My name is Victoria

By Claudia Ahumada and María Valdovinos

Before taking our trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, we were required to read My Name is Victoria by Victoria Donda. It was a very important text that would prepare us for the upcoming assignments throughout the rest of our project. It served as a detailed introduction to the Learning Cluster because it covered many of the essential topics. The book is divided in six sections that are equally important for the full understanding of this dark period in the history of Argentina. It begins with Donda talking about her biological parents, and in this section she also includes the current situation Argentina was facing and its connection with the external world. She moves on to what her childhood was like and her peculiar fascination with the name Victoria. Then, it later transitions to what it was like to discover that she was in fact someone else. She describes the obstacles and psychological problems this process of regaining a new identity brought. She clarified that accepting a new identity now as Victoria Donda did not mean that her old one “Analia” died. It meant that today she is able to live with these two identities and bring them together as one because Victoria was always in Analia.

“My life. The life of Victoria Donda, but also Analia’s. Because they’re one and the same. Both women are me. And to become Victoria was not simply a matter of administrative procedures and a degree of public exposure that I never could have imagined: to recover my identity was also to recover my parents’ past, their families, their blood ties. And, therefore, my own.”

Argentina’s horrible dictatorship ended the lives of many brave individuals who fought against state terrorism. Fortunately, many of these Argentines survived and now give us the opportunity to understand the history of the period through personal testimonies. The survivors ranged from those who were detained and tortured in clandestine centers to the new born babies of abducted mothers. Due to the hard work of “The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo” many of these children, who are now adults, were able to discover their true genetic identity. Victoria Donda is one of those fortunate individuals who accomplished what might seem to be impossible. In her book, My name is Victoria, Donda elaborately describes her struggles in attempting to find her true roots and parents- her true identity.

During the dictatorship, thousands of people were abducted and tortured in clandestine detention centers. In My name is Victoria, Donda mentions that her parents had been taken to ESMA, one of the hundreds of detention centers in Argentina. Her mother gave birth to her in one of the special rooms specifically used for deliveries. Soon after she was born, Victoria was given to a man and woman named Raúl and Graciela. Raúl was involved in the injustices committed by the government. It was his job to raise a daughter, “a true argentine citizen,” who would follow and learn to share his same political views. The man in charge of directing Victoria’s childhood and early adult life was her uncle, Adolfo Miguel Donda Tigel. He was one of the military officials in charge of the torture centers and believed that giving Victoria Donda away to a collaborator of the government was the best action to assure the “right” future for her.

“This is a war. And in a war you can’t show mercy to your enemy. I didn’t show mercy to my own brother, who was a Montonero. And I didn’t show mercy to my sister-in-law, who was brought here to the ESMA just like you. And she was transferred, just as you’ll be if you don’t do what we tell you. I didn’t show them the least preferential treatment and I didn’t feel the slightest guilt, because this is a war, and they were on the other side. That’s how it goes: either we win or you do. So you might as well cough up whatever you know….”

This book brings out the horrid reality of what occurred during that era and specifically captured Victoria’s personal story. Also, in My name is Victoria, the reader is able to witness what it takes to regain one’s identity. Victoria Donda is very detailed about each and every single change and emotion she felt throughout the process. She is the seventy-eighth grandchild identified by the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo. Today, Victoria Donda is a human-rights activist, legislator, and the youngest woman to become a member of the Argentine National Congress. She exemplifies the possibility of recovering one’s identity and family history. Donda also represents the hope that every Argentine and world citizen should have in searching for justice, truth, and inner peace. Everything is possible.

La Historia Política del Nunca Mas – Emilio Crenzel

by María Valdovinos

Nunca Mas (Never Again) is a report about disappearances in Argentina written by Ernesto Sabato and a committee of notables and published by CONADEP (Sep 20, 1984). Its goal was to clarify the events that happened in the country during the military dictatorship from March 23, 1976 to December 10, 1983. The mission of Nunca Mas was to collect all sources that can possibly serve as proof of the incredible atrocities committed during the dictatorship. The sources collected vary from documents to demands from families or friends given to the police about the disappearances, abductions and torture; all used for the same purpose, to generate reports that would inform people. This is one of the most important forms of documentation because it officially illustrated the gravity of the crimes committed by the dictatorship. As expected, it opened the eyes of many Argentines who had ignored or did not know what was taking place. Emilio Crenzel presents to readers what Nunca Mas is, describing the importance of every section.

