Petri backs controversial Navy Day celebration on ex-ESMA grounds

The defense minister said they were just ‘Argentines who sang the Argentine Navy march around an Argentine flag’

Defense Minister Luis Petri has backed a celebration held by former students of the ex-Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA, by its Spanish initials). The informal event took place on the ex-ESMA grounds last week, celebrating the Navy close to what had been Argentina’s largest clandestine detention center during its last military dictatorship. 

Human rights organizations heavily rejected the move as a provocation against victims of state terror and their families, but Petri claimed they were just “Argentines singing the Argentine Navy march.”

“They are Argentines who were singing the Argentine Navy march on Navy Day, around a mast with the Argentine flag,” Petri wrote Friday on X, in response to a post by the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS in Spanish) that pointed to Petri’s week-long silence on the subject. 

In videos shared on social media of the controversial Navy Day celebration, dozens of people, including retired Navy mechanics and technicians, visited the Malvinas Museum and congregated around an Argentine flag to sing a Navy march within the 17-hectare grounds that also house the Officers’ Quarters building, where thousands were held captive and tortured. The videos were uploaded to a Facebook group for former ESMA students who graduated in 1978, two years after the dictatorship began.

Petri said the Navy “does so much to defend our sovereignty and natural resources” and “has done so much for independence and freedom” in the 19th century.

“There are many places where the Navy can be celebrated,” CELS replied to Petri’s statement on Friday. “Choosing to do it in a place where there was a concentration camp and later vindicate it is another one of the decisions that are destroying memory policies.”

The human rights non-profit also criticized the Defense Ministry for providing fertile ground for such events with “the dismantling of the civilian analysis teams from the armed forces that provided proof to try, among other things, what happened in the ESMA.” 

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The celebration was organized by former ESMA students via a Facebook group, in which they later posted videos and pictures of their visit, calling it a “historical” event. “The noble history of our school and its former students will never be erased,” one of the former students who organized the event wrote.

Other members of the group celebrated their return to the grounds, saying “justice was served,” claiming the ex-ESMA had been “usurped” and that they could “finally return home.”

In one of the videos posted on May 17, a group of former students recorded a video inside one of the ESMA buildings, introducing themselves by name and what they studied. “Here we are, enjoying ourselves,” one said.


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