A coup anniversary, divided by César Milani
Army chief splits human rights groups thirty-eight years after military Junta comes to power
Divisions in human rights organizations are nothing new. But this year, when human rights organizations take to the streets to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the 1976 coup that led to the country’s last military dictatorship, one issue will divide them more than usual: the naming of César Milani, a man accused of having committed crimes against humanity during the last dictatorship, as the head of the Army.
The first demonstration will begin at 12pm, hosted by Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Founding Line, HIJOS which gathers together children of disappeared parents, and Relatives of Detained-Disappeared People for Political Reasons, who will be joined by pro-Kirchnerite organizations.
Three-and-a-half hours later, a second march will begin, hosted by the Memory, Truth and Justice (MVJ) organization, which is made up of human rights organizations such as the Association of Former Detained-Disappeared (AEDD) and left-leaning parties and political groups.
“Milani is not the only reason that sets us apart from the other human rights organizations that will demonstrate before us,” MVJ spokesman Enrique Fukman, a survivor of the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA) clandestine detention centre, told the Herald. “Sure, there are other reasons but we want to make it clear that we don’t forgive perpetrators of genocide.”
Fukman was evidently making reference to Milani, who, as the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) revealed last year, signed a document declaring that conscript Alberto Agapito Ledo had deserted in June, 1976, when in fact he had been forcibly disappeared by the military.
Desertions were often used by the military dictatorship as a way of covering up illegal executions.
Last year, Milani said that he did not remember Ledo nor the document, but he did highlight that his higher-ups often forced him to sign these types of files without investigating what had really happened.
Ledo was forcibly disappeared in Tucumán province and 38 years later his mother and sister continue demanding truth and justice. The two wrote a letter that will be read today in Plaza de Mayo, demanding Milani’s removal from the leadership of the Army, sources confirmed to the Herald.
As the Herald first reported months ago, Milani is also accused of being linked to at least two abductions in La Rioja province: the kidnappings of Ramón Alfredo Olivera and Oscar Plutarco Schaller.
Schaller and his son, Oscar Plutarco Schaller, were abducted and ferociously tortured during the last military dictatorship. Plutarco Schaller was abducted in the early hours of the March 24, 1976 military coup while he was working at daily El Independiente’s newsroom, which went through a similar process to the Papel Prensa newsprint supplier, when military officers forced its owners to transfer ownership. Schaller, who is now 85, spent years as a forcibly disappeared person until he was released and emigrated to Cuba.
Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Founding-Line, Grandmothers, Relatives of Detained-Disappeared for Political Reasons and HIJOS will be meeting today at noon at the corner of Avenida de Mayo and 9 de Julio Avenue to march to Plaza de Mayo square.
The slogan used for their rally is “Democracy or Corporations,” a rallying cry frequently invoked by Kirchnerites and their supporters, largely in their struggle against media giant Clarín Group.
For their part, the organizations which form part of MVJ will demonstrate from Congress square to Plaza de Mayo, under the slogan “No More Impunity, Cutbacks and Repression,” and will include the demand that Milani be removed from the Army.
Last week, two lawmakers from the Workers’ Party (PO) and the Socialist Workers’ Party (PTS) filed a bill to remove Milani, whose appointment was approved by the Senate in December. The Kirchnerite administration had to postpone that discussion until after the midterm elections after a key human rights ally, CELS, challenged Milani.
On December 20, 2013, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo-Founding Line issued a press report praising the role played by the CELS during the last few decades, but also highlighting that the reports they had were not enough to challenge Milani for crimes against humanity.
Laura Conte, one of the founders of CELS, is also a member of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo-Founding Line. Within that iconic human rights organization, there are members who told the Herald that they are strongly opposed to Milani, including Nora Cortiñas and Mirta Baravalle.
Last year, Estela Barnes de Carlotto also told the Herald that if there were serious reports against Milani, she wouldn’t like to see him as the head of the Army.
One person who expressed her strong support for General Milani was the iconic head of the Association of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Hebe de Bonafini. Her organization will not be taking part in any of the demonstrations in Plaza de Mayo.
Bonafini will today be leading a rally in the City neighbourhood of La Paternal. The head of the Kirchnerite youth organization La Cámpora Andrés “Cuervo” Larroque will be joining her while songwriter Víctor Heredia will be delivering a concert.
Ten years ago, the infamous Navy Mechanics School which during the last dictatorship became a clandestine detention centre where around 5,000 people were held, became a memorial. Months after the nullification of the Due Obedience and Full Stop laws, late former president Néstor Kirchner essentially sealed his alliance with the human rights movement.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration will today commemorate that landmark event and will be hosting a concert outside the former concentration camp.
Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo will be inaugurating its headquarters inside the property, which they will name “Néstor Kirchner” in honour of the former president.
The usage of the memorial also divided waters among the human rights movement this year, as Fukman highlighted in conversations with the Herald.