Conversation with Pablo Piedras and Javier Campos

By Jacob Edelstein

Towards the end of our trip to Argentina, the Learning Cluster group met (via Skype and in person, respectively) with Javier Campo and Pablo Piedras, to speak about the role of documentary cinema in Argentine history and memory preservation. Pablo and Javier are each separately involved in research on human rights and crimes of the dictatorship, and together they are the editors of the online magazine Revista Cine Documental:

Our conversation began on Skype with an overview of the work Javier Campo has done recently. He spoke about his book, Cine Documental, Memoria y Derechos Humanos, and about the importance of human rights research. Along with Pablo, he feels that every Argentinean has in some way been affected by the dictatorship and its crimes against humanity. Pablo shared personal anecdotes about his own father that further illustrated this point. Through our conversation, it became abundantly clear that the dictatorship’s crimes shocked Argentinean society to its very core. 

Pablo Piedras, Photo by Norito Hagino

According to what Javier and Pablo explained are popular schools of thought on the topic, the history of Argentine documentary film about the dictatorship from the last three decades can be divided into three general stages. Pablo explained that the documentary cinema coming out of the dictatorship in Argentina responds directly to the socio-political atmosphere of the time. Each of the films sees events from a different point of view, driven by a different film maker, in a different context. In this way, documentary cinema speaks for the people that created it and about the decade it was produced in.

The first of these three classifications categorizes film that was produced during and shortly after the dictatorship. During those years, military juntas took control of a large portion of Argentine broadcast media and greatly obscured public knowledge of their activities. Using this influence, members of the juntas produced films designed to shed the government and its anti-subversion resistance in a positive light. Though the images in these films are rarely seen, their narratives are biased. The cinema created by and for the Juntas portrays the Argentine struggle as though it was a war, the Juntas against subversion. Truthfully, it is hard to know whether or not this was the case. After the Malvinas War, the military government of the Juntas crumbled, clearing the way for democratization in Argentina. The transition process was not a clean one. In their fall, amidst audits and trials for the crimes against humanity committed, the Juntas did their best to destroy all compromising images that could lead their prosecutors to victory.

Years later, as documentary filmmakers attempted to compile material for documentaries about the dictatorship they encountered a very serious lack of images in the wake of this censorship. This lack of archival images about the dictatorship leads us to the second defined era of Argentine documentary cinema. Films produced during this second batch of documentaries rely heavily on the direct survivor testimony to describe state terrorism. In the absence of material with which to show the viewer a story, these documentaries generally allow a heavy handed testimony to lead the audience rather than presenting information objectively. Films during this period, such as Juan Como Si Nada Hubiera Sucedido, took on issues from an entirely different perspective than those produced directly by the dictatorship, but because of small private production and no distribution, few people saw them. 

Photo by Norito Hagino

Javier and Pablo continuously stressed how new information is constantly being presented and reinterpreted within the context of human rights research and memory preservation. Documentary cinema in the third and most recent era of Argentine film acts very much in the same way. With the start of the new millennium children of desaparecidos began to document their parent’s stories in a much more personal way. For the first time images from personal family archives appeared and gave these stories an entirely new and much more compelling personal feeling. The documentaries produced by the children of state terror victims began to ask hard questions about the motivation that drove their parent’s political activism. Most children agreed with the ideology, but question why their parents preferred militarism over safe family life.

At this point many of the films being made are investigations. Personal family archives are used to piece together shattered stories that the military Juntas left behind and unlike previous filmmakers, sons and daughters rarely create rounded stories with all questions answered. These films work to preserve memory in contemporary life so that in the future tragedies like that of the desaparecidos never are allowed to happen again. Nunca mas. 

