The Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice in Argentina
Truth and Justice Day is arguably the most important day of the year for Argentina. You can’t truly appreciate Argentina’s stunning landscapes and rich culture without first understanding the hidden history behind its Truth and Justice Day.
What is Truth and Justice Day?
Truth and Justice Day, or el Día Nacional de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justicia, is a national holiday in Argentina. It occurs on March 24 each year since this day marks the anniversary of the coup d’état of 1976, the day a right-winged military regime took over Argentina.
The regime controlled Argentina for 7 years and resulted in over 30,000 disappearances and dozens of other atrocities. Truth and Justice Day is dedicated to remembering those impacted by the murders, violence, and tortures carried out by the military dictatorship.
Once a year, Argentineans flock to the streets for peaceful rallies and marches to honor their lost loved ones. They often carry their photographs with them and make calls for continued investigation into the disappearances.
The Dirty War
The Dirty War, or La Guerra Sucia, began when Argentinian president Isabel Perón was overthrown on March 24, 1976. Lieut. Gen. Jorge Rafaél Videla took over and led the National Reorganization Process to power through this coup d’état.
This military junta was financially backed by the United States as part of Operation Condor. Operation Condor was a political repression campaign whose mission was to use warfare tactics to eliminate communism in the southern cone of South America during the Cold War
The operation used military forces and right-wing death squads to form the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance. The alliance imposed national censorship, put the state and municipal governments under military control, and closed the National Congress.
The 7 years this dictatorship was in power became known as the Dirty War since it was filled with state terrorism that attacked left-wing guerrillas, socialists, journalists, students, unionists, and other political groups. The military dictatorship also prohibited many books, magazines, songs, plays and movies, and also persecuted artists. Anyone thought to pose even a slight risk or opposition to the military junta was eliminated.
Children of opposent families were taken from their parents and given to military families instead. Around 30,000 are estimated to have disappeared with this violence, but the true number remains unknown as most government documents and records were destroyed by those in power.
The Dirty War finally ended in 1983 with a democratic election to choose a new president.
Mothers Fighting for Truth and Justice
Hundreds of families lost children and loved ones during these long years of oppressive government. Many devastated mothers came together to form the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Las Madres y Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, to call for international attention to these disappeared persons, or desaparecidos.
Shortly after a new government was democratically elected, nine of the junta leaders were arrested. However, new President Raúl Alfonsín did not like the unrest that these trials caused. As a result, new laws such as Due Obedience and Full Stop were enacted. These new rules forgave anyone who committed crimes under orders from superiors and even ended investigations of political violence. In 1990, the next president even went so far as to pardon and release imprisoned generals.
Victims were forced to move on knowing these criminals were free. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo found this unacceptable. They wanted justice and accountability for those who were responsible for so much suffering. These powerful women took to the streets every year with photos of their children and publicized their children’s names. Their headscarves were embroidered with the names and birthdates of the children they lost in the war.
The Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo continued to push for investigations into the disappearances of loved ones and for the strengthening of human rights protection. They didn’t stop fighting until their tireless work paid off.
Over two decades after they first organized, the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo finally announced their victory in 2006. President Néstor Kirchner successfully had the Full Stop Law and the Law of Due Obedience repealed and declared unconstitutional.
Thanks to these determined mothers, almost all of the surviving junta members are currently serving sentences for crimes against humanity and genocide. Additionally, the mothers’ actions resulted in Truth and Justice Day being implemented as a national holiday in 2006.
Times of Change in Latin America
Argentina is not alone in its turbulent past. Many Latin American countries suffered human rights atrocities or political consequences from the U.S. backed Operation Condor.
As a result, many Latin American groups are calling for the strengthening of human rights in this region by increasing measures for truth and justice, as well as promoting the defense of human rights and the protection of vulnerable populations. Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention is one such initiative that works towards these important goals.
Truth and Justice day is meant not only as a day to honor the deceased, but also as a day to remember to be uncompromising in these values.
Watch the Story Unfold on the Big Screen
Want to learn more about the Dirty War and Truth and Justice Day? Watch the movie The Official Story. This 1985 film illustrates the Dirty War from the perspective of an upper middle class family who receive a daughter that is likely the child of desaparecidos. The movie depicts the atrocities and suffering that hundreds of families faced through its detailed narrative.
Today the Argentine Republic is governed by president Alberto Fernández. Fernández faces steep economic and political issues that remain from Argentina’s past trauma. Nevertheless, he has a high approval rating, even while fighting a global pandemic.
Argentina undoubtedly has a long and bumpy road to recovery. However, the country is working hard to improve its economic and political situations, as well as increasing its human rights protections.
Ranked as the world’s 8th largest country, Argentina is a vast space filled with delicious cuisine, stunning landscapes, and friendly people. Argentina is bursting with culture. It brags of producing some of Latin America’s most important authors, incredible film and theatre, and other amazing arts. It’s filled with immense plains, harsh deserts, icy tundra, and deep green forests.
It’s easy to get lost in Argentina’s beautiful tango, exciting soccer games, and mouth-watering barbecue. However, it’s also important to remember what it took to get here. That’s why Argentina dedicates Truth and Justice day to honoring those lost, but their absence is still felt every day of the year.
What does Truth and Justice Mean to You?
Argentina’s national Truth and Justice Day is a reminder to the world that these two values are essential to have and dangerous to not. Does Argentina’s story change how you view truth and justice? Drop a comment below on what you think of these values!
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