President Alberto Fernández has urged Argentines to keep the memory of those who lost their lives during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship alive and in their thoughts, ahead of this week’s remembrance services.
Speaking on Saturday, just a few days before the country remembers the March 24, 1976 coup that brought the dictatorship to power, the president said that it was important to keep those lost to history fresh in everyone’s thoughts.
"I ask everyone that every March 24 we frankly remember the horror that we live," said the president, addressing an event honouring workers who were detained and disappeared by the military junta.
Surrounded by human rights campaigners at the ex-ESMA Navy Mechanics School – one of the largest clandestine detention centres in operation during military dictatorship’s reign of terror – Fernández hailed those who spoke out against the junta, highlighting the role organisations such as the Grandmothers and Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. Such women “had the courage that the vast majority of Argentine society did not have,” said the Peronist leader.
"They stood alone before power to denounce what was happening and some, like [founder of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo] Azucena Villaflor gave their lives for it," he said, reiterating that an estimated 30,000 individuals had lost their lives at the hands of the military junta.
Addressing political tensions with the opposition and those who defend the dictatorship’s brutal leadership of the country, Fernández accused critics of wanted “oblivion to win,” and said it was important to continue “repudiating” the dictatorship.
On March 24, 45 years ago, Argentina had suffered “a moral breakdown,” he declared.
Continuing on his theme, Fernández linked those who defend the military’s actions today with others who left body bags outside the Casa Rosada during an anti-government protest in February denouncing the so-called ‘VIP vaccination’ scandal.
The controversial protest tactic, which was staged by a right-wing political group called Young Republicans, saw the names of those alleged to have received vaccines out of turn displayed on the mortuary bags.
"Unfortunately, two Argentina's exist. It turns out that they are republicans, but those who kick us in coups and those behind the coups are republicans," he declared, slamming the “denialists” who appear “in their ranks.”
Fernández also evoked the more than 1,000 convictions that have been registered in the trials dealing with crimes against humanity committed dating back to the dictatorship era.
"Today the condemnation of a genocide is a logical act, not an exceptional one. It is our greatest triumph as a society," he said.
Saturday’s event at ESMA is the first in a series of remembrance events set to be held this week. The traditional annual march on the anniversary of the coup has been cancelled for a second year running due to the coronavirus pandemic, though some left-wing organisations have said they will rally regardless.
The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo is promoting a new initiative called Plantamos memoria, which invites citizens to plant 30,000 trees in memory of the disappeared.
A number of football clubs are also taking steps to mark the anniversary. Traditional rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate have both launched campaigns calling on the relatives of missing individuals to come forward, while Racing Club has announced it will “restore the [membership] status to partners of those who were arrested and detained by the last military dictatorship."
The Foreign Ministry will also launch a new international campaign on Wednesday, promoting the search for grandchildren appropriated by the dictatorship who may now be residing abroad, unaware of their true identity.