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Remembering Argentina 1976-2006

April 7, 2006

By Suzanne Rumsey

Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of coup d’etat

It is necessary to make memory, to re-member, and to keep those remembered alive in our hearts and minds.
On March 24, the Argentinean Community in Toronto gathered at the University of Toronto to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the 1976 coup d’etat in Argentina, when the then military junta took over power and established seven years of repression, terror and economic collapse. Argentina emerged from the shadows of the “dirty war” with 30,000 of its citizens “disappeared.”
Thirty years later, Argentina is coming to terms with its past and looking forward to a just and prosperous future. At the University of Toronto commemoration, María Eva Urrutia, a woman in her early 30s, recounted witnessing the disappearance of her mother, taken from her when she was only four.  Her father also disappeared. “They are alive inside of me and in my memory,” said Ms. Urrutia in remembrance of her parents, adding that, “to disappear means not to leave a print–those that disappeared in Latin America have not disappeared because their prints are in all our hearts.” Ms. Urrutia is a co-founder of H.I.J.O.S., Children for Identity and Justice and Against Forgetting and Silence, the word “hijos” itself meaning “children”, an organization with chapters throughout Latin America and beyond.  H.I.J.O.S. seeks for truth, justice, and keeps alive the memories of parents lost. 

Churches in Argentina struggled to keep hope alive through the dark years of the dictatorship.  They were supported by Christians in Canada in that struggle, including the member churches (the Anglican church among them) and religious congregations that first formed the Inter-Church Committee on Chile in 1973, and then in 1977, the Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America (ICCHRLA), now a part of KAIROS.  In 1985, at a meeting of the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee in Buenos Aires, José  Bonino, one of the presidents of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH) explained the Argentine churches’ engagement: We Christians who have shared in this struggle have learned one further, foremost, and basic thing.  For us it is not a matter of simple moral duty or humanitarian work (both of value in themselves).  What was at stake was the authenticity of our faith, our witness to our claim to bear the name of Christian.

Another one of the leading lights of the non-violent, Christian resistance to the dictatorship was Adolfo Pèrez Esquivel, founder of the Peace and Justice Service and a Nobel Laureate.  In a message commemorating the 30th anniversary he wrote:
30 years of struggle, Memory, Truth and Justice,
confronts us with today’s reality. 
Despite all the difficulties, the people are still standing,
new winds and horizons are glimpsed through their lives,
they are like underground rivers that emerge
to the surface to change the course of geography and history
–30,000 desaparecidos. PRESENTES! Ahora y siempre–

(30,000 disappeared.  Present among us!  Now and always.)

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