March 24 is National Remembrance Day for Truth and Justice in Argentina. It’s a public holiday to commemorate the anniversary of the 1976 coup d’état which sparked the start of the country’s military dictatorship, and is a day to remember the deaths and forced disappearances that took place during that time.
Yet one school in La Boca chose a very controversial way to commemorate the day. In a special Remembrance Day assembly, the Carlos Della Penna public school projected a video that sought to show “the real history of the 70s” with the alleged aim to present ”what they don’t teach in schools” and encourage students to “ask schools to teach the full story.”
What this amounts to is a 4-minute video that doesn’t once mention the dictatorship, nor those who lost their lives to them. Instead the picture it paints of the coup is this: Argentina’s “armed forces” were acting “under legal constitutional decree” in order to save the population from ruthless terrorism murdering “children, civilians and the armed forces.” Democracy allowed this to happen to our “beloved Argentina”, so the dictatorship basically had to step in to stamp out the “enemy.”
You can check out the video for yourself and evaluate is you can detect some bias.
It went on to name those in prison for crimes against humanity as “heroes”, whose actions were simply “rebelling against and wiping out those who were spreading terror.” They only ended up in prison, according to the video, “because of the great Kirchner business scheme.”
The video is set to a rather happy-clappy version of La Marcha de San Lorenzo – an old patriotic song about an 18th century battle against Spain. The information is given a child-friendly makeover: a hand writes out history in a jolly font with a Sharpie. But its tone is aggressive and sarcastic: “Oh and just so you know…” it adds as an afterthought. “Do you know where the people who defended your country are now? In prison.” It’s almost unnerving that the video is aimed at kids but is so clearly politically loaded. Whether you believe the video’s stance is deluded or valid, the fact that the video is so clearly one-sided undermines its intention to tell “the complete story.”
Parents of children at Carlos Della Penna school in La Boca are outraged, and held a ”symbolic embrace” outside the school yesterday. This aimed to symbolize their efforts to protect their children and the public education system from this kind of material, and to also demand that the school hold another remembrance assembly.
”The video is a defense of the genocide. Us parents demand that the school set the record straight, and we are going to stage an embrace at the school,” one father told radio AM750.
? ::: Abrazaron la Escuela 8 de La Boca donde se proyectó el video que reivindica el terrorismo de estado pic.twitter.com/ZHPbsm5RaJ
— Agencia Télam (@AgenciaTelam) March 28, 2017
The school had previously sent out an apologetic letter to parents, admitting that the video was inappropriate and failed to “make clear that what occurred during the dictatorship amounted to crimes against humanity, committed by the State as recognized by the International Court of Justice.”
Claudia and Mónica Ayulián, the two teachers supposedly responsible for showing the video (to elementary school kids) have been removed from their teaching posts by the Buenos Aires Education Ministry. The Ministry stress that they condemn the showing of the video and are strongly committed to protecting human rights.
Meanwhile, Claudia Ayulián told journalists that she didn’t see anything wrong in her actions and would show the video again, saying ”theres two ways of looking at [history], not just one single view.” She also denied that there was any systematic killing during the military dictatorship, claiming “There was no genocide, stop being ridiculous.” Multiple sources like The Guardian have asserted that “dictatorship denialism is on the rise in Argentina” despite the 2009 Supreme Court ruling that killing that took place during the dictatorship constituted as “crimes against humanity within the framework of [a] genocide”
El Ministerio de Educación porteño acaba d repudiar la proyección del video en la Escuela 8 de La Boca. Separan a docentes y directora pic.twitter.com/Gnr281FPc9
— Sur Capitalino (@SurCapitalino) March 28, 2017
Ayulián is not alone in her thinking. Debate is ongoing as to whether what occurred during the military dictatorship was indeed a genocide – the International Criminal Court of 1998 classifies that what occurred in Argentina during the dictatorship as being crimes against humanity, with genocide being defined as strictly the persecution and systematic elimination of particular “national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
This goes in contrast to various points where the Argentine legal system has ruled that the crimes that took place during this period were part of a genocide. Legal precedent for this was established in 2006 in the highly publicized case of Miguel Etchecolatz, a high ranking police commander during Argentina’s last dictatorship who was found guilty of “crimes against humanity in the context of the genocide.”
Semantic assertions aside, consensus on the scale and severity of crimes committed during this period has been established by international Human Rights bodies such as the UN and the European Commission of Human Rights. Human rights groups have put the estimated number of victims at around 30,000 people. Documents from the Argentine military government in power at the time showed officials claiming responsibility 22,000 deaths in a report to Chilean counterparts in 1980. Official estimates made by the de facto government at the time put the death toll of victims of the leftist guerrillas they were attempting to repress at 687.
The Argentine Truth Commission that took place with the restoration of democracy made explicit the fact that atrocities were committed by people of varying political ideologies during the period many refer to as the “Dirty War”. This is to say that people did in fact die as a result of the actions taken by leftist resistance fighters, that some call terrorists.
In the power struggle that took place between the de facto military government and factions of the leftist resistance, thousands of people lost their lives. Putting aside the internationally recognized death toll linked to guerrilla fighters being under 700, those deaths do not negate the loss of life from people who did at the hands of the dictatorship. Refusing to admit that the government officials and military officers systematically kidnapped, tortured and killed tens of thousands of people because you take issue with the terminology draws attention to not only the empirical accuracy of statements being made but of the morality of those who continue to pursue the shift in the historical narrative.