La Historia Politica del Nunca Mas by Crenzel is an informative text that describes the purpose of every section of the CONADEP report. It legitimizes the obvious culpability of the “Fuerzas Armadas” and also describes the clandestine acts that were not yet public or recognized. He declares, “The report emphasizes the complicity of the judiciary in covering up the disappearances and the constitution of defenseless citizens (107).”Crenzel,  brings out the usual question asked after such events: How can we prevent this from happening again? And answers: “Retomando su periodización institucional de la violencia, postulando la democracia política como solución (Sabato, 186).” Throughout the text we can see that Crenzel supports the report; he says that Nunca Mas was completed to bring some justice to those whose human rights were violated. Crenzel clearly describes each section’s effectiveness. For instance, seeing and describing the clandestine centers provided a vast amount of information,   such as the number of people who were held there, the amount of time they were detained, and the intensity of the torture (115). Also, most importantly, the testimonies are shown in a declarative way with voices so people have no doubt on the severity of the cruelty (121). Each piece is extremely important and when, together as one in a book or report, it represents its’ credibility.

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.

Ese Infierno

 By Claudia Ahumada 

Ese infierno is based on the experiences of five women who survived “La Escuela de Suboficiales de Mecánica de la Armada” (ESMA) Munú Actis, Cristina Aldini, Liliana Gardella, Miriam Lewin, and Elisa Tokar. ESMA is a clandestine detention center located in Buenos Aires where those who opposed the dictatorship were interrogated, tortured, and eventually killed. ESMA is divided in several sections known as “capucha” “la pecera” and “el sótano” which was the last station before being trasladado (transferred). Everyone who was detained eventually learned that being transferred meant death. 

Miriam described her captivity this way: “tenía una luz sobre la cara, estaba sin ropa, tenia, los ojos vendados, las manos atadas y había no menos de diez personas gritándome. ‘Hija de puta!’, me decían tienes que colaborar’. En un momento uno de los tipos me levanto el antifaz y otro se bajo los pantalones. Yo estaba desnuda y atada. Me acerco el pene, mientras los demás me amenazaban: ‘Te vamos a pasar uno por uno, hija de puta’. La verdad es que yo hubiera preferido una violación, la hubiese sentido como algo más humano y comprensible que la tortura.”

Some of the torture methods described consisted of birthday celebrations, Independence day celebrations, “El día de los Reyes”, attending the World Cup, and by taking them to the outside world to dance and have fun for awhile, but then bringing them back to what they described as hell. It sometimes seemed as if the guards and torturers had human feelings because they would do “kind things”, like passing messages along or holding the hand of a woman as she is being tortured so she wouldn’t feel alone. These women also spoke of their lack of trust in people and continued suffering long after the dictatorship had ended. Some had an extremely difficult time hearing a baby cry, going to the dentist, giving birth, or even going to sleep because of the nightmares that were to come. Officers at ESMA also took new born babies away from their mothers, to later put them into the arms of families with military ties or were loyal to the regime. There were, however, rare and special occasions in which the new born babies were actually given to the families of the abducted mothers. These mothers were kept in a special section of ESMA and they had a specific room for deliveries as well. After giving birth they usually had fifteen to twenty days with their babies before they were taken away. The fate of these mothers was death. They were injected with Sodium Pentothal, a powerful form of anesthesia, and thrown into the River Plate. Their personal testimonies are extremely significant because they are the crude unbelievable reality of what they experienced; without them, we would not be able to realize the magnitude of violence committed during the dictatorship. This also serves as evidence for trials that sadly continue to this day in the search for justice.

Creating a World Fit for Children: Understanding the UN convention on the Rights of the Child edited by Catherine Rutgers

By Katie Kamimoto

Children’s Rights: Historic Developments by Sandra Robinson 

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child is a simple document that states in five points that all children’s material and spiritual needs must be met, in times of distress a child’s should take priority, and children should not be exploited. Politicians like Hilary Clinton believed that children’s rights need to be ensured by the strong legal system of an enlightened society which understands that children from the age of 12, unless there was evidence otherwise, has the right to make a broad range of decisions from education to leaving an abusive home. 
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child stresses that respect for and protection of children’s rights is the starting point for the full development of the individual’s potential to transition from infancy to adulthood. The Introduction and the Meaning of Children’s Participation by Roger Hart focus on children in the public domain: school, community groups, and other organizations. For children to have the fundamental right of citizenship there should be participation and responsibilities. The Rights of the Child to Express His or Her Views Freely in All Matters Affecting Him or Her by the United Nations General Assembly addresses to the General Assembly by emphasizing that the Convention on the Rights of the Child must constitute the standard in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child. 
Raising Standards for Child Protection by Garca Machel discusses how the international community agree on the importance of protecting children’s right and to ensure their protection as “zones of peace” but an effective international system for protecting children’s rights require prompt, efficient and objective monitoring. Committee on the Rights of the Child have recognized that the protection of children is not just a national issue but a legitimate concern of the international community. Although the international standards are there, children’s rights continue to be violated in situations of armed conflict because the political will to enforce them is lacking. 
Children’s rights is a big theme in our Learning Cluster because the children of the disappeared were taken when they were born and put in the arms of families with ties to the military who raised the kids on lies and never told the truth. Argentina has gone through difficult and tricky legal processes to ensure the rights of children, and for some, they have returned to their biological families and for some they have completely disowned their appropriators, challenging society’s assumption of the protective role of a family. 
Their ability and or their inability to make their own decision and their need for protection, mentally and spiritually, and their vulnerability in times of economic distress put children in a difficult spot when it came to their rights. These articles show throughout history, children are acknowledged to be an important part of society but when their rights are not fully protected, it puts them in danger. Hopefully with Argentina’s history, they can lead a precedent for other countries and their children’s human rights law to create a world fit for children, our future generation.

