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Thirty-five years from the birth of Argentina's 'Dirty War'

By Tom Clifford - posted Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Thirty-five years ago what became known as the ''Dirty War'' was launched in Argentina.

On March 24, 1976 the military, led by General Jorge Videla, seized power and inaugurated six years of state terror, waged principally against people under the age of thirty, those considered by the armed forces most likely to be political activists and therefore sympathetic to the left.

Its consequences are part of the national psyche and and a band of mothers continue to keep the fate of the ''misssing'' in the political arena.


Irma Rojas sees the faces of the ''disappeared'' every day.

Pictures of ´´Dirty War´´ victims look down from her Buenos Aires office wall, like a college yearbook, a reminder of the nightmare that gripped Argentina. Among the faces, some sombre, some optimistic with the hope of youth but all unaware of their impending fate, is that of her son 21 and his seven-month pregnant wife, 20.

''At 2am on May 3, 1977, the military came, ransacked their flat and arrested them,'' Rojas said.

''I do not know where their bodies are but some prisoners we contacted at the Escuela Superior de la Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA) (the navy engineering school used as an interrogation centre), said they were tortured. They waited for my daughter-in-law to give birth then killed her and gave the baby away.''

Rojas, 73, works with the Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo - who search for the missing children of their own ''disappeared'' children. They employ five full-time lawyers and a psychologist to deal with daily inquiries.

The junta, ostensibly established to crush what the military referred to as ''terror organisations'' and guerilla activity, in reality cracked down on any political dissent and imposed a reign of terror on the civilian population, including all political opposition, trade unionists (half of the victims) and students.


An Argentine court would later condemn the ´´Dirty War´´ as a crime against humanity.

People were ''disappeared'' from their homes, restaurants, cinemas, on the street or places of work. Those who did not stay silent risked being ''disappeared'' themselves.

The dictatorship ushered in an age of terror, clamping down on civil liberties and human rights, drugging dissidents and dropping them from aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean, using electric prods on prisoners, raping women and forcing relaitives to listen to the screams.

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About the Author

Tom Clifford worked as a freelance journalist in South America in 2009, covering Bolivian and Argentine affairs. Now in China, he has worked for newspapers in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Far East.

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