School of Applied Global Ethics
Leslie Silver International Faculty
Leeds Metropolitan University
Research Proposal:
Seeking Reconciliation after a Conflict:
Argentina, a Case Study
AYERAY M. MEDINA BUSTOS
Supervisors: Dave Webb and Gavin Fairbairn
Introduction and background to the study
Between 1976 and 1983, Argentina suffered its final dictatorship in which
the military and security forces took the government by force and
committed gross human rights violations in the name of what was called ‘A
Process of National Re-organization’. They aimed to prevail over guerrilla
groups, especially over the most prominent one, ‘Montoneros’ and restrain
sections of the civilian population who were demanding social reform.
Events like this not only happened in Argentina, but also in many other
Latin American countries, including Bolivia (1964-1982), Brazil (1964-1985),
Chile (1973-1990), Colombia (1953-1954), Cuba (1933-1940, 1952-1959),
Ecuador ( 1972-1979), El Salvador (1931-1984), Guatemala (1954-1986),
Haiti (1991-1994), Honduras (1972-1982), Nicaragua (1936-1979), Panama
(1968-1989), Paraguay (1949-1989), Peru (1968-1980), Suriname (19801988), Uruguay (1973-1985) and Venezuela (1952-1958). Although this work
focuses on the Argentinean experience, the aftermath of that experience,
will also attempt to draw some broader conclusions that might be relevant
to other countries that are now going through similar experiences.
The level of violence in what many people refer to as the ‘Dirty War’
(Bartolomei, 1991; Humphrey, 2002; Jelin, 1994; Verbitsky, 2005) was
extremely high, and very much different from other coup d’etat that had
taken place since 1930 in Argentina. More than 30,000 people disappeared,
were hidden and/or murdered in clandestine detention centres or in
concentration camps (Robben, 2005). Argentina’s cultural life was limited by
political and moral censorship, an example of which was the prohibition of
meetings, neither in clubs nor in private houses, and very noticeably by the
censorship of the media, newspapers, radios, television (Robben, 2005).
Political Science, sociology, psychology and even architecture were all
believed to be dangerous because they depended on foreign influences and
arose because of left-wing students and academics that had travelled widely.
The military sought to create an orthodox culture, based on in a rigid set of
simple patriotic values, family and Christianity. The harassment of
journalists, the use of terror to silence writers, musicians and teachers, and
the well-known black-listing1 of people was experienced in a similar manner
as in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
The principal resistance to the Military Junta regime2 came from the
trade union and youth movements. In addition there were two groups
against the military regime, made up of mothers and grandmothers of the
The blacklist is referred to the list perpetrators had and used in any place, can be in the trains,
buses, schools and streets. This list was based in whom they called ‘subversives’, linking possible
targets by common name, friendship, or any relation they found possible.
2 Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981), Orlando Ramon Agosti, Eduardo Emilio Massera, Roberto
Viola (1981-1983), Galtieri.
1
‘disappeared’. These women, aged between forty and sixty, had a public
meeting every Thursday afternoon, to express their anguish, in the Plaza de
Mayo opposite the Government House, for this reason, they came to be
known as the ‘Madres of Plaza de Mayo’ (Robben 2005, see also
www.madres.org and www.abuelas.org.ar)
During the Dirty War, there were two well opposing defined groups: the
leftist ‘Montoneros’ movement and the AAA (Anti-Communist Alliance)
from the extreme right. The violence persisted, and President Isabel Peron
declared a state of emergency in November 1974. In 1975, The Peron
government concluded that police and security forces were not capable of
preventing terrorist activities. However, instead of peace and order, the
military forces had themselves brought terror and violence, starting a new
coup d’etat.
The Argentinean National Commission of the Disappeared CONADEP
was set up in 1983 and produced the Nunca Mas (Never Again) report
(Nunca Mas Never Again: A Report by Argentinean Commission, 1986).
The Nunca Mas (Never Again) projects in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and
Uruguay, for instance, are a clear example of narratives. They seek to
register into documentation and reports as an official memory of events and
atrocities that occurred in those countries. In Argentina, the truth
commission report Nunca Mas (Never Again) intended to be a public
memory as well as the starting point for prosecution of the leaders of the
Argentine junta (Humphrey, 2002).
