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August 22, 2014
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BA City transfers dictatorship memorials

Kirchnerism and the PRO party both agreed on the transfer of the memorials, including the ESMA.
ESMA among former detention centres to be controlled by federal government

Buenos Aires City will no longer run five dictatorship-era memorials, including the infamous Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) former clandestine detention centre, thanks to an agreement between Kirchnerism and Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri’s PRO that was passed into law in the Legislature yesterday.

As the Herald was first to report in January, the agreement signed between President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich and City Deputy Mayor María Eugenia Vidal includes the transfer of five different memorials located in the City.

The initiative was celebrated by those who work in the memorials, who form part of the state workers’ union ATE, although it was harshly criticized by some iconic figures in the human rights movement, including Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mothers of Plaza de Mayo-Founding Line member Nora Cortiñas.

The bill was approved with 41 votes from Kirchnerite and PRO legislators. Fifteen lawmakers from left-wing parties and the anti-Peronist front UNEN opposed the bill, which also included the dissolution the Instituto Espacio para la Memoria (IEM), a self-governing institution created 12 years ago.

Left-wing lawmaker Alejandro Bodart said that it represented “the latest agreement between Kirchnerites and Macri’s PRO.”

Gabriela Alegre, the head of the Victory Front (FpV) caucus in the Legislature, was the lawmaker in charge of defending the transfer of the dictatorship-era memorials.

“Now the preservation of the former clandestine detention centres is guaranteed,” Alegre celebrated.

From the Kirchnerite ranks, lawmakers Pablo Ferreyra (Izquierda Popular) and Gabriela Cerruti (AFSCA watchdog head Martín Sabbatella’s Nuevo Encuentro) opposed the transfer. In fact, Ferreyra had long explained time ago that he backed the transfer but not the dissolution of the IEM.

A space for memory

The Buenos Aires City Legislature created the IEM in 2002, which began operating as a self-governing institution — independent from the City’s government, which had to provide funding — in 2006. Its executive board is made up of several human rights groups and activists, as well as a representative from Macri’s administration and members of the parties represented in the Legislature.

Mothers of Plaza de Mayo-Founding Line, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel’s Serpaj, the Argentine League for the Rights of Man (LADH) and other human rights groups are represented alongside human rights activists such as survivor Víctor Basterra, Ana María Careaga and sociologist Alcira Argumedo (a Project South lawmaker), among others.

The institute is in charge of five former clandestine detention centres that during the last dictatorship (1976-1983) operated in the City: the iconic ESMA, the so-called Olimpo clandestine detention centre, located in Floresta, Club Atlético (San Telmo), Virrey Cevallos (Constitución) and Automotores Orletti (Floresta).

Basterra, a survivor of the ESMA concentration camp, yesterday acknowledged that he was shocked by the dissolution of the IEM.

“The IEM was a useful instrument to make independent memory-related policies in the whole City,” Basterra explained in conversation with the Herald.

Members of the Buenos Aires Provincial Commission for Memory (CPM) also expressed their concern along with organizations that form part of the Memory, Truth and Justice group.

Differences

The IEM issue led to a controversy among human rights organizations and activists.

Survivor Isabel Cerruti, who heads several research projects at the Olimpo former concentration camp, was critical of the IEM’s performance.

“Some of the members of the IEM executive board have never visited one of the memorials. They were in charge of defining policies for these places but they don’t even know who worked there or what projects were in progress,” she added.

“I think they have ruined a great opportunity,” Cerruti told this newspaper.

In January, workers grouped in the state workers’ union ATE publicly complained of the executive board’s evident “disinterest” in the memorials. Members of the board dismissed those allegations.

They highlighted the fact that the memorials do not receive the necessary resources to preserve them not only as historical evidence of genocide but also for ongoing trials against dictatorship’s perpetrators. For instance, they reported that the roof leaks in Automotores Orletti, the centre that functioned as a base for Operation Cóndor.

Sociologist Leonardo Surraco, a union delegate for the IEM workers, yesterday praised the Legislature’s decision.

“Over the past six years, we have been denouncing the IEM’s board for our precarious working conditions,” Surraco told the Herald. “We back the transfer because we see as it as a chance to improve our conditions but also to develop memory-related policies.”

@lucianabertoia
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