Former Navy students hold celebration on ex ESMA grounds

Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo described the event as a ‘provocation’ against state terrorism victims

Human rights organizations have strongly condemned a Navy Day celebration held on Friday by former students of the ex-Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA, by its Spanish initials) a few hundred meters away from a building that operated as Argentina’s largest clandestine detention center during the last military dictatorship.

In a video shared by former Human Rights Secretariat Horacio Pietragalla, dozens of people can be seen singing a military march for an Argentine Navy Day event. They congregated around an Argentine flag, chanting in a square within the 17-hectare grounds that also house the Officers’ Quarters building, where thousands were held captive and tortured. 

“The commemoration of the Argentine Navy Day in a place that was the epicenter of the [Navy’s] role in the systematic kidnapping, torture, and extermination plan cannot be taken as anything else than a vindication of the Navy’s repressive and criminal actions,” said a statement published Sunday by the Board of Human Rights Organizations for the Space for Memory and Human Rights that works in the ex ESMA. The statement was reposted by Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, which is part of the board.

“This event is a vindication of what happened in the ESMA and is a provocation against society [and] revictimizes state terrorism victims and their families.”

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The organizations added that they would ask the human rights secretariat to clarify whether the tribute had government support. “It is crucial that authorities take an explicit, firm stance against these types of actions and discourse that vindicate state terrorism and disregard policies of memory, truth, and justice.”

The Human Rights Secretariat did not immediately respond to the Herald’s request for comment.

Nearly 5,000 people were detained and disappeared at the Officers’ Quarters building in the former ESMA between 1976 and 1983. Tortured and kept captive in inhumane conditions, many of them were ultimately injected with sedatives and thrown alive into the sea. This happened while other buildings operated as technical, engineering, and military training schools.

Since 2004, the grounds and its buildings have become a memory site and are not used by the military anymore. The Officers’ Quarters building was turned into the ESMA Museum in 2015 and in September it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The public can visit the ESMA Museum’s permanent exhibition, which consists of 17 rooms.

The Buenos Aires branch of H.I.J.O.S., an organization founded by children of state terrorism victims, said Saturday in social media that “it is not a coincidence that these actions have started to take place since [President Javier] Milei and [Vice President Victoria] Villarruel have taken office, with their denialist discourse and apologist actions regarding the dictatorship’s genocide.”

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