45 Years After the Genocidal Coup in Argentina

Revista Crisis
https://www.history.com/.image/t_share/MTU3ODc4NjAwMDMxNjc2MTI3/image-placeholder-title.jpgArgentinians rallying for their missing sons and daughters in Buenos Aires, circa 1980.

A seven-year night

On March 24, 1976 the sixth coup d’état to the bourgeois-democratic constitutional order of its history as a republic took place in Argentina. The Armed Forces were the visible face of it, leading the self-styled “National Reorganization Process”.

In line with what was happening in Latin America, the civil-military intervention attempted to subdue an insurgent popular movement and its vanguard, represented in a collection of political-revolutionary organizations that led trade unions, student centers, agrarian leagues and neighborhood councils in slums. Behind the boots and rifles came the real protagonists of the coup: the economic, political, media and clerical power.

Neoliberalism, in reality, needed to impose itself in the shortest possible time and with the least possible organized resistance in order to carry out a brutal transfer of resources to the accumulated capital, leaving a scorched earth. Although violence and state terrorism against the working class and the left had a long and disastrous history in Argentina, from 1976 until 1983 unprecedented levels were developed in the systematization of a plan of extermination and annihilation of the political and popular opposition through the kidnapping, torture and disappearance of 30,000 comrades.

This was done through a deliberate plan and around 400 concentration camps were set up throughout the length and breadth of the country. The disappearance of political opponents, strong during the government of Isabel Perón (1974-1976) through the fascist parastatal gang of the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance, became the main form of elimination and disciplining after the coup, but, as Pilar Calveiro rightly says “(…) the existence of the concentration-extermination camps must be understood as an institutional action, not as an aberration product of a handful of sick minds or monstrous men; it was not a matter of excesses or individual acts, but of a repressive policy perfectly structured and regulated by the State itself (…)”.

The 30,000 revolutionary seeds

In 2021, it will be 45 years since this fascist and genocidal coup. It is usually a date of many activities, demonstrations and debates in which the political, social and anti-repressive militancy is not alone; where isolation is broken and tens of thousands of families go out to demonstrate. Many of us will remember and vindicate the 30,000 detained-disappeared, still from different points of view and approaches but with one certainty: to take them out of the place of “innocent” victims and recover them as political subjects with dreams, passions, loves. But who were they? What were they fighting for?

Revolutionary militants, students, conscripts, grassroots activists, intellectuals, labor priests, sexual dissidents, artists, workers. Above all workers. It is calculated that around 30% were workers and that added to the 18% of employees, 6% of teachers, 5% of self-employed and 18% of professionals gives us a picture of what was the objective of the military dictatorship: the elimination of worker and union activism and the generalization of terror at the grassroots to avoid any resistance to the imposition of anti-popular measures. Eighty percent of the detainees-disappeared were between 16 and 35 years old and about 490 children were born in captivity in the various concentration camps, of whom 130 were able to recover their identity through the tireless struggle of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo. Most of them were popular militants, factory delegates, student activists or villerxs; committed, in short, to some vindictive struggle. An important number of them were also political militants organized in dozens of groups.

Most of the comrades arrested-disappeared came from militant Peronism and were active in organizations such as Montoneros, the FAP -Fuerzas Armadas Peronistas-, Peronismo Auténtico or the JP. The most important Marxist organization was the Red Fraction, although the OCPO -Organización Comunista Poder Obrero- and the Trotskyist PST also had an important development in the working class sphere. Finally, there were a number of smaller organizations of the so-called “new left” which, due to their characteristics and less exposure, were able to preserve their militant cadres for a longer period of time, such as the Maoist Vanguardia Comunista/PCML, the GOR, Orientación Socialista or the anarchists of the Línea Anarco-Comunista and Resistencia Libertaria. All, however, were hit by repression and terror, being significantly decimated.

There are stories of families literally amputated by the disappearance of many of their members. Within revolutionary Peronism, the case of the Oesterheld family is paradigmatic. Héctor, a well-known and prestigious writer and comic book scriptwriter, had joined the militancy in Montoneros in his 50s, sharing tasks and ideals with his four daughters: Beatriz, Diana, Estela and Marina. The five of them -plus three of Hector’s sons-in-law- remain as detainees-disappeared. There are many cases: the brothers Pablo, Rafael and Marcelo Tello from La Plata, militants of Resistencia Libertaria who remain disappeared. Or the family of PRT leader Roby Santucho, who has 11 disappeared members.

The records of the lives of all of them tell us of militants disciplined and dedicated to the struggle for the Revolution, but we also discover them listening to Alfredo Zitarrosa, the Beatles or Pescado Rabioso. We see them in photos of their brief vacations and respites, hugging their children, partners or family; laughing with a glass of wine or participating in a march. We see them as children taking communion or at a swimming pool, in the few photographs that their families keep of them as treasures, as loving memories that are painful. We can imagine them reading Fanon, Trotsky, Che, Bakunin, Pannekoek, Marx or Cooke. Sleeping in improvised camps in some factory occupation or university occupation; in eternal meetings, accompanied by a glass of maté and black cigarettes.

This is how we remember them: revolutionary, deeply human and alive in our struggles, fears, dreams, failures and brief victories. 45 years later, the memory is still alive, the people demand truth, justice and reparation for the 30,000 detainees-disappeared became seeds.