By Alberto Paz
Today March 24, 2009 marks the 33rd anniversary of the military coup that overthrew the government of Vice President Estela Martinez de Peron and thus began one of the darkest periods of political, economic, and social unrest in Argentina’s history. It was a horrifying time span of state sponsored terrorism with a dictatorship that kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of Argentines.
“It’s good to know that there is no better political system than democracy. And there is no democracy separated from human rights,” said yesterday the secretary of Human Rights, Eduardo Luis Duhalde.
“Memory and Justice are the reassurance of our future as a nation,” noted Health Minister Graciela Ocaña.
The tango made an unexpected reappearance in Buenos Aires, around the time democracy was reinstated and a new democratically elected government assumed power in 1983. The significance of the renewed interest in tango is that it confirmed the resiliency and everlasting attributes of a phenomenon that, across many generations, has surged to incredible peaks of popularity followed by crushing chasms in which all indications pointed to its irremediable death.
With the global popularity of the tango urban legends ran amok including one that is very hurtful and offensive to every Argentine who either lived, survived or saw friends and relatives live, survive or disappear victim of state sponsored terrorism. It comes in a variety of forms but the jest of the insidious tale states that the military junta engaged in a war to eradicate, proscribe, eliminate, etc., the tango in all its manifestations.
There is an corollary to the urban legend in question, and that is the absurd belief that Argentines let the tango die and it was the foreigners who came to the rescue, resuscitated and took ownership of the tango for the world. In other words, the justification for removing the Argentine from Argentine tango.
We hope here that an explanation of the facts will provide food for thought, and actually inspires everyone with good intentions to nip in the bud the cruel, insensitive and offensive tale about the junta going after the tango.
The main reason why the live performances of orchestras and the public milongas ceased to stay open for business for a long period, was because the political climate discouraged people from going out and risk being arrested during the frequent raids of the secret police did to all public places.
All public dances suffered the consequences of a state of siege and an edict that prohibited public gatherings.
People wanting to get married, for example, had to obtain a special permit from the police after providing a list of attendees so their personal backgrounds could be checked.
The excuse of looking for terrorists or extremists gave the repressive regime free rein to detain anybody without cause or habeas corpus. People stayed home, and all public venues shut down. Tango, jazz, rock and roll, etc. Simple as that, not just the tango but every conceivable artistic activity suffered.
The dictatorship in numbers
2818. Days that the dictatorship lasted from 24 March 1976 to 10 December 1983, when Raúl Alfonsín assumed the presidency after being elected earlier on October 30.
30 thousand. The number of persons, who, according to human rights organizations, were kidnapped during the illegal guerrilla repression. The majority remains disappeared.
500. The number of babies stolen from their mothers, or born in captivity in the clandestine detention centers. Almost 100 have been located and their identity reinstated.
500. The number of clandestine detention centers functioning during the dictatorship. The majority belong to regiments, military installations, police stations or police detachments. The largest CDC was the one at the former Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (Navy’s Mechanical School), where it is estimated that five thousand persons were processed.
46 billions. The amount in dollars of external debt accumulated towards the end of the dictatorship. At the beginning of the self defined National Reorganization Process (El proceso) the external debt amounted to 6.3 billion dollars.
517. Percentage of inflation registered between 1976 and 1983.
14 thousand. Number of soldiers, officers and conscripts sent to the Malvinas Islands after the landing of 1982 and the transient recovery of sovereignty over the archipelago.
694. The dead toll in the South Atlantic war with Great Britain.