Presentation by Argentine economist Alexis Dritsos

By Nandini Puri

In order for us to gain a thorough and well-rounded understanding of the last dictatorship in Argentina and its domino effect on human rights, it was crucial for our Learning Cluster to understand and familiarize ourselves with the dynamics of the Argentine economy. Speaking with economist Alexis Dritsos about the financial system was a revelation for me as it helped me understand the correlation between human rights and the economy. He gave us a systematic overview of the fiscal market since the time of the Spanish colonial times to present day Argentina. Oscillating between an oligarchy (when the wealthy elite, who comprise a small minority of the population, primarily hold the political power) to the emergence of a middle class after the turn of the Twentieth Century where the idea of neutrality of globe issues (inspired by Gandhi’s theory of not involving one’s country in world problems) was followed. We were also introduced to the political ideas of Peronism, the period of hyperinflation, and the phase during which the peso equaled the dollar. Insight into this was the fundamental basis for understanding the military coup d’état and the economic crisis that followed.

Alexis Dritsos, Photo by Norito Hagino
Perón was responsible for introducing the concept of a mixed economy in Argentina and nationalizing the railroads. However, during the time of Alfonsin’s presidency, the Argentine economy went through a period of hyperinflation, leaving Argentina in a huge debt with a chronic deficit and most human rights violations, which occurred during the dictatorship, were unresolved. When Menem took over in 1989, all private debt was nationalized and he pegged the Peso to the US Dollar. What made Menem thoroughly unpopular with the working class is that he gave amnesty to everyone guilty of human rights violations during the dictatorship. Moreover, he left Argentina in a lurch with a huge debt, unemployment, and recession. Following that, Néstor Kirchner announced the cancellation of Argentina’s debt to the IMF in full and offered a single payment, which was met with controversy.

To wrap up our session, Alexis Dritsos asked us to write a summary on how we could relate the topic of our learning cluster to the economic crisis. Initially, all of us were a little confused and did not know how to link human rights to something as technical as the economy. However, we soon realized that there is no way for a country to have sustainable economic growth without respecting the basic human rights of their citizens. There might be a point in every country’s history where there was rapid monetary growth but that was stunted by the fact the wellbeing of the people was overlooked.

Documental producido por el Taller de la Memoria, Colegio Nicolás Avellaneda

Los lápices eran de colores

By Miho Saito

The students of Nacional Nicolás Avellaneda created a documentary based on the theme of their workshop: Memory. Their story is dedicated to the alumni of their high school who have disappeared during the military dictatorship and for the next coming generation of youth who are fighting for their rights. 
The documentary begins with the making of flagstones that were placed on the sidewalk in front of the high school to commemorate the disappeared students. The scene, then transitions to testimonies given by those who were affected by the disappearances of their loved ones- a man who was politically active during the height of the military regime, a mother and a sister of a desaparecido. From the testimonies of the past, the film takes the viewers to the here and now, linking the struggles of Argentina’s rich history to the struggles of the youth in the political scene today. 
The sister of a desaparecido describes how she understands and doesn’t blame today’s youth for not being as politically involved because of the fear that still exists: “No porque a los jóvenes no les interesa sino porque la historia vivida nos ha arrasado e hizo que todos perdamos interes o que tengamos mucho miedo de volver a comprometermos.” However, she believes that if youth want change, they need to do something about it: “Los aliento a que sigan en ese camino, en el camino de la lucha, hacerse valer, yo creo que esa es la única forma.” 
This documentary symbolizes the importance of transmitting memory. Just as memories of our own unique past are always present with us, the memory of Argentina’s heavy history is still an influential force in the country today. We learn from our past: The history of Argentina tells youth to continue fighting for their rights and to carry on what their brothers and sisters of the generation before had started. In the last scenes of the film, a student says in her speech: “misión de callar el silencio.” It is the youth’s mission to silence the silence that surrounded the crimes against those that were disappeared. 
As young people today, our responsibility is to continue coloring our history with bright colors so the dark shades of the past remain in the past…

