- Title: ARGENTINA: Argentines commemorate 30th anniversary of the military coup
- Date: 25th March 2006
- Summary: FOREIGN DIPLOMATS LOOKING AROUND THE INTERIOR OF THE ESMA BUILDING, PLACES WITHIN THE BUILDING WHERE PEOPLE WERE ILLEGALLY DETAINED (6 SHOTS)
- Embargoed: 9th April 2006 13:00
- Location: Argentina
- Country: Argentina
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVABGSPSA4KBA5S00RC7HSPRNW8A
- Story Text: Argentine President Nestor Kirchner attended a special ceremony at Argentina's Military College on Friday (March 24) to commemorate thirty years since the military junta overthrew the government of Isabel Peron, widow of Juan Peron.
The ceremony was attended by high ranking members of the military, cabinet ministers and representatives from human rights organizations, including the leader of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Hebe de Bonafini.
Together with Defense Minister Nilda Garre, Kirchner unveiled a bronze plaque dedicated to those who disappeared during the 1976-1983 military regime, engraved with the words: Never again to the coup and state terrorism.
Speaking at the ceremony, the Argentine head of state appealed to the justice system to deem unconstitutional the pardons issued to dozens of members of the military by former president Carlos Menem in 1990. Several high ranking officers were serving time for atrocities committed during the dictatorship, but were released by the presidential pardon.
While he stopped short of a presidential decree overruling the pardons, Kirchner called for the justice system to intervene, which would open the door to numerous cases against members of the military regime.
"It must continue to be the justice system that must make clear the unconstitutionality of said norms, which in my judgment crash head on with the republican ethic which recommends that before a crime, we look for the truth and we desire justice," he said.
The President also looked for those who at the time supported the military regime to take responsibility. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 Argentines disappeared under the military dictatorship, many of whom were tortured and killed, or drugged and thrown into the sea on the so-called "flights of death."
A number of high ranking members of the military that were in power between 1976 and 1983 are currently serving time for illegally kidnapping babies born while their mothers were in captivity and fostering them out to other families.
Kirchner's government is the first since the bloody dictatorship to publicly acknowledge and address this dark period of Argentine history.
Having repealed the Full Stop and Due Obedience laws, allowing those responsible to be prosecuted once more for the atrocities committed under the military regime, Kirchner has taken the unprecedented step of designating this March 24 a national holiday to commemorate the coup which forever changed the course of Argentine history.
Under Kirchner, the government has actively engaged in a number of acts intended to address decades of silence and impunity, and reincorporate the disappeared into the nation's official history.
But despite the government's efforts to redress the wrongs committed previous governments, some decided to take matters into their own hands today. One protest outside the home of Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoy, who served as Economy Minister during the dictatorship, ended in clashes with riot police.
What began as an 'escrache' - an Argentine practice like a public shaming - turned violent when demonstrators began to throw projectiles at police guarding the building, smearing its walls with red paint and breaking down barriers erected to keep protesters back.
Police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, a group of hardline employed activists, who set fire to a doll outside the building.
Martinez de Hoz served as Economy Minister under Jorge Rafael Videla between 1976 and 1981. He was named by Kirchner in his speech on Friday (March 24) as one of those who played a key role in the dictatorship.
As part of the government's commemorative acts, Argentina's Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana invited a number of foreign diplomats to visit the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA) with him on Friday (March 24). The ESMA was one of the country's most notorious torture centres during the dictatorship, and is now in the process of being converted to a "Museum of Memory."
Up to 5,000 prisoners passed through these whitewashed buildings in Buenos Aires and many "disappeared" afterward, drugged and dumped into the River Plate or killed in other gory circumstances.
Speaking at the event, Taiana said he hoped the visit would serve to show other country's Argentina's intention to create a new society.
"It may simply serve so that you understand better our determination in Argentina, in our government, to put an end to impunity and to create a society and a future on a different basis," he said.
The walls of the ESMA centre, as it is known in Spanish, reveal little of its dark past. The buildings were renovated to cover up evidence of torture before an Organization of American States' probe in 1979.
But two years ago Kirchner announced that the ESMA would be emptied and converted into a monument against human rights atrocities. Portraits of junta leaders were immediately pulled down from the walls.
Meanwhile, thousands took to the streets of Buenos Aires as part of a commemorative march to Plaza de Mayo, the city's main square, to pay tribute to the thousands who lost their lives under the dictatorship. The march, under the slogan "Thirty years: memory, justice, truth", was organised by 370 different social and political organisations.
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