Just 6 months in, Milei is dismantling Argentina’s memory policy

Mothers of Plaza de Mayo never thought they would ‘have to prove there was a genocide in Argentina all over again,’ says Taty Almeida

Even before becoming president, Javier Milei has insulted Argentina’s memory policies, which aim to commemorate and seek justice for victims of the country’s last dictatorship. But after six months in office, comments once dismissed as outlandish broadsides have quickly become state policy.

Now, human rights organizations are warning that a state policy of firing experts, disseminating denialist discourse, and flouting international commitments is endangering Argentina’s pioneering work bringing the perpetrators of atrocities to justice.

“Javier Milei’s government has completely or partially dismantled policies that are key to the memory, truth and justice process,” reads a report by human rights nonprofit, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS by its Spanish acronym), which was founded during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. 

This has been done largely by firing most of the people working in memory programs, failing to appoint directors — therefore leaving them adrift — and even refusing to comply with laws and international commitments on the reparation of rights violations. These include decisions by the Justice and Defense Ministries to temporarily suspend reparations payments to victims and close a special team created to investigate dictatorship-era crimes, respectively. These policies have also been affected by the cuts applied to the entire national budget, CELS added.

These cuts have gone hand-in-hand with “revisionist and denialist stances regarding crimes against humanity committed by the armed forces during the last dictatorship,” according to CELS. 

‘It’s all despicable’

Mother of Plaza de Mayo Taty Almeida agreed with that assessment in comments to the Herald, calling Milei and the rest of the cabinet “denialists” and saying that they are “constantly disrespecting the memory of our children.”

“Everything is a disaster. It’s all despicable,” she said.

“It feels like we are living in a fiction movie, but it’s real. We never thought we would have to prove there was a genocide in Argentina all over again.”

March 24 is the anniversary of the 1976 coup. The date is now Argentina’s day of memory, truth and justice, a national holiday which commemorates the 30,000 people who were forcibly disappeared by the security forces.

This March 24, the government published a video claiming that the true number of disappeared people is far lower than 30,000 and focusing on the victims of armed organizations during the 1970s, rather than those of state terrorism. The video endorses the president’s belief that during the 1970s there was a “Dirty War.” This claim is based on the discredited “two demons theory.” This maintains that the state terrorism perpetrated by the dictatorship was a form of warfare against guerrilla groups whose crimes were comparable in nature to the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the security forces. Today, it is considered denialist.

Vice President Victoria Villarruel is known for vocally supporting military officers who are being or have been tried and incarcerated for dictatorship-era crimes against humanity. Days before March 24, she said in an interview that those military members deserve “a judicial solution.” She has also expressed pride about “being the daughter of a military officer who defended our homeland against terrorists,” referring to guerrillas. 

You may also be interested in: Victoria Villarruel’s long and gruesome history of denying crimes against humanity

In April, the Defense Ministry fired 10 of the 13 expert archivists in a state program investigating military archives, virtually shutting it down. The team’s work has provided crucial evidence to convict former armed forces members of crimes against humanity. Defense Minister Luis Petri called them “a persecution team.” The three remaining workers have been transferred to other areas within the office. With nobody around to handle them anymore, information requests from prosecutors have gone unanswered. “Authorities have even threatened to take legal measures against its members,” CELS said.

Last month, Petri backed an informal celebration held by former students of the ex-Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA, by its Spanish initials) on the ex-ESMA grounds, celebrating the Navy just a stone’s throw from the building that was Argentina’s largest clandestine detention center during the dictatorship. Petri claimed they were just “Argentines singing the Argentine Navy march.”

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich recently refused to hand over the personal files of dozens of security forces members requested by the National Identity Commission (CONADI, by its Spanish initials), a public organization that searches for the lost children of people who were forcibly disappeared during the last dictatorship. The ministry released a statement saying the requests were “unfounded” and “out of place.”

The government has also shut down a program dedicated to streaming trials for crimes against humanity by firing six of its seven employees.

State officials even argue that teaching school students about what happened during the last dictatorship constitutes “indoctrination,” the CELS report noted.

Almeida highlighted that social movements are organizing to fight back against the Milei government’s attempts to overturn these policies. 

On Wednesday, thousands of people are expected to protest Milei’s reform bill known as Ley Bases, which will be debated at the Senate that day after being passed by the Lower House in April. Human rights organizations plan to show up in full force. 

“Hope is the last thing you lose. Us Mothers know that very well,” Almeida said.


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