to visit the mosque during a visit from Chicagoan Fadwa Hasan in 2011. The cultural center has very limited visiting hours, but when my Arabic-speaking colleague said we hadn’t come to visit but to pray, we were immediately welcomed in and taken to the room where women prepare themselves to enter the mosque proper for prayer.

 

thumb_DSCF0246_1024With shawls covering our hair, we were to remove our shoes, bathe our hands and elbows before entering the 2nd floor of the mosque (the first floor being reserved for the men). There we prayed silently before touring the rest of the center, and speaking informally with a young man who had also entered for silent prayer. He explained that when his parents migrated to Argentina they were attracted to the temple and after studying Islam, they converted and are now temple members, as is he.

Another half million people, according to the Mormon’s website, participate in the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Buenos Aires. Yes, there are Argentinian Mormons, and one of the country’s two Mormon temples is situated just outside the city limits in the suburb Ciudad Evita. I’ve never been inside this majestic temple, but its presence in this small suburb a few miles from the international airport offers dramatic views, rising as the tallest building in the area.IMG_1436

Across the street from Parque Lezama in the San Telmo neighborhood sits the majestic Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity of Buenos Aires, also the largest church in South America of its denomination worldwide.

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Russian Orthodox Church

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Russian Orthodox Church, San Telmo

The church was built in 1901 and continues to hold weekly and special services. Its blue and white spires beckon visitors from the nearby Feria de San Telmo and the park.

There are many Jewish synagogues scattered throughout Buenos Aires. Templo Libertad, the oldest Jewish synagogue in Buenos Aires, is located next door to the Jewish Museum and just down the street from the famous Teatro Colon. Starting at the Jewish Museum, whose artifacts

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Hebrew typewriter

tell the history of the Jewish people in Buenos Aires and in Argentina overall, you can then visit the synagogue proper, with its beautiful stained glass windows.

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Synagogue

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Chandelier in Synagogue

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Stained glass, synagogue

Although not specifically religious centers but cultural ones, the Jewish Holocause or Shoah Museum and the AMIA Jewish Community Center also reflect the religious and cultural life of many of the city’s Jewish residents. (Both the Holocaust museum and AMIA Center will be featured in a future post. Subscribe now.)

 

 

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Filed under Buenos Aires, Parque de la Memoria, Plaza de Mayo, Recoleta Cemetery, Religious buildings, Visiting Mendoza

On politics in Argentina: Without freedom of speech there is no democracy

I’ve been coming to Buenos Aires since 2002. In these past 15 years I’ve learned to speak Spanish, learned about Argentinian culture and have made wonderful friendships with many people here. But I’ve only just begun to learn about Argentine politics, as a new president is elected and policies and programs shift from liberal to conservative.

Political conversations seem common and frequent among everyone here. The multiple political parties and their respective perspectives are spread across the conservative-liberal spectrum. Often, as I would listen to others’ political discussions, someone would ask me if I understood what they were saying about various political issues and situations here, and I’d always told them no I did not. Everyone would always reassure me that it was okay not to understand, because even the Argentine people having those same discussions did not understand the politics here either! And we’d laugh at their self-critique and self-commentary.

That was then. I’m not laughing now.

My political education has begun.On December 10, 2015 Argentina elected a new president, Mauricio Macri—a conservative former governor of the city of Buenos Aires—who, it appears to me, wants to rollback and eliminate the social, political and economic policies established during the past twelve years of Kirchners in the presidency (Nestor for 4 and Cristina for 8 of the past 12 years). Slightly more than half of the voting public, 51%, chose Macri. Thus, in a country where popular political expression is a fact of daily life, I expect to see those who sympathized with the former president, Cristina Kirchner protesting in the streets. Kirchneristas–how those who supported her are often referred to in the media—are indeed taking to the streets to advocate for their interests. But once there, protestors are not being allowed the complete freedom of expression as was common during the presidency of Cristina Kirchner.

Kirchneristas (whose candidate Daniel Scioli garnered 49% of the presidential vote) are gathering almost daily in demonstrations against the latest in the series of conservative changes Macri has made in the lone month since he has occupied the presidency. In this short time, Macri has been responsible for firing 10,000 government workers, appointing two new Supreme Court justices and bypassing Congress’ approval. He has imprisoned a political activist, had the riot police attack protestors who were being fired from their jobs. Just what the newly unemployed need–not.  Along comes the 40% devaluation of the peso that impacts everyone’s lives.

