Letter – Guardian


Article: Blaming the victims: dictatorship denialism is on the rise in Argentina by Uki Goñi

Dear Editor,

Earlier this year, I wanted to join Goñi[1] and others in the condemnation of Macri and members of the Argentinian government for their discourse on the history of Argentina. However, I conducted extensive research on this topic as his article lacks convincing sources and I learned a lot – about Goñi as an author, about the history of Argentina and about the forgotten victims. Here I want to present the sources that he fails to mention or ignores as they do not fit into his own vision.

The accusation that President Macri and his government are denialists is part of an attempt to Nazify Argentinian history. Denialism, in the sense the author intended, is linked to Holocaust denialism. The article is one sided and judgemental and does not correctly tell the story of Argentina. I accept that Goñi has a personal vision and his own sense of justice. He also omits information that is inconvenient as he may lack the political interest in safeguarding the future. Politicians have this duty on top of ensuring memory of the past, the entire past, and not a shortened version that changes parts. Macri is a sensible president after years of mismanagement and he has the job of rebuilding the country to guarantee a future. He deserves support, instead of unjust accusations. At no stage did Macri nor anyone else in his government deny the crimes of the last Junta[2], nor did he ever blame the victims. Facts no longer matter and it is enough to be a journalist to be allowed to accuse someone of such horrific intentions. The author writes that Macri and others do not know how many people were disappeared or killed by the former Junta as they state the official figures of the government of the CONADEP report of 1984[3]. After months of research, and being a natural scientist, so a bit like the engineer Macri, I am used to fact check and double check every number. Imagine an engineer doing analysis and getting the numbers wrong!

I understand that the number of the victims is important and that the 30000 is both a political and symbolic figure. Estimates between 10000 to 30000 victims have been around since the first reports of 1983, but never specifically 30000. The story changed to a definite 30000, without citation of sources, whether in peer-reviewed journals or articles. This specific rhetoric was supported by the previous Kirchner government. I personally think it is wrong to accuse the current president of denialism when he refers to the official numbers which are 8961 victims and for saying he does not know how many more were killed. He does not deny that there were more victims. The CONADEP report is official, despite being incomplete, but it is not false. People had the opportunity to report missing people and many did, but not everyone. There was a compensation offer of up to US$220000 under the Kirchner administration which was paid to the victims of the Junta, it was claimed by 9334[4] to 11000[5] depending on source. Goñi cites the Chilean DINA putting the number of 22000 victims from 1975-78[6] and another official source puts the number of victims from 1976-79 at 4280[7]. The only source I found that mentions 30000 victims was an interview by the Montonero Labraña who claimed he invented the number to get more money for the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, in an interview in December 2014, a source Goñi conveniently fails to mention[8]. To me it does not matter if it was 9000 or 30000. Each one is one too many, as is every single victim of the attacks of the Montoneros and ERP.

Further there is the need to clarify that the Junta did not commit a genocide as is often written. The official definition of genocide, under which it is punishable in international law, is by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide[9]. William Schabas, an internationally leading researcher on this topic, provides an excellent outline of the history and debates regarding this treaty[10]. He further explains the case of political groups and why they were excluded. The Junta fought political groups that actively sought a socialist revolution in Argentina[11]. The prosecution of these groups was started, not by the military dictatorship, but by the democratic Peronist government in 1975, as is confirmed by the cable of the Chilean DINA[12] The militant groups were not harmless dreamers such as the generation of the 1960s as Goñi’s article tries to portray. VS Naipaul describes what happened during the mid-1970s in Argentina in his essays[13]. He highlights the difference to the hippie generations of the 1960s as the Montoneros and ERP fought a war to punish and destroy the armed forces, calling them “delinquent”. By questioning the existence of the dirty war, Goñi also makes it difficult to call the Montoneros or ERP guerrillas, and he reduces them to plain terrorism. However, there was the desire and the existence of a war between the Montoneros/ERP and the armed forces. It was very one sided, but it existed. In 1975, Rodolfo Walsh, wrote about this war, the human rights violations of the Montoneros and their desire to provoke a coup d’état[14]. At first, the Junta had strong civil support after the years of chaos as they hoped for a strong government to re-establish peace and order, which did not happen[15].

The definition of good and bad in Argentina is described in Naipaul’s essays where the left defined torture. Good torture is done by the winning guerrilla on members of the armed forces, and bad torture by the military. It is all about ideology. There is a return to this rhetoric by the Kirchners and even Goñi. Good killings were done by the left prior to the coup d’état and bad killings were done by the military and police. I strongly disagree with this ideological definition of victims and crimes. The victims of the attacks of the guerrilla also have a right to be acknowledged and their estimates are around 1000 killed[16]. We should not differentiate between state and militia terrorism that makes one set of victims better and worthier than the other set of victims. Therefore, Victoria Villarruel and Cecilia Pando are important as they represent the forgotten victims of Argentina’s history. There is no need to describe them as right-wing monsters only because they ask for justice for their victims, and the Madres and Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo as naïve and frail, being the only true victims. Only this year in April, when I went to the anniversary of the marches of the Madres, the speeches included revolutionary slogans, anti-democratic statements and praising Maduro. Maduro of Venezuela has been accused by the UN of committing crimes against humanity[17]. There is no intention, of at least one these groups[18], to condemn these crimes. Still, ideology determines whether an identical crime is good or evil.

