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‘US should acknowledge past mistakes in region’

Claudio Avruj is seen in this file photo.
Claudio Avruj is seen in this file photo.
Claudio Avruj is seen in this file photo.
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff

Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj tells Herald ahead of Obama visit

The national government believes that the United States should review the role it played during the 1970s in the region, Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj told the Herald yesterday, a day after the White House announced President Barack Obama will be releasing military and intelligence documents to help the ongoing investigations into crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

“Every state should acknowledge its wrongdoings,” Avruj said yesterday on the eve of Obama’s arrival to the country while also celebrating that the US leader will join President Mauricio Macri to mark the 40th anniversary of the last military coup.

Noah Mamet, the US ambassador to Argentina, yesterday suggested that Obama may be making a reference to the role Washington played during the era of state terror in the country.

All eyes turned to Avruj shortly after the White House announced that it will be declassifying the documents that have been requested by human rights organizations during a meeting with Macri last month.

The Human Rights Secretary welcomed the Herald at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) memorial to talk about how the centre-right government is planning to mark the anniversary of the last military coup.

What is the message the Macri administration seeks to send on the 40th anniversary of the coup?

That of our ethical commitment to remembrance. We need to understand what happened to us and what should never happen again. The president was clear when he said never again to terror, institutional violence, authoritarianism during his congressional inauguration on March 1. We also want to unite Argentines and we think that the courts should play a key role to achieve that goal.

Unlike the past years, the strongest message will probably be sent by a foreign leader on the March 24 commemoration...

It is true, but we should consider how Obama made this decision. Firstly we have to take into account the meeting between President Macri and human rights groups three weeks ago. The groups made a series of requests then. Estela Barnes de Carlotto told the president to ask Obama to declassify the archives and the president did as our policy is based on dialogue. This request was accepted due to the good relationship we now have with the US, something that couldn’t have been achieved during the 12 years of Kirchnerite rule.

How does the national government assess the role played by the US during the 1970s?

There is no doubt that the US was involved in the authoritarian atmosphere that invaded Argentina and the Southern Cone. We should not forget about the School of the Americas, Augusto Pinochet’s coup, about Uruguay, Argentina. It was part of a global decision made during the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and that had Henry Kissinger as its mastermind. The policy was based on terror. It is also true that the US civil society was helpful and that has to be reminded to all those who do not want to welcome President Obama. His visit to the country represents a step forward. We should also revisit the role played by communism with the Soviet Union, which was a business partner of the last dictatorship. I wish other countries will follow Obama’s lead and open up their archives.

Do you think self-criticism from the US is needed?

It is necessary. Every state should admit its wrongdoings. Argentina has to acknowledge it was tolerant to military coups and to declaring war in order to stay in power. Societies make progress, then we also wish that repressors break the pact of silence they have been keeping.

Will the government have any kind of influence in that process?

I don’t think influence is the right word. I am asking them to speak up. They have all the due process guarantees, the ones that their victims lacked. This will help to bring definite peace to Argentina.

Human rights groups have always mistrusted repressors...

I understand their stance. I am not making reference to institutional apologies, I am making reference to individual acts, to learn from them why they did that, how they did it and why.

But do you think this process should take place before the courts? The government is currently promoting new legislation on whistleblowers...

I am making reference to another approach. The trials into crimes against humanity have nothing to do with the whistleblower bill. I am talking about morality. I don’t believe the state can promote reconciliation. The state cannot forgive on behalf of the victims.

Do you feel comfortable with the hopes the Macri government has created within groups such as Justice and Concord?

They have the right to express themselves. I will always confront those who vindicate murderers.

Do you regret having met with the Centre for Legal Studies on Terrorism and its Victims (Celtyv) at the ESMA memorial?

Absolutely not. I discussed it with human rights groups and they understood. Some complained because the encounter took place here but the Human Rights Secretariat has its headquarters here and that is not a decision I made. It was former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner who made that decision and most human rights groups were present when it was inaugurated. I will not welcome anyone justifying state terror or asking for forgiveness for the murderers and those who keep silent.

What should be done with judicial investigations such as the one into the death of Argentino Larrabure, whose son is a leading member of Celtyv?

It was the state authorities who perpetrated human rights violations. It is up to the courts what to do. It is still a crime but it is not up to the Human Rights Secretariat. We should understand what role the armed groups had and why they also went clandestine.

During the Kirchnerite era, the official narrative played tribute to left-wing activists. Is it possible to say that the new government does not share this view?

We don’t share it. Kirchnerism appropriated human rights and also praised activism, which was a mistake. A sector of the population was stigmatized by Kirchnerism.

What do you mean?

Kirchnerites equated human rights advocates to activists.

Are you planning to boost the investigations into former Army chief César Milani for alleged dictatorship-era crimes?

The courts are already examining the case.

Last week you said that repressors over 70 years old should be granted house arrest. Don’t you think that was a message sent to the courts?

No. The president and I were clear. The courts are free. We want to live under the rule of law and we have to accept the law. If the law establishes that those over 70 years old can be granted house arrest, then the law has to be equal for everyone. We don’t want the courts to dismiss these requests due to pressure from the Executive.

Statistics show that most repressors who are over 70 were granted house arrest.

That’s true. The Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) agrees. Elderly former military officers do not represent a risk for Argentine society. If they escape, that will show that we have problems with the police and then we will have to devote our efforts to that, but judges cannot say yes or no depending on the person.

In fact, they still have links to the forces if you consider that Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz was reportedly linked to the forced disappearance of Julio López in 2006.

Of course they still have connections but those links are not as strong as they used to be. The coup took place 40 years ago, not 2000 years ago.

Rights groups have been reporting that the government is getting rid of areas that could help judicial investigations. Is that true?

False. There were many people in the Secretariat that did not work or that were appointed shortly before the former government left office.

Will the Secretariat continue as a plaintiff in the Papel Prensa newsprint case?

Nothing has changed so far.

What’s your stance on the case?

I am still analyzing it.

How do you respond to filings made before international bodies due to Milagro Sala’s legal situation?

I understand the filings made by the CELS and Amnesty International. We are respectful of judicial independence. Due process is guaranteed.

Journalist Horacio Verbitsky said you sent two people to tell Sala to ask to be granted house arrest before Macri’s meeting with Pope Francis. Right?

False. I sent two people to make sure she was OK.

But don’t you think the case has at least a controversial tone as she was first jailed for staging a protest and other cases surfaced after she was in prison?

What is clear is that there are more cases worsening her legal situation.

It is also clear that the judges have understood the political message...

They are judges who were appointed by (former Jujuy governor Eduardo) Fellner. Judges were not changed.


@lucianabertoia

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