Popular radio journalist Victor Hugo Morales was suddenly taken off the airwaves, likely for expressing anti-government views. Macri had already seen that the popular nightly political news analysis program “678” was taken off the air. Free speech seems to be facing swift attacks. The Argentine government has begun again to criminalize peaceful dissent, and to censor opposing points of view.

What is going on? I can understand people wanting change in their government. (The name of Macri’s center-right political party is just that: “Cambiemos”, “let’s change”). I have often voted against the leadership in my own city, state, and country. But what I don’t understand is how those who voted for Macri explain the big, quick shift to the right this conservative new president is taking the country in. And I understand even less why they are tolerating these changes. I wonder what they think about Macri’s actions this past month. Is this the Macri they expected? What now?

Macri’s actions remind me of the censorship and repression that Argentines faced during the military dictatorship of 1976-1973, known as the “dirty war,” when more than 30,000 people were tortured and “disappeared”, killed for their opposition to the dictatorship.  I can’t help but think that Macri is taking Argentines down that desolate path again, with these recent moves to punish and restrict dissent and free speech. Consider for yourself:

Timeline of presidential actions Dec. 12, 2015 – Jan. 17, 2016

  • Dec. 10 Macri elected to office.

  • Dec. 15   Macri bypasses the Congress and appoints “by decree” two Supreme Court Justices. The last time a president did so was in 1862.

  • Dec. 17 Macri undermines the media law and the popular public tv news analysis program “678” disappears from nightly tv.

  • In one week in early January Macri fires 10,000 government workers.

  • Jan. 7 unhappy that Macri dismissed them from their government jobs, public workers in La Plata, Argentina are attacked by riot police using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesters.

  • Jan. 11 Continental Radio journalist Victor Hugo Morales is fired from his job.  Morales believes he has been censored by the government for his criticisms of Macri’s actions.

  • Jan. 12 “Thousands march to Plaza de Mayo in support of Victor Hugo Morales” reported TeleSur TV network. “Without freedom of speech there is no democracy” was the slogan used by many of those carrying pickets in the demonstration.

  • Jan. 16 Popular Argentine indigenous leader Milagro Sala is arrested for criticizing the governor’s attacks on social programs in Jujuy. She is imprisoned and remains there under charges of inciting crime and stealing public funds.

Wonder what else I’ll learn in the coming days and months about politics in Argentina? Me too. Subscribe to my blog: http://www.seebuenosaires.com

Next post:Holy, holy, holy: Religion in Argentina

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Filed under Buenos Aires, Dirty War, Golpe Militar, Plaza de Mayo, Politics

In white and in red: walking against injustice

Two recent actions shared center stage in Buenos Aires’ famous Plaza de Mayo, both made by groups of women, who in the choice of their actions, became walking witnesses against violence and injustice to women today and to all those who were disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-1983).

One year into that tragic period, it was ordinary women, housewives many, committed to being the center of their families—courageous women who took to the Plaza each week, walking together in silent protest against the dictatorship government’s actions of disappearing the young and political “dissidents” to their dictatorial rule. The mothers walked to plead for the return of their loved ones. During these years more than 30,000 people were “disappeared”, including infants and young children stolen from their parents to become the children of military families, university student activists who were kidnapped, disappeared, tortured and later murdered by being dropped into the Rio de la Plata during the night. The mothers’ silent walk demanded the government take action to find the disappeared. Every Thursday afternoon since their first march in April, 1977 the Mothers and the Grandmothers of the Disappeared have marched in silence in the Plaza. They are powerful in the presence, in their advocacy, in their continued political actions over the years, and in their silence, each Thursday afternoon, giving witness to the brutal injustices the government brought upon those who resisted them. Their story has been told by award-winning director Estela Bravo in a film, Who Am I?, and in print, Searching for Life: The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina by Rita Arditti.

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On the particular Thursday I took these photos, the Mothers shared the Plaza space with another group of women, the Encuentro de las Trabajadores Bancarias, a professional organization of Women in Banking, during their 9th annual conference. The conference participants displayed their own silent witness in a public art action protesting injustice towards women, a “march” of multiple pairs of bright red women’s shoes. The red shoes formed a walking path, a silent presence and protest there, as did the mothers, in view of the Casa Rosada, the seat of the national government encouraging the government and the world, in their search for justice. It was powerfully moving to join alongside these two groups of women, with their powerful red and white symbols, marching for justice in Buenos Aires and around the world.

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Filed under Buenos Aires, Mothers of the Disappeared, Plaza de Mayo