By Maria Russo
On the 24th of March, the country of Argentina observed “El día de la memoria por la verdad y justicia” (“Day of Memory for Truth and Justice”). This day was created to remember the time in 1976 when the constitutional government of Estela Martinez de Perón was overthrown by a military dictatorship. For the next 9 years (1974-1983), the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance sought out and killed political dissidents, journalists, sympathizers, and their families. The years are now remembered in Argentina as the time of “terrorismo de estado,” or the age of terrorism of the state.
During these years, more than 30,000 people know as “los desaparecidos” went missing. “There were hundreds of abductions, unlawful deprivations of liberty, torture in clandestine detention centers, kidnapping of newborns, and thousands of forced exiles” (English translation by author from source).
The traumas of these experiences is not only felt by the people who suffered, but is also passed down through generations, and the memories serve to tell the stories that have gone untold for so long. The pain of the dictatorship remains present in every act of resistance, each narrative that is reproduced. For many, the most significant form of resistance is not allowing the state to forget what it felt like– what it feels like to lose someone you love.
How is it that there were over 30, 000 people that went missing and I have never once heard of this tragedy before coming here to study? How is it that the mothers and grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have been walking in the city center and begging for reciprocity for 40 years, and no one that I know in the United States is talking about this?
30,000 mothers. 30,000 partners. 30,000 children. 30,000 loved ones.
It is because the power remains with the state. It is because oppressive regimes financially benefit governments through maintaining control, with little to no regard for the people.
When I open my mouth in Argentina, people immediately know I’m not from here. I do not have the Porteña accent, leading them immediately to the question of “where are you from?”
When I respond with the United States, each and every one of them says something along the lines of “wow, you have Trump.” Whether they are in support of his politics of vehemently opposed, they all know about Trump.
How is it that the people of Argentina know so much about the United States, while the majority of people in the U.S. know nothing about their oppressive governments, the continued strikes, their fight for freedom? During my time here, I have learned more about American imperialism and the modern continuation of colonization, which pervades history, culture, and society in Argentina. As I spend more time listening and learning, it is becoming more and more clear to me just how much global oppressive governments such as the Argentine dictatorship have parallels to Trump’s America.
I believe that security and safety are human rights. While many American citizens’ lives have changed very little because they have protected freedoms, people without citizenship are going missing. In a single week in February 2017, over “680 immigrants were arrested in what they called a series of targeted enforcements operations” and many of them were forced into detention or deportation out of the United States.
So, can we strip people of their inalienable human rights just because we refer to them as “aliens”?
The Guardian reports that “evidence is mounting that undocumented immigrants are increasingly wary of reporting crimes or testifying in court, for fear that they could be detained and deported” from the U.S. Victims of the system are afraid that reaching out for help will result in the removal from their children, from their families. The more that people tell the truth and search for freedom, the more they are punished. This is not what democracy looks like.
When we operate on these principles of oppression, the very systems that were built to keep people safe become the biggest threats to freedom.
Are our U.S. politics only more palpable because we use words such as detained or deported, instead of tortured and disappeared?
It is easy for the American government to dismiss other oppressive regimes by calling them “terrorists” and “dictators,” but we must first end terrorism on our own soil if we want to end it elsewhere. We must look in the mirror at our own oppressive government before we can fix others.
In Spanish, they say “ni olvido, ni perdón,” which means do not forget or forgive. We cannot fail to remember the terror that has come before us, nor can we excuse what is happening right before our eyes.
I truly believe we are facing a global humanitarian crisis, because for far too long we have forgotten to care for the people next to us. We have forgotten to treat everyone as humans, with equal rights to existence. The omnipresent “terrorismo de estado” or state terrorism exists in all of our contemporary politics. The people we have chosen as our “leaders” are failing to lead, and choosing instead to control through domination.
May Argentina offer a lesson learned, a memory of pain, in search of truth and justice. We must keep lifting marginalized realities, validating narratives, remembering and building memory. We must keep working to understand collective trauma, instead of running from it.
We cannot have certain standards for our government and different standards for others.
We cannot have certain standards for our violence and different standards for others.
We cannot have certain standards for our rights & freedoms and different standards for others.