The prisoners are political prisoners and this is not related to whether we want them jailed or not. They were sentenced due to a change in political ideology and the constitution of Argentina was broken to sentence them – it was the first time since Peron in 1975 that the constitution was broken in order “to get rid of people”. Professor Elias wrote about the legal aspects of punishment of crimes of the Junta in Argentina since restoration of democracy. He, despite supporting punishment, concluded that the developments since the Kirchners are illegal, one-sided and unconstitutional. They harm the future of Argentina. He calls it a winner’s revenge. The politics of the Kirchners and their appointed judges blurred the lines between justice and presidency. These two should however remain distinct. The politics changed towards a pro-Montonero view and the crimes of the guerrilla were forgotten or glorified. Through their politics, Article 18 of the Argentinian constitution was knowingly broken. It is part of the first chapter of the constitution that is not allowed to be altered. It is a clear binary article that states that retrospective punishment is forbidden and if it is applied it is a violation of the constitution. The former military and police men are sentenced retrospectively, despite there being legal ways to sentence them as the presidency of Raúl Alfonsín showed. The constitution was one of his safeguard to prevent violent regimes to return.

Under the Kirchners, this safeguard was removed due to placing ideology and the desire of revenge and punishment above the constitution through the application of ex post facto law. This rhetoric is still used today by their supporters, a small but loud group that insults and tries to discredit anyone who question their ways. There is no wish for dialogue, only revenge, despite breaking the constitution. The trials should have been conducted without ideology and politics in a legitimate framework. However, as this was not the case, on top the distraction from the corruption scandals and international isolation of Argentina under the Kirchner administrations, the prisoners are indeed political prisoners. We need to stop being ambiguous when it comes to crimes. In today’s Argentina rapists, killers, drug dealers get literally away with murder in Argentina. I would like to point out further that Argentina ratified the ICCPR[19] in 1986 with the reservation that its constitution must be always followed – and the trials and the lack of justice for other crimes including corruption, are contradictory to the status of equality before the law and Argentina’s own reservation to the treaty.

President Macri is right not to only fund NGO organisations concerned with the victims of the last Junta and to share the government funds for all NGOs. There are many NGOs in Argentina that did not receive sufficient government funds during the previous government, something that is seldomly mentioned in the press. Political lobbying of selective groups under the Kirchner years was present and it resulted in some disastrous outcomes as is shown in the Schoklender corruption scandal, where millions of dollars, with alleged, however unverifiable, estimates of up to US$300million of government funding, was given to the Madres de Plaza de Mayo and were used in an embezzlement scandal[20].

There is a winner’s justice taking place in Argentina, and this should not be supported by anyone as they undermine institutional processes. I hope that Macri has the ability and support to save Argentina from this so that a secure future can finally be built, with no space for any of the ghosts of the pasts to reappear again. To build this future society, he needs to break with the previous government which only focused on the past, instead of the present nor the future as Dr Engstrom pointed out in some of his published works[21]. The Kirchners and their supporters benefit from the past as it deflects from their own shortcomings and they use the illegitimate trials to gain international recognition.

All over the world, history seems to repeat itself, and in my opinion, the reason for it is that we only look at the things we want to look at and we ignore the hard truths about the causes and origins. We need to start learning from history, remember it correctly and we need to protect the future in every possible way to stop past monstrosities of any kind to happen again. We sadly cannot undo the past but we can save and protect the future, so we must stick to facts and not versions of history that we tell often enough to make them seem true.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/29/argentina-denial-dirty-war-genocide-mauricio-macri

[2] https://www.buzzfeed.com/javieraceves/entrevista-buzzfeed-macri

[3] http://www.desaparecidos.org/nuncamas/web/investig/articulo/nuncamas/nmas0001.htm

[4] http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1403475-polemica-por-una-lista-de-indemnizaciones

[5] Wright, Thomas C. State terrorism in Latin America: Chile, Argentina, and international human rights. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006.



[8] https://www.diarioregistrado.com/politica/labrana-dijo-que-invento-la-cifra-de-los-30-mil-desaparecidos_a54a760b542b51e2eea006465; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZMN_DH8G9E


[10] Schabas, William. Genocide in international law: the crimes of crimes. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

[11] http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1992/01/30/argentina-living-with-cruelty/


[13] http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1992/01/30/argentina-living-with-cruelty/

[14][14] http://www.infobae.com/2016/03/24/1799382-la-carta-no-abierta-rodolfo-walsh-la-cupula-montoneros/

[15] http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1057&context=student_papers

[16] http://www.cadena3.com/contenido/2014/04/04/126943.asp

[17] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/venezuela-crimes-against-humanity-nicolas-maduro-security-forces-protesters-violence-un-er-zeid-raad-a7940136.html

[18] The Madres split into two distinct groups due to ideological differences

[19] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx

[20] http://www.economist.com/node/18836612

[21] https://parengstrom.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/engstrom-lasa-forum-argentina-draft-may23.pdf

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