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‘The role of EAAF is absolutely essential’

Buscadores de identidades robadas’s documentary-maker Miguel Rodriguez Arias.
Buscadores de identidades robadas’s documentary-maker Miguel Rodriguez Arias.
Buscadores de identidades robadas’s documentary-maker Miguel Rodriguez Arias.
By Pablo Suarez
Miguel Rodríguez Arias talks about his documentary Buscadores de identidades robadas

The highly valuable Argentine documentary Buscadores de identidades robadas (Seekers of Stolen Identities) accounts for the origin and development of the Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense (Argentine Team of Forensics Anthropology — EAAF), which since 1984 has found and identified the remains of 577 persons disappeared during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. So far, no other feature, neither a fiction film nor a documentary, has told the story that documentary-maker Miguel Rodriguez Arias is now telling with remarkable precision.

When did you first think of making Buscadores de identidades robadas?

The project actually started back in 2009, though I’ve known the EAAF since it was founded in 1984. And even before 2009 I had thought of making this documentary, but I needed their consent.

Broadly speaking, what’s the film’s main goal?

To account for the 29-year-history of the EAAF and to expose the entire process to identify disappeared people during the military dictatorship, beginning with the preliminary investigation, then accompanying the relatives, the relationship with justice, the history of the discovery of identification through the DAN from bone samples… The goal is to inform, we want young people to know our history and elders to remember so nas to keep memory and conscience alive. It’s a didactic documentary.

What are some of the achievements of the EAAF?

I think that the most severe consequence of the dictatorship is the disappeared for they remain throughout time. The thousands of people thrown into sea will never be recuperated. That’s utterly anguishing. However, the work carried out by the EAAF, which consists of identifying people who were disappeared and later found in mass graves as NN, significantly contributes to attenuate the problem of many families who did not know where their loved ones were.

Furthermore, without the work of the EAAF, the trials against the military juntas would have been inconsistent due to lack of scientific evidence. The same thing would have happened with the trials for crimes against humanity that are now taking place. I believe that the role the EAAF plays in countries with genocide in their histories is absolutely essential. It’s a fundamental team for the recovery of the truth, of the memory of justice and consolidation of democracy.

What about the scope of its work?

I feel they have undertaken a gigantic task. Gigantic means exhuming some 1300 people who were murdered and their remains disappeared. Gigantic means finding hundreds of relatives of the victims as to get some data for their identification. Gigantic means to match thousands of pieces of information and testimonies in cemeteries, court houses, military quarters and police stations hoping that it would allow to identify one person. Gigantic means working in over 45 countries doing exhumations and providing local professionals with knowledge and training so that they can continue with the process, which always takes years. Finally, gigantic means identifying some 577 persons throughout 29 years in Argentina.

What are your personal feelings?

I’m very moved by their work and by how they perform it. They have lots of respect and affection for the relatives; when they work in the laboratory with the bones, you can sense that they are constantly aware of the fact that those bones were once inhabited by a human being, and so they are symbolically invested by the tenderness with which they handle them. It's highly commendable that there's a team like this in Argentina. It's the first of its kind in the entire world. And it has shown its work internationally, despite their low profile as regards the media at large. They believe that their work must be done in silence and only give statements when the information justifies it. The EAAF does work nobody wanted to do. In my view, it does it perfectly, be it from a humanistic or a scientific point of view.

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