Pedro Troiani and Carlos Propato were trade union leaders at Ford Motors in Argentina four decades ago, when they were detained in the company’s factory and tortured by officers of the last military dictatorship.
They were held prisoner for two years and letters were sent to their families claiming they had been fired for failing to show up for work.
Now they’re suing the company’s former executives for complicity in the 1976 coup d’état, and subsequent 1976- 1983 military dictatorship.
They’re not the only ones pursuing international car companies in court over alleged abuses during the dictatorship – complaints have been made against Mercedes Benz, Renault and Fiat too – but theirs is the most advanced.
Although the company itself is not implicated in the judicial process, the plaintiffs do want to demonstrate there was complicity with the seven-year dictatorship that killed 30,000 people, according to local human rights organisations.
“Without the participation of civilians and more of these companies, this coup would not have succeeded,” Troiani told AFP.
“These people collaborated, they gave them vehicles, food, fuel, they gave them the companies so they could move as they wanted, and that’s how we were removed, one by one.”
According to historian Victoria Basualdo, the bubbling union and worker activism of the 1970s was “a central worry as much for the Armed Forces as it was for company management.”
It explains the “workplace repression” on the day of the 1976 coup, on March 24, when “large numbers of armed forces were mobilised in factories” leading to “the detention and kidnapping of workers and unionists,” Basualdo told AFP.
In Latin America, a region in which military dictatorships were once the norm, Argentina is the country that has taken the greatest strides towards prosecuting those accused of human rights violations.
Hundreds of military personnel of various ranks have been sentenced while several members of the successive military juntas died in prison.
“When democracy began” during the 1983-1989 presidency of Raúl Alfonsín, “and the military juntas were prosecuted, we started asking ourselves: ‘Why? Why did this happen to us? There we saw that justice was possible,’” said Troiani.
Of the 24 Ford unionists detained, only 13 are still alive today.