BUENOS AIRES – A prominent human rights activist reacted indignantly Wednesday to comments by a former Argentine official challenging the claim that 30,000 people were killed under the country’s 1976-1983 military regime.
“What Graciela Fernandez Meijide says is really alarming,” the president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto, said, adding that the former Cabinet minister’s statements suggest human rights groups have been lying.
Fernandez Meijide, who held the Social Development portfolio in the 1999-2001 administration of Fernando de la Rua, asked “by what right people speak of 30,000 disappeared” when a 1984 truth commission – on which she served – documented only 9,000 instances of people who went missing after being seized by the government.
The controversial remarks came in an interview with Buenos Aires daily Clarin about the publication of her book, “La historia íntima de los derechos humanos en Argentina” (The Intimate History of Human Rights in Argentina).
The book marks the first time Fernandez Meijide has written about her son’s abduction and disappearance under the dictatorship.
De Carlotto told Radio Mega on Wednesday she was not surprised by Fernandez Meijide’s statements, noting that the erstwhile official had said the same thing to Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon during a visit to Madrid.
“It’s practically saying that we lie. It’s something very sensitive, for sure, De Carloto said.
The veteran activist called it unfortunate that “many think Fernandez Meijide is a qualified person in the matter of the disappeared.”
De Carlota, whose group staged silent protests in the capital’s emblematic Plaza de Mayo while the junta was in power, insisted there is “sufficient evidence” to justify the estimate of 30,000 deaths from the military “dirty war” against the left.
Though the Grandmothers is now deeply involved in locating the children of slain political prisoners who were illegally adopted by agents and associates of the 1976-1983 regime, De Carlota adamantly rejected the suggestion that dirty war defendants should be offered leniency in exchange for information.
“We absolutely do not barter impunity to find our grandchildren,” she said.
Besides rankling rights organizations, Fernandez Meijide has drawn the ire of the current Argentine government of President Cristina Fernandez (no relation).
“The figure of 30,000 is neither arbitrary nor capricious, although it is regrettable to reduce the dimensions of the Argentina tragedy to an accounting problem,” Human Rights Secretary Eduardo Luis Duhalde said in a letter to Fernandez Meijide.
“The only irrefutable register of the number of murdered victims, their identities and their final destinations, is in the hands of the murderers,” the secretary said.
While the initial report from the 1984 investigative commission cited a dirty war death toll of 9,000, officials subsequently updated the figure to 18,000, and most human rights activists in Argentina say the true number is closer to 30,000.
The National Security Archive, a Washington-based research outfit, has obtained U.S. governments documents that mention a 1978 report from Chilean military intelligence which speaks of more than 22,000 people killed by the Argentine junta.
As part of “Plan Condor,” the military governments that dominated the Southern Cone of Latin America in the 1970s and ‘80s exchanged information and assisted each other in eliminating dissidents. EFE