The past, almost by definition, has a lot less influence on our reality than the present. And while we are a direct consequence of that seemingly infinite chain of events, the intensity with which we live our lives can act as horse blinders, forcing us only to look forward. For many, Argentina’s most important problem — a consistent economic decrepitude that has lasted nearly a century — is causally determined by our incapacity to reach basic political agreements. Rising polarisation, which appears to be a global phenomenon, has reached new heights in Argentina, where it even has its own name, “la grieta.” Interestingly, a large and growing number of pundits and politicians have begun to say that we must overcome our differences through dialogue, even if, in practice, they’ve perfected the art of gaining political peanuts through ad hominem attacks against their opponents.
Yet, a certain “Argentine exceptionalism” still remains in our collective psyche, almost exclusively associated with sporting prowess, from Diego Maradona to Lionel Messi. But as one begins to dig deeper into our history, several key characters and moments emerge that feed our notion that as a nation, we “deserve better.” One such moment, maybe the most important from a socio-political perspective, was the Trial of the Juntas held in 1985. Almost 40 years later, the Juicio a las Juntas Militares had essentially become a relic until a recent film brought it back into the foreground in all of its magnificence. Beyond the cinematographic virtues of Argentina, 1985, directed by Santiago Mitre, that trial – borne out of one of the darkest eras of our short life as a nation – was truly something exemplary that should make Argentines proud. It deserves this newfound interest from the public, and hopefully it will help us regain our self-esteem and belief that a future path of progress is within reach.
While a generalised disillusionment with our democratic institutions may make it feel like the Republic is at risk, nothing compares with the early days of Raúl Alfonsín’s presidency. After seven brutal years in power, the Armed Forces finally withdrew from the Executive, allowing open elections in which Alfonsín handily took the popular vote with a mandate to investigate the crimes committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. While their political capital had seriously deteriorated, the Armed Forces retained the support of a substantial portion of the population – and the guns. At the same time, a lot of people were not aware of the atrocities committed during the dictatorship in the name of the “war against subversion.” Thus, whether it was because of fear or incredulity of the people, the leaders of the military juntas had reasons to believe they could still get away with it, and possibly even return to power.
In this context, Alfonsín made true on his campaign promise and pledged his political support for the trial, an extremely risky affair. This was particularly true for those involved. Starting with the judges and prosecutors, everyone knew the Armed Forces had the means to overthrow the nascent democratic government at any moment. They pushed forth, counting on the courage of the thousands of witnesses giving a voice to those who suffered the sadistic torments of kidnapping, torture, disappearance, and murder at the hands of the supposed “liberators” of the nation. Ultimately, the success of the Trial of the Juntas marked a new beginning for Argentina after half a century of successive military interruptions of the democratic process.
That they embarked on such a dangerous mission and were ultimately successful using the democratic institutions could serve as a lighthouse in these days of high and growing rejection for anything related to the political system. Hopefully, a wave of interest in such a momentous historical moment will inspire our political class and those who have lost hope, pushing us to take the necessary steps toward progress.
During those pre-digital days, media coverage of the trial was relatively scant. Newspapers published short and descriptive articles while TV coverage purposefully came with no original audio. Society and its media outlets were still scared. Editorial Perfil took a different approach, publishing the El Diario del Juicio which, in 36 weekly editions, chronicled the trial in extreme detail, including full transcriptions of the hearings. With the passing of time, that publication has become one of the most important historical sources for those studying the trial.
That’s why we’ve decided to digitalise the entirety of the original editions of El Diario del Juicio and upload it to a special microsite dedicated to the trial (it can be found at www.eldiariodeljuicio.com). Working hand-in-hand with prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, who pushed and inspired us to take on the project, we complemented the originals with a series of exclusive interviews with the living protagonists of the trial, conducted by journalist Nieves Zuberbuhler. Perfil’s digital team also put together a special documentary aimed at explaining the trial to younger generations. We also took advantage of our historical archive — Perfil’s photo lab was used by the press pools to process the originals photographs — to put together a series of exclusive picture galleries, all of which can be found on the website free of charge.
We hope that our digital library of the Trial of the Juntas will add to the renewed interest in our recent past, particularly among younger generations for whom all of this sounds like ancient history. We’ve made the original documents digitally searchable, giving those with an academic or historical interest ease of access. It was an arduous task for Perfil’s digital team that hopefully will add our grain of salt to the construction of bridges across the ideological divide going forward. We hope you enjoy it.