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ARGENTINA | 01-04-2022 20:09

Former soldier reveals torture during Malvinas conflict

Argentine combatants suffered shocking conditions and even torture during the 1982 South Atlantic War – but it was inflicted by their own officers.

Some soldiers were buried up to their necks in snow, others tied to posts by their limbs.

Badly trained and poorly equipped, Argentine soldiers suffered shocking conditions and even torture during the 1982 South Atlantic War – but it was inflicted by their own officers.

"The dictatorship's methods were transported to the Malvinas," said former fighter Ernesto Alonso, who has launched a case against Argentina's military command for torturing soldiers during the war.

"In many cases the Malvinas situation was being stuck between two enemies," said Alonso, speaking ahead of the 40th anniversary of Argentina's disastrous invasion of the British-held South Atlantic archipelago.

On one side, the British were "killing our comrades in battle," and on the other, Argentine officers were torturing their own men.

The Centro de excombatientes (CECIM) de La Plata (“Center for ex-fighters in La Plata”), based in Alonso's home town, has collected statements from dozens of former soldiers and in 2007 opened a court case against the country’s military leaders for torture during the war.

"It was systematic, there was no precedent for what we went through in the Malvinas where the state terrorism was exported," said Alonso.

"Over there the life of a sheep was worth more than a soldier... There were soldiers that died of hunger," added Alonso, who spoke of a "very traumatic experience."

"I was witness to the death of a soldier who was punished by sleeping outside of his position and one morning we found him between the rocks, covered by a poncho, almost frozen with convulsions. He did not survive the cold."

Alonso said he also saw "three soldiers tied to stakes in front of" barracks on Mount Longdon, near the eastern coast of the region.

Many Argentine soldiers came from warm climates and had never before experienced the biting cold of the Malvinas’ wind.


'Your whole body froze'

The court case involves 180 incidents, with around 100 members of the military implicated, although only four are to be prosecuted.

The trial has been delayed while the Supreme Court decides whether or not such torture constitutes a crime against humanity.

But the former fighters' testimonies in the case have exposed the brutality of their tormentors.

"They lay us on our backs, made us spread our arms into a T figure and tied our legs apart with rope. With the snow and the cold, your whole body froze," said one ex-soldier.

"I was ordered to be buried alongside three other soldiers up to our necks in a pit with no coat, no helmet, for more than 10 hours in extreme temperatures and without food," said another.

Temperatures on the islands can drop to minus six degrees Celsius (21 degrees Fahrenheit), with snow and frost common in addition to the freezing winds.

Some soldiers said they were forced to eat faeces, given electric shocks and were left without helmets during British bombardments.

Argentina's public prosecutor's office said this week it was incorporating new complaints to the file, including "immersion in icy water as a method of torture and cases of sexual abuse in an anti-Semitic context against 24 victims," following analysis of newly declassified military documents.


‘Oppressive apparatus'

Alonso was just 19 and enrolled in obligatory military service when dictator Leopoldo Galtieri sent an invasion force to the islands on April 2, 1982.

Argentina claims sovereignty over the disputed islands, which Britain asserted control over in 1833 following earlier competing claims by the French and Spanish as well as the British.

Alonso arrived on the islands – some 2,000 kilometres from his home in La Plata – 10 days after the start of the invasion. 

His company spent 64 days stationed on Mount Longdon, the site of a fierce battle just days before Argentina's surrender on June 14. It was where 33 of the 649 Argentines who lost their lives during the war died.

Upon his return home he received no recognition nor psychological support.

"We were received by the worst oppressive apparatus of the dictatorship, and they imposed silence on us. That caused terrible damage," said Alonso. But "talking was reparatory, we were able to transform our pain into a struggle."

Since the war, some 600 ex-fighters have died.

Alonso has been back to the islands five times since 2005. He helped spearhead a campaign to identify the bodies in around 100 unmarked graves in the Argentine cemetery at Darwin.

Alonso is proud of the young men who fought with minimal training and inadequate weapons or clothing against the far more professional British armed forces.

But he does not want to "remain anchored" to the conflict.

Despite the horrors of war, Alonso still supports the state claim over the Malvinas, as does 80 percent of the population, according to surveys.

"The Malvinas are much more than a war," said Alonso "The Malvinas are in the DNA of all Argentines and clearly the dictatorship knew how to strike a chord in that DNA."

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by Liliana Samuel, AFP


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