Thursday, 11 December 2008

Remains of ‘disappeared’ victims of the Argentine dictatorship uncovered

by Kathryn Hadley

On Tuesday December 9th, a group of forensic anthropologists confirmed that almost 10,000 bone fragments found in the ‘Arana pit’ in La Plata were those of victims of the Argentine military dictatorship under General Videla, from 1976 to 1983. The pit is situated on the site of a once-secret detention centre where dissidents were imprisoned, tortured and executed in what has become known as the Dirty War. A wall with over 200 bullet marks was also found bordering the grave.

It is the first time that remains of victims of the dictatorship have been found en masse in an illegal detention centre and the discovery marks a considerable step in the fight for justice for the victims of the dictatorship and their relatives. In the words of Maria Vedio, a legal chairwoman for the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights La Plata:
"This is the first time there is proof that Arana wasn't only a detention and torture centre, but also a centre of elimination."

It has confirmed the testimonies of survivors who, for the past thirty years, have claimed that political opponents were tortured, killed and burned. However, the military authorities consistently eliminated any evidence of their crimes and the victims’ bodies were never found. They consequently became known as ‘the disappeared’. Whilst official records estimated that there were 13,000 victims, human rights groups put the figures up to 30,000 victims. It is now believed that the military and the police operated approximately ten detention centres in the university city of La Plata, where the repression of students was particularly severe.

The bone fragments were unearthed between February and September this year, following testimonies of survivors who claimed that the site had served as a detention centre. The Asociación de Ex Detenidos Desaparecidos initially filed a legal complaint in 2000 in an attempt to push forward an enquiry into the fate of the victims of the Dirty War. An enquiry eventually began in March 2003.

Work will now continue in an attempt to determine the minimum number of bodies buried in the pit. It will, however, be extremely difficult to identify the victims because most DNA evidence was destroyed in the fire. The local government authorities plan to convert the site into a museum dedicated to the memory of the victims of the dictatorship. The governor of La Plata Daniel Sciolo made an official announcement yesterday that it would be transformed into ‘a site of memory and reflexion’.

The discovery was notably reported in the Argentine newspaper La Nacion

For more information on the dictatorship and its official memory read our article
Argentina’s Coup: Social Myth, Memory and History

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