Don’t Let Justice Stop

By Marina Menéndez Quintero on February 16, 2020

Miriam and Roberto

Just as the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo who are looking for their stolen grandchildren, many of the relatives of the detainees who disappeared during the military dictatorship have left their DNA in blood banks set up for that purpose in Argentina. In this way, those who have not found the remains of their murdered sons (daughters), brothers (sisters) or fathers (mothers) can guarantee that they will one day be identified even if their survivors are no longer there.

The drama of forced disappearance persists in relatives even after several decades of those horrendous crimes, which Latin American military dictatorships made a daily practice and a centerpiece of their policy in the 1970s.

The pain can be greater when the possibility of saying goodbye to the absentees and giving them a dignified burial has been restricted. How much does the drama of the hypothetical return and the eternal wait hurt?

Gustavo – a minor descendant of a marriage of disappeared – remembers an image of his paternal grandmother: More than 30 years had passed since his father had been taken away, and it had become customary for his paternal grandmother to ask at every moment if a letter had arrived.

“What letter are you expecting for?,” he would ask.

The grandmother was waiting for a letter from her son Roberto – the father of Gustavo and his brother Dario, the eldest one – even though it had been more than 30 years since the military had taken them.

“In those days, a combatant from the Malvinas war who had been held in a mental health institution since the end of the conflict had returned. And my grandmother thought that the same thing could happen with my dad.”

The day Roberto’s remains were finally found and honored, the feelings were sweet and bitter at the same time. Victory, but also tremendous pain.

It was 2010, and the family had known for a long time that Miriam, Roberto’s wife and mom of Gustavo and Dario, had been tortured like her young husband, and then killed.

Ana, Miriam’s twin and inseparable playmate and classmate, was the first to find out about it when she herself, even pregnant, was arrested in May 1977 at the clandestine detention center of the police headquarters in Rosario, Santa Fe province, where she was illegally held for 11 days with her husband Juan and other classmates.

“In that dismal place I learned from survivors that my sister and her husband had been shot.”

Much later, in 1983, the family learned the rest of the story. Miriam was abducted, tortured and killed two days later on a country road, and buried as a person with no name. Her remains could not be recovered because they were taken to a mass grave.

That cemetery was a dark place, Gustavo remembers; and the other grandmother, the mother of twins Miriam and Ana, fainted.

Truth and Justice

Just as important as memory is truth and justice, an important certainty that guides the work of Argentine human rights organizations and the families of the detained and disappeared, in which Miriam has been a member since she embraced the demand for her twin sister together with Juan, her companion in life and in so many battles. Then they incorporated “the kids” into a struggle that is for Miriam, Roberto, and for the 30,000 disappeared during the military dictatorship.

With Dario and Gustavo, the nephews that Ana and Juan have helped raise as their own children, they are now in Havana to present the story of Miriam and Roberto, which they have brought to present in the Book Fair in Havana in a loving and simple way, in a beautiful and concise volume in which they narrate the lives of those who have marked their own.

They do it not only to honor them but to help ensure that this will never occur again.

Co-protagonists and co-authors of the collective testimonial book “Miriam and Roberto, a love story in times of struggle.” Young forever, Ana, Juan, Dario and Gustavo (and surely also the relatives who did not come) constitute a beautiful family “that resisted impunity and terror,” and in which “four generations” marked by the same destiny are present, as it was also explained by Argentinean social fighter Graciela Ramirez. Because Dario and Gustavo’s children, who already add up to five among the youngest children and youths, also participate.

“The kids were always told that their parents were political militants and they attended all events since they were small. This is how they were raised,” says aunt Ana about Dario and Gustavo.

They now feel that being in Cuba is somehow a recognition to that dedication. They have mediated in marches, mobilizations, and the effort, first of all, to convince Argentina’s public opinion that their struggle was fair, Juan comments.

Then, both he and Ana have gone to testify in the trials on several occasions to identify a repressor, face to face in the courtroom, despite the impact, this has on the witness’s psychological health. In fact, Anna and her nephews are plaintiffs in a case.

The possibility of truth and justice was left open when the late ex-president Nestor Kirchner became president in 2003 and, finally, the Argentine Supreme Court decreed the nullity of the laws of Punto Final (Full Stop) and Obediencia Debida (Due Obedience), which until that moment had led to impunity for those who kidnapped, tortured and killed because they were “obeying orders”.

Some 1,500 of the torturers have been tried or are on trial, and between 500 and 600 have already been sentenced.

The legal proceedings are underway, however, sentences were reduced during the four years of Mauricio Macri’s government, says Dario, when quite a few sentences were converted to house arrest.

But they have also encountered torturers after the arrival of the new administration. Ana discovered one of them one day in a post office unit. She followed him when he entered a Catholic school where he had been employed as a security guard. The bishop did not want to give credit to the denunciation that Ana made. But she told the families of the students, and they all protested. “They had to take him out.”

Justice is done slowly, but progress is made, Gustavo says.

Juan explains the validity of this struggle. “Every now and then a torturer exiled in another country appears, who is extradited and tried in Argentina”.

Many Mothers and Grandmothers have died, some without knowing the fate of their children and grandchildren; but their Thursday rounds remain in Buenos Aires and also in Rosario, where the relatives of Roberto de Vicenzo and Miriam Moro live.

The white handkerchiefs of the former have been replaced by the banners and flags carried by their descendants… So that memory will last… and justice will not stop.

Source: Juventud Rebelde, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau