Thursday, June 13, 2024

ARGENTINA | 05-09-2023 16:23

Outcry puts dictatorship beliefs of Victoria Villarruel, Javier Milei’s pick for VP, in spotlight

Demonstrators protest against Victoria Villarruel's event paying tribute to "the victims of terrorism" held at the City Legislature.

Thousands of people demonstrated outside the Buenos Aires City Legislature on Monday to condemn a controversial tribute to the “victims of terrorism" organised and promoted by Victoria Villarruel, the running-mate of libertarian lawmaker Javier Milei in the October 22 presidential election.

The event, held in the Salón Dorado of the City Legislature, was repudiated by human rights groups, leading politicians, trade unions and left-wing political parties. They branded the participants “denialists” who fail to sufficiently condemn the mass killing perpetrated during the brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship and seek to equate the state campaign of terror and guerrilla violence.

During the seven-year era of military rule, some 30,000 people were disappeared on the junta’s orders, according to human rights organisations.

Human rights organisations, political militants and trade unionists mobilised outside the City Legislature to repudiate Villarruel’s rally, prompting City Hall to order a major security operation fencing off all the perimeter and adding a second barrier after 5pm to separate the sectors attending and opposing the rally.

Some of those opposing the event carried posters reading: "They were 30,000 [who went missing]," "It was genocide, not war" and "Never again," among other slogans.

As temperatures rose outside the building, Lilia Lemoine, a La Libertad Avanza candidate for national deputy, had petrol thrown at her face and hair. Police arrested a demonstrator suspected of launching the attack.

Meanwhile, within the Legislature a group of leftist leaders, including Vilma Ripoll of the Frente de Izquierda de los Trabajadores-Unidad, protested against the rally before its start with cries of "Away, fachos ("fascists"), out!"

"Human rights are for everybody. Invoking them and democracy without letting us express or exercise them is the complete proof that they are violent and authoritarian, believing us to be second-class citizens. My hug for all the victims of terrorism who are thus demoted," Villarruel, a national deputy and vice-presidential candidate in the upcoming ballot, published on her social media accounts..

The event sought to pay tribute to the victims of guerrilla fighters in the turbulent years that preceded the coup d'état on March 24, 1976. It was also addressed by Lorenza Ferrari and Arturo Larrabure, the son of Argentino del Valle Larrabure, an Army officer kidnapped by the ERP on August 10, 1974 in Villa María, Córdoba and whose body appeared on August 19, 1975.

"I want to thank all those who accompanied us and were scared yet they are not accompanying me but the victims of terrorism," said Villarruel in reference to the demonstrations by human rights and left-wing parties.

"They kidnapped and placed bombs. For 40 years the victims of terrorism were erased from memory and history, they were denied, as were their rights to truth and reparation. A democratic state is violating our human rights," continued the La Libertad Avanza vice-presidential candidate.

"We have come to vindicate the victims of terrorism. Who could be against our being able to recall for the first time in this building those whose lives were snatched away in the name of a revolution?" she argued.

At the close of the tribute, the City legislators supporting the national government published a communiqué to repudiate it: "We legislators in the Unión por la Patria caucus express our most forceful repudiation of any expression of denialism. It is unacceptable that a fundamental institution of the democratic system, the City Legislature, should be a space for vindicating dictatorship and seeking to reinstall the theory of two demons to relativise the genocide perpetrated by the Argentine state between 1976 and 1983." 



Villarruel, 48, is a national deputy for Milei's La Libertad Avanza party, and a lawyer by profession. She has previously argued that “a war” existed during the dictatorship and considers that "the expression 'state terrorism' is not only unfortunate, but also confusing.”

For the last 20 years Villarruel has been a key figure of the “Memoria completa” grouping which seeks to represent the victims and families of those who were attacked by armed political organisations during the 1970s.

Within the framework of that organisation, the national deputy convoked for last Monday a tribute to the victims of the attacks of guerrilla groups like the Montoneros and the ERP (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo). It was organised by Celtyv (Centro de Estudios Legales sobre el Terrorismo y sus Víctimas), of which Villarruel is the honorary president, and also by LLA legislator Lucía Montenegro.

According to her detractors, the tribute sought to revive the so-called "two demons theory," which equates the acts of the guerrillas with the genocide and terrorism exercised by the state.

"The worst thing the deputy Villarruel is doing is riding the grief of those victims to legitimise the military dictatorship," City legislator Victoria Montenegro, an opponent of the initiative, told the TN television news channel.

"This type of vindication of the dictatorship is a violation of human rights and unfortunately has institutional representation," said Montenegro, the president of the Legislature’s Human Rights Commission and the daughter of parents who were disappeared during the dictatorship. 

President Alberto Fernández accused her and the libertarian leader Javier Milei of being "denialists."

"These are not easy times but difficult times are when to speak the truth. We are not denialists of the economic situation, about climate change or the dictatorship suffered by this fatherland. The denialists are those who speak of liberty," said the president.


‘A provocation’

Meanwhile Security Minister Aníbal Fernández downplayed the tribute organised by the vice-presidential candidate, whom he minimised by saying: "We are giving this woman a value which she does not have" while calling the deputy’s rally "a provocation pure and simple."

Estela Barnes de Carlotto, the president of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, took a similar line.

"I do not give any importance to this woman. She is a bad person and has always been like that, nor am I interested,” said the veteran human rights leader.

Carlotto also called on society, especially young people "enthusiastic about Milei," to "read history" and inform themselves about what happened during the era of state terrorism.

"She is a woman lost in the world of politics who comes out to say all this in order to have resonance – yes, we give her importance, it's what she wants," said Carlotto.

Villarruel hit back at the human rights leader on Monday night, describing her as a “sinister” figure.

"The truth is that Carlotto has been a rather sinister character for our country. Because with this appearance of a good grandmother, the reality is that she has justified terrorism," Milei's running-mate told the LN+ news channel.

Carlotto "is a character who has always been in politics, who has her whole family in the State" and that "she comes to claim something when she would have to say that her daughter was a fighter for the Montoneros,” added Villarruel.

The veteran activist brushed aside the remarks.

"There are people who have to be let go. We have to defend ourselves with the truth and the permanent struggle," Carlotto told Radio 10, observing that she had been told to remain quiet in the late 1970s.


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