After offending a pretty hefty portion of the country yesterday with comments about the military dictatorship, the head of the Argentine Customs Agency, Gómez Centurión, has come out with an official apology.

In relation to comments I offered on an Argentine television show, I should clarify: that I offer a sincere apology to anyone who may have felt offended by what was expressed or any interpretations resulting therefrom. These opinions are of an absolutely personal nature and do not involve in any way the Government's or its teams way of thinking.
“In relation to comments I offered on an Argentine television show, I should clarify: that I offer a sincere apology to anyone who may have felt offended by what was expressed or any interpretations resulting therefrom. And that these opinions are of an absolutely personal nature and do not reflect in any way the Government’s or its teams way of thinking.”

In a short and austere statement, Gómez Centurión apologizes to those “who may have felt offended by what was expressed” and emphasised that his opinions are “absolutely personal” in nature.

However, he did not retract his claim that the military dictatorship did not have a “genocidal plan” to disappear people and that, with regards to the internationally accepted figure of 30,000 desaparecidos, “8,000 truths are not the same as 22,000 lies.”

Gómez Centurión, who has been the Head of the Customs Office since December 2015, is a former Malvinas Veteran who also participated in the Carapintada uprisings of 1987, in which mutineering army members demanded that members of the military dictatorship indicted for human rights abuses be exonerated. 

Responding to comments by journalist, Romina Manguel, on late night television show, Debo Decir, Gómez Centurión negated the official, court-endorsed historical narrative that the military dictatorship had a “systematic plan” to disappear people. To the surprise of Manguel, former senator Hilda “Chiche” Duhalde, and host, Luis Novaresio, he stated he believed the disappearances – though “terrible” – were an “extremely disproportionate reaction” to the opposition the Government faced at the time. In a discussion that almost swung towards the philosophical, Gómez Centurión stressed the importance of “escaping from this rhetoric” because it obfuscated the truth and meant “we’re teaching an entire generation with slogans.”

Gómez Centurión on Debo Decir
Gómez Centurión on Debo Decir

The political opposition and human rights groups moved quickly to repudiate his claims in the strongest words possible. “They’ve got to get rid of him,” said head of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto on C5N radio. Leader of the GEN party, Margarita Stolbizer, argued that “his words express ignorance and provocation. He does not deserve to be part of a democratic government,” according to Pagina 12.

The Government was also careful to distance itself from his comments, though, according to Pagina 12, Vice-President, Gabriela Michetti, said “I don’t believe the President will ask for his resignation.”

Yesterday, the Ministry Of Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism released a statement in which they stressed that such comments were of a strictly “personal” nature and that the Government fully endorsed the official view – “demonstrated by the action of Conadep, the trials of the military juntas that have been concluded and the trials that are in process” – that the “state terrorism installed by the top ranks of the army was based on a systematic plan of disappearances, theft of children, assassinations, exploitations and arbitrary detentions.”

However, Gómez Centurión’s timing was not great – the Government was only just recovering from a conflict with Human Rights organisations over its ultimately (failed) attempt to make March 24th, the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice, a ‘flexible’ public holiday.

In this context, some are not only dissatisfied with the apology of Gómez Centurión but with the Government itself, who they claim is pushing to erase the memory of the dictatorship.

On Radio El Mundo, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel claimed the comments were part of an attempt to “demolish bit by bit everything to do with human rights policy.” He also drew a connection between Gómez Centurión’s historical denial and the March 24th scandal.

Meanwhile, on her Facebook page, former President Cristina Kirchner went even further, stating “his comments are shocking, but is anyone surprised? This is a Government that talks about ‘ending the curro of human rights’ and that includes civilians who got rich off the dictatorship and who were never tried. Including the presidential family.” She explicitly linked Gómez Centurión’s position with that of Macri’s. “It’s not Gómez Centurión. It’s Macri.”

Curro is a controversial word, and refers to a comment made by Macri in an interview with La Nacion in 2014, in which he said “I will end the curros in human rights.” By this he likely meant that he would “end the misappropriation of human rights” (in reference to the fact that some Human Rights organizations were involved in corruption scandals during the reign of his predecessor, Kirchner). However, some members of the opposition interpreted the comment as a dismissal of the importance of human rights law.

For now, the Government is probably hoping that things will blow over and the comments will be quietly forgotten. The rhetoric of Cambiemos has generally been forward-looking. On this note, the comments of Justice and Human Rights Minister, Germán Garavano, are perhaps emblematic: “Everyone can have their opinion, though there have already been court rulings, what’s important is look towards the future.”