Estela de Carlotto. Photo via Notife

The head of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto, was harshly critical of the government today, saying it was a “taunt and a very spiteful persecution” to release a report that claimed at least 6,348 people disappeared during the last dictatorship. Carlotto said the government should focus on finding the disappeared rather than “wondering how many there were.”

“It was very bad news, very unpleasant. Instead of investigating how many there were and releasing stats, they should help us find them. For those who are buried, spread around the country and the grandchildren [that haven’t been found],” said Carlotto in an interview with Radio 10. The number 30,000 that human rights organizations use for the number of disappeared during Argentina’s brutal 1976-1983 dictaotrship “is an estimate, and is calculated based on the reports received in different jurisdictions. We are still learning about kids who haven’t been searched for,” she added.

The Human Rights Secretariat, headed by Claudio Avruj, yesterday released the specific numbers, detailing that between October 12, 1973 (two and a half years before the dictatorship started) and December 10, 1983, the number of victims of state terrorism was 8,571: 7,010 who were disappeared and 1,571 who were murdered.

Claudio Avruj. Photo via luisnovaresio.com.ar
Claudio Avruj. Photo via luisnovaresio.com.ar

A few hours after releasing the report due to a freedom of information request, the Human Rights Secretariat issued a release clarifying that “under no circumstance this registry should be considered definitive, as we continually receive new reports and statements concerning the issue; the number of disappeared people continues to be undetermined to date.”

The question is then, why does the government release these numbers as if it didn’t know the effect they will have. As Carlotto said in the interview, the number 30,000 is an estimate, but holds a symbolic value which, when challenged in whatever way it may be, can be considered to downplay the importance and magnitude of the horrors that took place in the last dictatorship. And even if officials later clarify over and over again that the registry is not definitive, the message that goes out is different as if there was a subtle message that the government was trying to send.

According to Carlotto, the information request made by the Civil Association of Free Citizens for Institutional Quality is a “taunt” and considered it was very “unpleasant” for the government to provide such an answer to a “group of unknown lawyers who ask for information without a rightful claim.”

“It’s been 40 years [since the dictatorship began] and these people who didn’t ask anything before are now wondering. And the state answers urgently when it took them years to give us a satisfying answer,” she said.

“This horrifies us, but we stay strong, we will have to provide answers instead of getting answers from the government. It’s embarrassing and humiliates us. The UN registers over 15,000 disappeared, why didn’t they ask them?”