April 18, 2014
Milani promoted on the quiet
Human rights groups close to the government do not publicly reject controversial Army chief
A day after the Senate voted in favour of his promotion from major-general to lieutenant-general, César Milani yesterday formally took over as head of the Army.
Now that his designation has become official, the human rights movement appears to be divided between those supporting Milani, those who oppose — and the majority of the pro-Kirchnerite groups who have chosen to keep silent.
In a ceremony held at the Government House yesterday, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner handed the sabre to Milani. The event was over in the blink of an eye, taking less than 10 minutes. But before she left the room, Fernández de Kirchner, who was accompanied by Defence Ministry Agustín Rossi and Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich, shook hands with Milani.
The newly minted lieutenant-general was visibly happy with his promotion, which could end up having a high cost for a government that has made the fight for human rights a banner of its tenure.
After his promotion was approved on Wednesday night, some human rights organizations voiced their concern while the majority of the groups aligned with the government kept a surprisingly low profile.
As she had done before, the iconic leader of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Hebe de Bonafini took charge of defending Milani and of attacking pro-Kirchnerite journalist Horacio Verbitsky, who currently heads the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the organization that repeatedly challenged Milani’s promotion and linked him with crimes against humanity committed during the last military dictatorship that ruled the country between 1976 and 1983.
“The ones who made a mistake with Milani are the same who said that (Jorge) Bergoglio could not be appointed pope because he had abducted some priests. They were wrong, they are usually wrong,” Bonafini yesterday said following the weekly event in the Plaza de Mayo square.
Bonafini, who was a staunch opponent of paying economic compensations to those who suffered forced disappearances, also said: “Those who received the economic compensation are the ones who dislike Milani. They are so respectable ... but they sold their children’s blood.”
Human rights activists did not respond to Bonafini’s words.
Other human rights organizations with good ties to the Kirchnerite administration have mostly kept silent. Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo leader Estela de Carlotto had previously said she shares the government’s opinion: if Milani is not proven guilty, he could be the Army Chief.
The organization that gathers together relatives of forcibly disappeared and political prisoners, Familiares, did not issue any press release and refused to discuss the issue. Nor did HIJOS, the organization that groups together children of forcibly disappeared parents. Last week, a member of that organization told the Herald that they were analyzing the topic and were about to issue a press release, suggesting that Milani had been a bad choice. That did not happen and another member confirmed yesterday that they would be examining the issue today during their weekly meeting.
Nothing was said either from the leadership of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo — Founding Line.
With their silence, these organizations seem to be aiming to keep a balance between an appointment that they do not support and a government that has done much to take perpetrators of dictatorship crimes to court, which was a long-held demand of the human rights movement.
Iconic member of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Nora Cortiñas yesterday told the Herald she was shocked by Milani’s promotion.
“How senators voted reminded me of due obedience and that was something I would like to forget,” she said in reference to the Due Obedience Law, which prevented military officials from being taken to court. “This is a setback,” she complained.
Nobel Prize Winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel agreed with Cortiñas and criticized Kirchnerite lawmakers for repeating that “they were following the president’s order to vote for Milani.”
Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission (CPM) — led by Pérez Esquivel and former prosecutor Hugo Cañón — said that Milani should step aside.
“Milani cannot be heading the Army, which has to be fully democratic to serve the nation’s interests,” they said in a press release.
“The 39 senators who voted in favour of Milani’s promotion, in spite of being aware of his role in the genocide perpetrated in Argentina, are accomplice of his impunity,” the Association for Former Detained-Disappeared (AEDD) highlighted.
The Permanent Assembly of Human Rights (APDH), a historic ecumenical organization, also expressed its concern. “His promotion badly affect these 30 years of democracy, for which human rights organizations have struggled bravely,” the members of APDH said.
It is uncertain whether the human rights organizations aligned with the Kirchnerite administration will remain silent. Another open question is whether the relationship between the government and CELS will heal, although yesterday’s Senate session suggested that may take a long time — Kirchnerite lawmakers harshly attacked the organization.
The government achieved a victory with Milani’s promotion — but it may end up being pyrrhic.
OTHER MILITARY CHIEFS TAKE OFFICE.
César Milani was not the only military official promoted yesterday in the event at Government House. Admiral Gastón Erice took office as the head of the Navy. Brigadier Mario Miguel Callejo yesterday officially became the Air Force chief, while Luis María Carena took over as the head of Joint Chief-of-Staff. In June, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner decided to reshuffle the military’s entire top brass, weeks after Agustín Rossi was appointed Defence Minister, replacing Nilda Garré. Milani’s situation delayed their promotions in the Senate, frozen in July after the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) challenged Milani’s designation. Then, Fernández de Kirchner ordered her congressional allies to discuss the promotions only after the October midterms but her medical leave following head surgery also postponed the discussion.