Archives show links in repression, Malvinas
Dictatorship-era documents illustrate military officers rewarded ‘subversion’ fighters
Dictatorship-era archives recently released by the Defence Ministry headed by Agustín Rossi show there was a clear link between those who tortured in the clandestine detention centres and those who led Argentine forces in the 1982 Malvinas War, which amounted to the last-ditch effort by the country’s military rulers to remain in power.
The documents, which are available in archivosabiertos.com, illustrate how military officers thought of media as a key element. First, to hide their crimes in the clandestine repression carried out in the country. Then, to hide their defeat in a “conventional war.”
Yesterday, the Ministry uploaded a document directly related to the Malvinas War and summarized what researchers have come across over the last few months since the documents were uncovered in the at the Air Force headquarters.
“One of the requirements to be selected to take part in the war was the personnel’s participation in the ‘war against subversion,’” reads the brief presented by the Defence Ministry. The link was already widely suspected, but yesterday it became official.
Even though the ministry warns a more systematic analysis of the documents must be made, it also made it clear there are several elements to prove that link.
In June 1983, late rear admiral Carlos Büsser said that he had elected a captain to take part in the operation on the islands.
“He had to be a good professional, with a strong personality — with some experience in the war against subversion,” Büsser, who headed the Argentine troops landing on the Malvinas said. Büsser — a retired officer who also used to write articles for the conservative daily La Nación — passed away in 2012 while he was being investigated for his role during the last dictatorship in Bahía Blanca, Buenos Aires province.
The Navy Infantry also issued a brief in 1982 making reference to some of the men who fought in the islands but also had a leading role in the clandestine detention centres, where torture, rapes and executions were commonplace.
The brief signed by the head of the Intelligence unit frigate captain Félix Botto made reference to an Army outpost on the Malvinas “aimed at carrying out tasks similar to those in the war against subversion.”
In fact, Botto said that one of his subordinates was in touch with one of the men serving at this outpost and what struck his subordinate was that one door was kept locked.
“They must have been carrying out similar procedures as the ones carried out in the war against subversion,” Botto wrote.
There are several well-known cases of officers who served in the clandestine detention centres who went on to take part in the war.
Captain Alfredo Astiz was identified in 1982 when he surrendered as the man who worked as a undercover agent to disappear the head of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Azucena Villaflor, and another two mothers looking for their missing children as well as the French nuns helping them. Astiz was one of the torturers who served at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) during the dictatorship, the country’s largest clandestine detention centre.
Captain Pedro Giachino — the first Argentine soldier to be killed in the Malvinas war — is not remembered as a hero after it was reported that he was one of the torturers in the Mar del Plata naval base.
One of the most iconic aspects of the conflict was how newspapers and radio stations announced an imminent victory, as if Argentine forces were winning.
The dictators — perfectly aware that Malvinas was their last chance to stay in office, after years of forced disappearances, executions and an economic policy aimed at putting an end to the country’s industrialization — thought of media as a key agent to protect their damaged image.
The Army planned a “psychological warfare campaign,” which was aimed at taking retired generals to TV programmes with the largest audience. The Military Junta listed the potential programmes as Telepolítica, hosted by Raúl Urtizberea, Periodismo Puro led by journalist Enrique Llamas de Madariaga and Tiempo Nuevo, whose hosts were Bernardo Neustadt and Mariano Grondona.
The idea of the members of the junta was to promote interviews with former combatants injured to highlight their supposedly heroic actions.
But they also made it clear that the campaign was connected to what they called the “war against subversion.”
“A campaign to prevent the subversion capitalizing on the sorrow or resentment from the relatives of our dead and disappeared soldiers,” was listed as one of the most important items to be considered when planning the campaign, according to a document.
A week after the cease-fire was agreed to, the military government took time to congratulate journalists on their coverage.
“When a colonialist offers up a battle, Argentine journalism is in the frontline and the rearguard, encouraging the combatants, praising their heroic actions, guiding the rulers and stimulating national unity,” the Junta leaders said in a message addressed at journalists on June 7, 1982.