Hundreds of thousands march to call for memory, truth and justice

Argentina's annual march commemorating dictatorship victims was marked by outrage against President Javier Milei’s administration

24 marzo memoria

Around 400,000 people flocked to Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires for Sunday’s National Day of Memory, Truth, and Justice march. This year, collective remembrance became a protest against  President Javier Milei’s administration, which published a video presenting a false alternative portrayal of the military dictatorship’s crimes.

“Mothers of the square, the people are with you,” “Milei, scumbag, you are the dictatorship,”  and “If you don’t jump, you voted for Milei” were among the most popular chants that could be heard along Avenida de Mayo and the surrounding streets flowing into the Plaza de Mayo square.

Politics is always a through-line in the annual commemoration, which marks the last civic-military dictatorship seizing power 48 years ago on March 24, 1976. This year many strongly called out the president and Vice President Victoria Villarruel for their apologist stance concerning the state terror which took place between 1976 and 1983. 

“We can’t forget,” said Geraldine Zárate, a protester holding her four-year-old son Sebastián’s hand. “I have a kid. I need him to know that there was a genocidal dictatorship, that what happened marked us forever, and we can’t let that happen again.” 

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Photo: Valen Iricibar for the Buenos Aires Herald

Hundreds of different social movements came together in the square: unions, human rights organizations, cultural groups, veterans, and thousands of people with no political affiliation as well. The march began at noon from several points in the city and nationwide. 

“We want memory, truth, justice, peace, and sovereignty,” said Néstor Sáenz on Avenida de Mayo, overflowing with crowds trying to reach the plaza. Sáenz is a former soldier and member of the La Plata Malvinas War Veteran Center. “We come to defend human rights.”

The president of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto, read out the document written between human rights organizations and social movements. As is the case every year, the document demanded justice for the 30,000 disappeared but also highlighted the economic fallout of the dictatorship, comparing it to Milei’s measures.

“Milei and Villarruel’s government is carrying out the most despicable economic austerity plan in the last 40 years of democratic history, in a brutal and fast-paced way,” Carlotto read. “[The dictatorship’s economic plan] is the same one Milei and Villarruel are carrying out now, pushing people to poverty and suffering.”

“The government is trying to mess up the rights we won in terms of memory, truth, justice, and feminism,” said Constanza Jara while leaving the protest. “These are the years in which we need to make the presence felt on the streets.”

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Photo: Valen Iricibar for the Buenos Aires Herald

An apologist endeavor

On Sunday morning, official social media accounts posted a video that called into question the number of 30,000 disappeared people and aimed at putting the focus on the victims of armed organizations during the 1970s rather than those of state terrorism.

The video contains an interview with Luis Labraña, a former guerrilla member who claims he made up the 30,000 figure while asking the Dutch government for funds for the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. “It was all for money,” he said.

The piece, recorded by Milei’s personal audiovisual team in Casa Rosada, reinforces the president’s belief that during the 1970’s there was a so-called “Dirty War,” a denialist claim based on the discredited “two demons theory.”

This idea states that while the Argentine military committed abuses of power, it was acting to end political violence that left-wing guerrilla groups had initiated, suggesting that these were two equal and opposite forces, with the same capacity and willingness to torture, rape, and kill.

“While this government wants to establish the two demons theory and revindicate state terrorism, we continue to call for a bill against denialism,” the document said. This law would punish public officials who “undermine these crimes and their victims.” There are several bills of this nature filed in Congress, but lawmakers have yet to debate them.

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All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald