December 13, 2013
Graciela Fernández MeijideSunday, September 1, 2013
‘In the 70s, guerrilla members were not democratic’
Born: 1931 in Buenos Aires province
Lives: Buenos Aires City
Education: French Teachers’ training college
Profession: She worked as a teacher until her son was forcibly disappeared in 1976 and she became a member of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH). She had a leading role in the National Commission on the Forced Disappearance of Persons (Conadep). Member of the FREPASO front. Social Development Minister during Fernando de la Rúa’s presidency
Newspapers: Clarín, La Nación and Página/12—when my stomach allows me. I do not read the Herald but I should highlight that during the dictatorship, it was one of the few dailies that reported on disappearances, which caused Bob Cox’s detention.
Who do you find more reliable: Jorge Lanata or Jorge Rial?: None. I don’t even know Rial’s face
Vote for in the PASO primaries: Alfonso Prat Gay and Ricardo Gil Lavedra’s ticket within the UNEN front
Will vote in October for: UNEN Front, I guess.
Graciela Fernández Meijide says she is retired from the political world but in her latest book she dives into one the most controversial political issues: the responsibility of the leftist armed organizations during the seventies. In They were human, not heroes, she discusses the years before tragedy entered her life, when the dictatorship death squads kidnapped her seventeen-year-old son. Although she led the investigation team at the CONADEP commission, she could never find out what happened to the schoolboy.
Why did you decide to write this book and to discuss these issues?
Because I felt that we were going through a dangerous moment. The government is promoting an idealization of that youth and they even call their youth organization La Cámpora as a way to say that what happened during the 70s was legitimate when, in fact, that was a lost decade. There was nothing redeemable. We had many losses: lives, economic situation and democracy.
Why do you say that victims were human, not heroes?
Because they were even able to commit inhumanities and that’s part being a human being.
Murders, kidnappings, bombings. On the other side, there was a trained and ideologized army, willing to annihilate them. In fact, that is what happened, though some of them managed to escape and some others went to jail. In Argentina, there were almost 9000 political prisoners but that went into oblivion due to the amount of disappeared people, which was a more perverse situation.
When you compare guerrilla and military, is there a possibility to put their crimes at a same level?
No. What happened during the state terrorism were crimes against humanity and imprescriptible. It is not the same because if a guerrilla member committed a crime, he only had his gun to defend himself, he did not have impunity.
Don’t you find it dangerous to regard all victims as combatants?
Well, in fact, they were, most of them. Some were not and they also died. The People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) and Montoneros declared war but in fact it was not a war, it was a slaughter. The leftist armed organizations did not consider the response they would have to face, that’s why, for instance, Montoneros’ leaders, while they were abroad, decided to order two counter-offensives during the dictatorship. Yes, they were victims but before becoming victims, they had been activists and even combatants. Part of the justice they deserve is to give them back their identities. If not, we will be cutting out contents from history.
Would you agree with the idea of equating victims from both sides?
No, I do not share the opinion of equating responsibilities.
And do you agree with Héctor Leis’ idea of forgiving perpetrators?
He has every right to do it but I still feel that the victim was my son. He is not alive and I cannot forgive that. I don’t know what he would have done. Maybe he would have agreed with Leis but I cannot make that decision.
Do you think that you’ve got all the necessary acknowledgement for the work carried out at the Conadep?
Part of the government’s narrative is that they brought human rights and that is not true. If there is something for which the first democratic government should be acknowledged for, it must be for having investigated and taken to court some of those responsible. I found it very disgusting when in 2004 then president Néstor Kirchner said “it is the first time state officials enter the ESMA clandestine detention centre”. We had already done that as CONADEP members and we were state officials. I found it also aggressive when he removed (Jorge Rafael) Videla’s portrait. I think it has to be there because it’s part of our history.
But do you support the policy of taking perpetrators to court ?
Yes, I agreed with the reopening of the trials. I think they should have made use of the “whistleblowers,” an institution that today is admitted for economic crimes. They should have bargained down penalties for information.
Do you think perpetrators would agree to give information?
At least, you have to try. In South Africa it worked. Not even those who are convicted for life provide any details. Until we know the truth, history will be unbalanced.
In Uruguay, for instance, there are few perpetrators in jail and they do not give information.
Yes. They do not give information. But I have to say that this government has restricted the idea of human rights, they do not remember economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. I think social exclusion is growing.
And the Universal Child Allowance (AUH)?
Why wasn’t the Kirchnerite ticket voted in the places where most of those plans are implemented? Because of inflation and because those plans were not transformed into job opportunities.
Is there any political alternative for you?
I cannot name a politician who can do it but it has to be done. We have to demand solutions from the government. It is not enough to talk about human rights because of the reopening of the trials in times when there is no military resistance.
What do you think of the UNEN front?
It was an interesting alternative for the PASO primaries. I hope it projects into future.
And about Sergio Massa?
If he goes forward, Peronists will leave Kirchnerism and align with him. But I prefer that result of the PASO primaries to the chance of having a perpetuated government.
Isn’t Massa’s a disturbing victory?
We’ll see then but I am not into politics now.
What do you think of César Milani’s appointment as the head of the Army?
I do not know if the committed any crime but what I cannot stand is the government’s double standard.
Hugo Vezzetti says that the idea of a horrified society during the dictatorship was constructed during democracy. Do you agree with him?
It’s true. Maybe those who lived in the biggest cities were scared. I think that the society that supported the guerrilla changed their mind when (Juan Domingo) Perón came back to the country (that’s why they voted for him. I also did though I was not a Peronist). Then, social sectors started calling for military intervention. Society was not terrified but had to face certain losses.
Have you ever felt that Pablo was a hero?
Yes, when Pablito disappeared. I felt that he was “my only son” but I had three children. He turned into the most important thing in my life and I only wanted him to reappear. What happened is that some relatives of disappeared people turn their daily struggle into a political one and they started saying: “I struggle for the same reasons that my children used to.”
And did you say that?
No. I have been struggling for human rights and democracy and those youngsters considered democracy counter-revolutionary and they did not care about human rights because they were giving their lives and taking others’.