For that reasons, it can be considered as a valuable instrument to achieve
justice and reconciliation.
In Nunca Mas (Never Again), there is a detailed description by some
survivors about what they lived through during their torture and/or
imprisonment. Their narrations clearly show human rights abuses from the
authorities at that time. To name the types of violations of human rights:
kidnap, kidnap in front of children, torture in the victim’s home, generally in
front of the children as well.
Nevertheless, three decades after the publication of the CONADEP report,
human rights questions continue to dominate Argentina’s political
discussion. The former president, Nestor Kirchner, who was selected in
2003, has given priority to this issue, annulling previous amnesty laws and
converting the Naval Engineering Academy ESMA (Escuela Superior de
Mecanica de la Armada) where about 5,000 Argentineans were murdered,
into a museum dedicated to the memory of the victims of the atrocities
(Rohter, 2006).
The incompatibility of Argentina's Full Stop Law3, and Due Obedience
Law4, was expressed by Amnesty International with respect to international
law and especially, with Argentina's obligation to bring to justice and punish
the perpetrators of gross violations of human rights. Lee (1990) cites a
ruling by the Supreme Court of Argentina on 22 June 1987, which cites the
Due Obedience Law as stating that:
….members of the security forces who had tortured and killed citizens
could no be prosecuted if they were acting under orders (p.1).
Hence, the effect of the law was to grant amnesty from prosecution to 300
military officers. This fact caused negative reactions among most of
Argentinean society.
The Full Stop Law or ‘Ley de Punto Final’, was promulgated with the
purpose of stopping, as the name of the law indicate, the trials against
military Junta and others.
President Carlos Menem later in 1989 granted a pardon to members of the
military who were involved in human rights violations, as well as to those
involved in military revolts and mutinies during Alfonsin’s term. Some 280
persons were pardoned and Menem justified his action saying that there was
a need to ‘heal the wounds of the past’ and to create a sense of ‘national
reconciliation’ (Bartolomei, 1991).
Yet, the Armed Forces far from showing any signs of repentance or
recognition of wrongdoing have interpreted these de facto amnesties as a
vindication of their role in the anti-subversion campaign in which 30,000
people were killed or ‘disappeared’.
These laws demonstrate that the search for truth and justice must continue
in Argentina.
The victims claim that crimes should not be forgotten and that the
historical and collective memory of what had happened should be kept alive.
A campaign developed to promote this in different ways to symbolize and
preserve as a vivid memory the traumatic experience. The common slogan
in Argentina was: ‘Ni olvido ni perdon’ (Neither oblivion, nor pardon).
The methodology used to torture people and the magnitude of the
atrocities that took place reminds us of what happened in the Holocaust of
World War II (Roth and Patterson, 2004). The role that politics and religion
3
4
Law Nº 23,492 of 12 December 1986
Law Nº 23,521 of 4 June 1987
had at that time is important to highlight because there are unsolved issues
involving the role of the Catholic Church, when it acted as an accomplice of
the dictators (Verbitsky, 2005-2006).
Aims of the study
In this study, I aim to investigate why it is important to seek reconciliation
in Argentina after its last conflict and what are the required conditions to
reach it. I also seek to review the existing model of reconciliation and find
out how to improve the
steps, proposed by some scholars, such as apology, truth commissions,
public trials, reparations payments, education, to name some of them, that
are necessary to achieve reconciliation.
I aim to investigate whether it is ‘not good to forget’ and why it is important
to consider ‘the National Memory’.
In particular, I also want to address the following questions:
Research questions
Principal question
What are the conditions required to achieve reconciliation in Argentina?
Subsidiary questions
How should we deal with atrocities and violations such as occurred in
Argentina if we wish to achieve reconciliation?
What resources are required for the reconciliation process?
What are the limits of reconciliation in Argentina?
Methodology
Primary data collection
The data will be gathered via interviews, combined with historical
documents and archives analysis. I will also analyse the political and social
dynamics and development of Argentina during the years 1976 and 1983.
The types of interviews I wish to use are the semi-structured and
unstructured interviews.
These types of interviews will enable me to discus and talk face to face with
people who have experienced and lived the conflict in Argentina, and can
give detailed information about it.
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