Los lapices eran somos de colores y seguiremos escribiendo

Photo Essay

By Jacob Edelstein

35 degrees Celsius surrounded humidity you can chew, Argentina was really hot. Choripán, sausage that you better not call a greasy sausage for fear of offending the institution of Choripán, the food in Buenos Aires is world class. And so much color, I have never been to a city that is more colorful than the capital city of Argentina, Buenos Aires. 
As I reach back into my visceral memory, I find that this trip to Argentina has stored the smells and sounds and culture of a country whose people define its existence. We met with leaders and philanthropists, teachers and filmmakers, students and people trying to answer the questions that have plagued Argentina’s struggle with corruption since the word go. What these individuals had to say was insightful but, as I walked through the city, nearly 30 blocks a day, I learned just as much from the walls. 
The street art culture is prevailing and vibrant in the capital. From massive full structure murals to spray painted phrases on the corner, the paint and the people use their infrastructure as canvases from which to speak. These works of skill and thought give all those who can see a window into a subculture, and a slice of the truth on the unabashed minds of a few Argentine people. Following are eleven of the most powerful examples of this consciousness I encountered. Street artists like NOS claiming their city with pictures, the political comic book character El Eternauta painted under a street sign, a plea to remember the victims of state terrorism Nunca Mas, and beautiful pictures whose real meaning we may not ever know. Buenos Aires is stunning its history lives on its walls. Please Enjoy.

El Jagüel de María

Text and photos by Norito Hagino

Our group had the opportunity to visit the El jagüel de María foster home. Established by the sisters Estela and Susana Sosa in 1999, the foster home has welcomed and accommodated over 300 children between age 3 and 18 to this day. Some stay at the home for a few days before being taken to their adoptive parents, while some stay there until the day he or she turns 18 years old. 

At the time we visited, there were 17 children living at the foster home. The “aunts,” the volunteers, and the collaborators do not only provide the children material needs such as a bed, food, and clothes, but emotional and spiritual care in order to protect them from possible violation of their rights in critical family situations. 

The learning cluster had the opportunity to talk and interact with the aunts of the home, the children who are living there, and a youth who lived there until the age of 18. Many of those who have lived in this foster home come back to visit their aunts, brothers, and sisters. We really felt that all the people there were like one big family, sharing much care and love, even though they are not blood relations.

Children come to the foster home for various reasons, some of them being domestic violence, malnutrition at home, and being withheld by the courts. The aunts told us that many choose to stay in the foster home because they have things like food every day, a comfortable bed, and a private bathroom inside the house. The aunts feel sad that the children do not want to go back to their homes, which would be the optimal end result for the children if their home life were suitable.

One episode that one of the aunts told us was about a brother and a sister: Juan and María José. Both of them came into the foster home together and had the opportunity to be taken by adoptive parents, but the younger brother Juan decided to stay in the foster home. The older sister, María José, is now living with an adoptive family, going to a private high school. She is aiming to become a lawyer and make money so that she can protect and take care of her young brother. Children who come to the foster home face problems such as poor-education and finance, problems which are of great concern to the aunts.

One of the biggest goals in the foster care is to prepare the children so that they live and take care of themselves when they turn 18 and leave the foster care. In order to achieve this, workshops by psychologists and psychiatrists are held to provide spiritual support for the students, and workshops of baking, art, and craft are held to help the children obtain working skills. 

For more information about El jagüel de María, please visit their website:

This video was put together for the children of El jagüel de María and it contains photos of them with their Christmas presents.

Having Children: Philosophical and Legal Reflections on Parenthood, Onora O’Neill and William Ruddick

