[Marxism] Argentina's Fatima massacre
Dbachmozart at aol.com
Dbachmozart at aol.com
Wed Jul 30 12:22:29 MDT 2008
Wednesday 30 July 2008
by: Sam Ferguson, t r u t h o u t | Report
"No me basta," says Haydee Gastelu. Often. Literally, it translates from
Spanish to mean "it's not enough for me." But the dicho could also be
interpreted as "it never ends." For Mrs. Gastelu, both are true.
During the last 32 years, Mrs. Gastelu has relentlessly pursued the
suspected murderers of her son Horacio, who was "disappeared" by the repressive
intelligence services of Argentina's last military government in 1976. On August 7
of that year, he and his girlfriend, Ada Victoria Porta, were dragged from
Porta's house by a small unit of plain-clothed men in the middle of the night.
Porta's family reported seeing the couple forced into a Ford Falcon, hogtied
and hooded, as they were driven away. Two weeks later, a predawn blast
rocked the small town of Fatima, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. When the sun
rose, workers found the remains of 30 bodies, scattered as far as 60 feet in
diameter, incinerated by dynamite. Horacio was amongst the victims of the
blast, though Mrs. Gastelu did not know it at the time.
Initially, the perpetrators of the incident walked free. The military
government didn't bother to launch an investigation into the incident because the
massacre was part of a larger repressive apparatus.
Mrs. Gastelu's had high hopes of seeing justice done, however, in 1983, when
Raul Alfonsin was buoyed to the presidency in the wake of the military's
collapse on a platform of demanding accountability for the "Dirty War." Between
1985 and 1987, the government launched a series of successful prosecutions
against high military officials for their involvement in the repression of
Argentina's last military government. But, as prosecutions threatened
rank-and-file policemen and soldiers, the military rebelled, and the government was
forced to pass an amnesty to prevent civil war. Horacio's murderers again walked
But a generation later, in 2005, the Supreme Court handed down sweeping
decision to revisit Argentina's dark past, declaring the amnesty laws
unconstitutional, null and void.
On July 18, Mrs. Gastelu finally saw justice done. A federal courthouse in
Buenos Aires sentenced two former police officers, Juan Carlos Lapuyole and
Carlos Enrique Gallone, to life in prison for the murder of Horacio Gastelu and
But Mrs. Gastelu had mixed emotions. She is frustrated that justice is
"incomplete." The court absolved a third defendant Miguel Timarchi, lacking
evidence that he was with the group of 30 on the night of the murders. Time has
also robbed the case of some of its central protagonists. Of the ten policemen
suspected of being involved in the incident, only three were alive at the time
the case was reopened in 2003. Gallone and Lapuyole were both on the lower
rungs of the police hierarchy.
Mrs. Gastelu is also frustrated that the focus of the trial was too narrow.
Prosecutors and the court investigated her son's murder, but perhaps left out
hundreds of others. The 30 prisoners were all held at the superintendencia
of the federal police, a small police station in the heart of downtown Buenos
Aires, where the government housed a torture center on the third floor.
"They've judged those who were responsible for the site that night, but this was a
torture center. There were many other victims and others who participated."
The incident, known as the "Fatima Massacre," was emblematic of the
brutality of Argentina's last military government, which ruled from 1976 to 1983. On
August 21, 1976, 30 drugged and illegally detained prisoners were transferred
from the superintendencia onto a truck. Guards drove the prisoners several
kilometers outside of the city, near the small town of Fatima. They were
walked into the woods, strapped with dynamite and summarily executed. The press,
under heavy censorship, was not given access to the site and reported on only
the general outline of the incident. But the minimal coverage provided one of
the first glimpses into the extent of military repression, and forced the
government's highest officials to publicly condemn the incident, while at the
same time sitting atop a repressive apparatus that made such incidents
possible. By the time the military government collapsed, some 15,000 people had been
kidnapped by the government.
The specifics of the incident continue to remain elusive. Bodies were
quickly whisked away from the site, and only five victims were identified at the
time. The 25 others, some just pieces of scattered incinerated bodies, were
marked "NN" - no nombre, "no name" - and buried in individual graves. They were
exhumed by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology team in 1985, when the
commanders of Argentina's military government were brought to trial by the nascent
democratic regime, but they could not be identified. With advances in genetic
technology, however, 11 more were identified in the 1990s.
For months after Horacio's disappearance, Mrs. Gastelu searched desperately
for her son. She asked every official who would listen at the Libertador
armed forces command in downtown Buenos Aires. (Horacio was a recent conscript.
The armed forces claimed he must have been a deserter. "So then look for him,"
she chided). She went to the local police. She asked friends and family if
anyone had seen Horacio, but nobody gave her an answer, and nobody knew.
She met other women with the same dilemma: their children, too, had
"disappeared." By 1977, nearly a year after Horacio went missing, individual pleas
with officers and government officials were going nowhere. Together with 14
other women, Mrs. Gastelu helped form the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a human
rights group devoted to finding the whereabouts and the truth of the
"disappeared" and bringing attention to the repressive detention practices of the
military government. The mothers' organization was courageous, perhaps suicidal.
At the time, most opposition to the government was met with arrest, beatings
or death. Indeed, one of the 14 founding members, Azucena Villaflor, was
herself "sucked up."
When Democracy returned in 1983, Mrs. Gastelu continued to march, originally
in support of the government that promised to prosecute military and police
officials responsible for the disappearances. But Mrs. Gastelu's march soon
again turned into protest, rallying against the amnesty law that blocked
further prosecutions. She and the other mothers marched (and continue to march)
every Thursday for 25 years. But it may be too late. "We're 80 years or older.
We'll keep fighting; we'll keep marching, but it's sad. It hurts. "No me
We have it in our power to begin the world over again –Thomas Paine
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