By Nandini Puri

This reading is an excerpt from a book of collected essays that focus on parental authority over a child and the first part, written by John Locke disputes the view presented by Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha, in which the role of the father within a household is described as being a kingly authority; something that is absolute and unquestionable. In the first part of the reading, Locke wrote that the mother of a child has as much hold or authority over her offspring as the father. The mother takes equal responsibility over the upbringing of the child as the father, but only because in most situations the father is the breadwinner, he is accountable for the education and providing for the basic well-being of the child. Locke compares the modern day parents to Adam and Eve, stating similarities between the two. By this, he is trying to explain to the reader that God has made man and woman equal and expects both partners to share equal responsibility while looking after a child. In the second section of the essay, Locke points out that ‘on the other side, honor and support, all that which Gratitude requires to return for the Benefits received by and from them is the indispensible Duty of the Child and the proper Privilege of the Parent’. Implying that children are only under the control or influence of their parents for a certain amount of time and after that they don’t need not obey their parents out of force but because they respect and honor them.
In ‘Growing up and Apart’, it tells us how the maturity of a child into adolescent is determined by the physical age. More times than not, children are restricted to various activities only because of their age and in some cases ‘the liberties older children acquire have often more to do with the trappings than with the substance of independent adult life’. In the eyes of the law, every individual is a minor under the age of 18 (most countries) and tried accordingly in court when faced with charges. However this is today, Philippe Aries wrote that ‘adolescent was bypassed by nearly everyone before the nineteenth century; work began before physical maturation for most people’, which shows that age is merely a social contruct. Futhermore, Henley wrote about education and liberty in the life of a child and how the family and the community are responsible for ‘socialzing’ the individual so he or she can later grow on to be a productive part of society. He uses the example of Adam and the only reason he was not sent into formal education is because he was born ‘perfect and socialized’, however none of us are born that way and depend on factors around us (primarily the family) to teach us the various norms and values of society. there are five reasons why an individual is educated: satisfying the child, satisfying the parent, satifying society, protecting the liberty of the child, and protecting the liberty of the parent.
It is important to look at the fact that even though children should be allowed various rights, they are denied those rights on the basis that if given too much freedom, a child will most likely harm themselves because ‘they cannot be a judge of what is good for themselves or that they are not mentally mature enough to make life changing decisions’. Overall, the eternal question of whether children should be allowed the same rights as adults remains unanswered, there are blatand examples of when children must be controlled for example in imposing a legal drinking age or an age to drive automobiles. But what about the circumstances where a child needs to decide where to live? Or legally sue an adult for mistreatment? These are ambiguous questions that need to addressed.
I feel that this reading is essential for understanding the topic of our learning cluster thoroughly. This text examines all the arguments that are made for and against letting children have the same legal rights as an adult in the court of law. There is always a thin line dividing people who view and treat children as adults and those who do not. After examining this text, I can see that both sides do infact have extremely valid points and in the end it depends on the individual case of the child. For example, after a child was discovered by the Grandmothers of Plazo De Mayo as an appropiated child, the child could decide for themselves if they want to stick to their old identity or be known as what their birth parents wanted them to be known as.

The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo

By Miho Saito and Monse Sepúlveda

Photo by Norito Hagino

On Thursday, January 12, we visited the Plaza de Mayo, the main square of Buenos Aires, to participate in the weekly marches of the mothers whose children have “disappeared” during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. By the time we arrived at 3:35 pm, which was 5 minutes after the beginning of the march, the majority of the walk had ended and we were only able to witness the last moments of the mothers’ steady walk around the Pirámide de Mayo. 

The history of Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo began on April 30, 1977, when fourteen mothers of the kidnapped and disappeared gathered in front of the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, demanding to know the truth about the fate of their abducted children. However, because there was a law that prohibited groups to stand together in a public place, the Mothers were forced to walk around center of the square: this was the beginning of their symbolic march. 

Now, even after more than 30 years, the mothers walk in the capital’s Plaza as a remembering performance, not only to make sure the world knows that the truth of the fate of their loved ones is not forgotten, but also to march for other human rights causes. Following the mothers with their white handkerchiefs and large photographs of their children, we, along with a large crowd, ended the march in front of Monumento a General Manuel Belgrano. There, the mothers stood on top of the stage and one of them, an indescribably powerful woman wearing polka dots, gave a speech that influenced me more than I could have imagined. 

I, a student who barely understands even the most basic conversational Spanish, was lost in translation and was unable to understand what the mother was saying, but her voice and presence spoke enough for my lack of understanding of the language. I physically felt the pain she endured, her strength, and her purposeful intention of speaking the truth. All I was able to do was stand there and observe; 100 percent of my focus on her. She symbolized revolution and the defiance of feminine cultural norms. From what I saw, she kept the crowd engaged with her humor and passion, resonated by the crowd’s laughter, and claps and cheers of agreement around me. The speech of the woman in polka dots finally ended when she began chanting: “Madres de la plaza, el pueblo las abraza.” (Mother of the plaza, the people embrace you) Slowly, everyone around me joined in on the chant, picking up where she left off and growing louder as the crowd began moving away from the stage. This, I realized, is precisely the purpose of performance… to be able to influence people without words and to ensure that the next generation of human rights activists can continue the chant the mothers started.

Photo by N.H.

Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. Aquel día mientras oíamos a las madres proclamar su derecho a la información y denunciar a esos “fachos” que cambiaron sus vidas hace 3 décadas, me vi embargada por un momento de comprensión… 

Después de caminar alrededor del monumento una vez, como muestra simbólica de la continua lucha por encontrar a aquellos que fueron desaparecidos durante la dictadura militar, las Madres se dirigieron a un podio para dirigirse a la audiencia. Con un vozarrón inspirador, una de las Madres tomo el micrófono y a pulmón abierto grito sus denuncias contra el régimen. “Esos fachos desgraciados,” decía aquella dama, “que no nos dejaron ser quienes debimos haber sido.” Continúo los minutos siguientes criticando algunos de los problemas que Argentina afronta hoy en día, pero también elogiando al gobierno de los Kirchner y su compromiso social. La Madre anuncio que la semana próxima sería la primera vez que las Madres no marcharían en la plaza, porque iban al lugar donde “nuestro querido Nestor” nació. 

Pero más que oír, yo me dedique a sentir. A sentir aquella energía que las Madres emanan. Energía de convicción. Energía de todos menos resignación. Pero por sobre todo, energía de dolor. Cuando me tome un momento para entender por qué aquellas madres estaban reunidas allí, entendí que cada una de ellas perdió a un hijo o una hija. Ellas son prueba que ese dolor no las suelta fácilmente. Es un dolor que no da respiro. A las Madres, no las ha dejado por más de 30 años. Se arraiga profundo y obliga a actuar. Estas mujeres no asisten cada Jueves a las 3:30 religiosamente solamente como postura política, sino porque debemos entender que ellas aun afrontan la desaparición de sus hijos e hijas cada día. 

Y mientras aquella Madre hablaba aquel día, de golpe enmudecí embargada por ese momento de entendimiento fugaz: el dolor perdura a través de nuevas democracias, presidentes electos y reelectos, o decisiones políticas progresivas. El Nunca Más debe empezar por el Siempre Recordar.

Crónica de una fuga

By Monse Sepúlveda

In 1977, Claudio Tamburrini, a 17 year old young man, was kidnapped and locked up in the detention center, “Mansion Sere.” There, Claudio meets Guillermo, “El Vasco” and “El Gallego,” three men with whom he goes through months of tortures, terror and suffering at the hands of the Argentinean military. After four months of captivity, and faced with their imminent execution, Claudio and his three cellmates decide to escape. On a rainy night and completely naked, they jump down through the window of the detention center After hiding in abandoned houses for a few hours, El Vasco decides to seek help, and manages to get in contact with the father of “El Gallego,” who drives down to meet with them, saving the lives of the three men left in the abandoned house. 
This is an extremely powerful movie. The opening scene, when the military is torturing Claudio’s family for information leading to his abduction, helps us connect with the suffering of the families who saw their relatives disappear under black hoods. As Claudio is being taken away, he shouts out: “just let me tell my mother where I’m going.” This simple detail added into the movie, reveals perhaps one of the deepest scars the military regime left behind: thousands of shattered families. 

The movie also conveys to the audience, in a grueling and painful way, the horrors that took place inside the detention centers and the torture methods used. Words so often reading in articles or books, such as “interrogation” or “electric rod” take fuller meaning in this film. One of the most shocking scenes, in my opinion, was when “El Tano,” another detainee, is informed that he will be “transferred” to another facility. With what sadness do we see “El Tano” offer his arm to receive a sedative that will only make it easier for the military to push him off a plane into the Rio de la Plata. 

Reading and writing can only take us so far. That much I have always been sure of. And the case of the Argentinean genocide is no different. Perhaps those of us who never went through that will never understand. But that is no reason to quit trying, and this effort must take us beyond reading books and articles, for they provide but a glimpse of what it meant for thousands of people to be incarcerated in detention centers around the country. The movie “Cronica de una Fuga”, which tells the story of young men who escaped a detention center in 1977, is part of decades of effort to understand the years of the military regime, and the myriad of human experiences during these years. It shows not only shows the unlikely escape of these men, but unearths the truth of the atrocities committed by the military in the detention centers.

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada

By Malahat Zhobin, Kimberley Ng, and Claudia Ahumada

The largest detention center during the Dirty War in Argentina was “La Escuela de Suboficiales de Mecánica de la Armada” or “The Navy Mechanics School” (ESMA). About 340 detention centers were documented, but this specific detention center was located in the city of Buenos Aires, and is where many disappearances, torture sessions and illegal executions took place.

ESMA is also known for the appropriation of children, as well as identity forgery and illegal adoption. The identity forgery was done by the imprisoned themselves as they were forced to work while having to listen to people being tortured right next door. While the tortures occurred, loud music was used to hide the screams of the kidnapped. One technique used to get victims to speak was torturing children in front of their parents. Sometimes they tortured parents in front of their children. It was estimated that about 60 babies were born and passed through ESMA. They were given to couples who couldn’t have children of their own, who had ties to the military, and sometimes military officials took them into their own homes to be raised with similar political views.

A massive amount of bodies were never recovered. At ESMA, corpses were buried under the sports field, in cemeteries; registered as “NN” Name Unknown, and were disposed through aerial disposal at sea known as “Death Flights”. After the dictatorship ended, many lost hope for justice when, in 1990, a Law of National Reconciliation was issued that created an official pardon for all offenses committed by torturers. Since then, however, many have been convicted on charges that have carried a punishment of life in prison, while others are still awaiting trials and sentencings.

All the information we learned through text books and articles wasn’t enough to suffice our curiosity about visiting ESMA. With the help of Soka University, our Learning Cluster was fortunate enough to travel to Argentina and visit one of the many detention centers.

After making two attempts to visit the much anticipated ESMA, the third attempt was finally successful. Being able to see the infamous detention center, also known to some who lived through the atrocities as an extermination camp, was a very important moment for our group. We were well prepared with information from stories such as Victoria Donda’s and many others that took place in ESMA. We were ready to finally add a picture to all the texts that we had read about ESMA.

Stepping into ESMA with the mindset of entering an extermination camp or a detention center was a surreal experience for all of us in the group. Standing on the grounds where we knew that about 30 years ago hundreds of detainees were brought into to be tortured and eventually lead to their death was a spine chilling experience. As we into the torture chambers of ESMA, we couldn’t help but be affected by the negative energy that haunted the place.

By being in the setting of the many stories we had read about and watched movies of, our imaginations couldn’t help but run wild. With the aid of plaque cards that gave us testimonies and short anecdotes of the detainees, we were able to imagine how truly terrible it must have been to be detained at ESMA. It was difficult to believe the relationship of where ESMA was located, right in the middle of a city, to the public’s ignorance and neglect towards ESMA.

It put a heavy weight on our hearts and minds to be able to connect the happenings of ESMA and of the public. Being at ESMA made us realize that we were able to claim that we knew someone who was born there, Victoria Donda. We knew someone who had lost their life at ESMA, Donda’s parents. We were connected to ESMA. Being at ESMA helped validate everything we had learned about the dictatorship and gave us a solid ground to root the foundations of our Learning Cluster. 

Photo by Norito Hagino

Reading about Victoria Donda and learning about what ESMA did to her parents, many of us pondered upon the necessity of learning about it. After all, this Learning Cluster was designed to learn about Children’s Rights in Argentina. However, from the two weeks of our trip, we are now able to explain how our visit to ESMA plays a vital role in our Learning Cluster.

During the military dictatorship from the late 70s to the early 80s, there was political unrest as many were fighting against the overly controlling government. Many of the activists who were involved included high school and college students. Children and teenagers alike do not carry as heavy a social responsibility as full grown adults do. They are supposedly politically inactive for they are denied access to political involvement such as voting, and are usually neglected by government authorities. In the only way they knew how, the teens’ indirect political involvement in rebelling against the dictatorship had sparked much anger and within the government.

In an attempt to stop the revolt, these teenagers and young adults were given their very own taste of hell: ESMA. The way in which these young lives were treated was inhumane, ripping these youth of their rights as a people, the act of which is a big part of the focus of our learning cluster. On top of that, the military almost wiped out a whole generation of young political activists. Powerless and defenseless, they could only sit in their shackles and coffin sized cells while awaiting their destinies.