Political (In)Justice: Authoritarianism and the Rule of Law in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, Anthony W. Pereira

By Laura Cossette

Political (In)Justice: Authoritarianism and the Rule of Law in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina by Anthony W. Pereira offers a very detailed look into the world of dictatorships in Brazil and the Southern cone and the way they dealt with the legality of their actions. Pereira begins with an overall description of the general differences between the regimes that took control in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, describing how Brazil was the least severe in brutality of the dictatorships (he states how there was still rule of law and the death penalty was not used), Chile was in the middle (judicial proceedings during the regime were not completely just, and few were sentenced to death), and Argentina was the most severe (there was virtually no rule of law and approximately 30,000 people are believed to have been murdered). He then makes the connection that the legitimacy and fairness of the judicial systems within these countries during their regimes went in a similar order: Brazil’s was the most legitimate, Chile’s was in the middle, and Argentina’s was the worst. 

Although the reading was a bit dry and the diction that Pereira used was very difficult to understand, the reading was, overall, very interesting. Pereira seemed very well informed, but because of this it went into extreme detail at some points and as a result of this I became very confused, since I am only just now being introduced to this topic. However, his analysis of the relationship between the brutality of the regime and the legitimacy, or as he calls it “judicial-military consensus and integration”, of the judicial system is very interesting. One of my favorite quotes from the reading was from the beginning when he is first trying to explain the importance of his argument and he states, “in fact, authoritarian regimes use the law and courts to bolster their rule all the time” (6). This quote struck me as odd because people do not usually think that brutal dictatorial regimes would use the courts to legitimize their attack. In fact, as Pereira describes “the Chilean military regime’s legal weapon of choice were old laws”, which they would then utilize to legitimize their regimes (92). I also found it fascinating, and disturbing, that the Brazilian military regime “selectively overrode the previous constitution with institutional acts, then produced another constitution more to [their] liking” (90). It is frightening to think that regimes that come into power had so much power that they could rewrite the Constitution so that their actions would no longer go against it. 
Overall, the Pereira reading was a very interesting and informative look into the relationship between regimes and legality. It assists the reader in better understanding the legal situations in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina at the time when the military regimes came to power but also offers insight into what the situations were like before, and what they are like now.

The Future of Memory: Children of the Dictatorship in Argentina Speak, Andrés Jaroslavsky

By Norito Hagino

The book is centered on a series of interviews with young Argentineans who experienced the reality of the last Argentinean dictatorship during their childhood or infancy. Many interviewees had their parents disappeared or murdered by the military, some had to flee the country in order to save their lives, and some were taken away from the hands of their mothers by the repressors when the families were imprisoned. 

Jaroslavsky adds newspaper and magazine quotes, judicial document citations, and historical notes in order to connect the memories and stories of the young Argentineans. Perhaps the most interesting interviewee in the book is Jimena Vicario. Jimena lived with her adoptive mother and was aware that she was adopted. Her parents had been kidnapped when the family tried to flee the country. When Jimena was 8 years old, members of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo came to her door. From there on, she began her journey of going back and forth from the hospital to do blood tests and the court to see the judge, all in order to find her biological grandmother. Jimena had no say in this. Luckily, since her adoptive mother had a legal adoption, Jimena did not have conflicts balancing out the life with the adoptive mother and the biological grandmother. In time, Jimena comes to realize how much her biological grandmother had done to find her. She says, “thanks to Abuelas [de Plaza de Mayo] I’m where I am today. I recovered my identity, which is a human being’s most valuable possession, because without a history there can be no future” (106). Later on, she meets a boy who has been called “Martin” all his life but one day finds out his name is “Andrés.” When he told her that he cannot accept his real name, Jimena tells him that his parents never got to choose anything for him; his school, university, nor clothes. Furthermore, she tells him that “the only inheritance [his] parents left [him] is [his] name and surname.” 

Some of these former-children who lived through the last Argentinean dictatorship had everything taken away. Even after the dictatorship, they were taken away to places without having a say. Jaroslavsky vividly shows the violations of rights that has been occurring in Argentina since 1976. However, the most valuable thing to take out from these series of interviews is the importance of memories and identities which shapes our existence and understanding of our own being.

The Condor Years, John Dinges

By Jacob Edelstein

Entitled “The Condor System”, chapter seven from John Dinges’ “The Condor Years”, serves as an excellent introduction to the structure of organized government terrorism that reciprocated the Argentinean `Desaparecidos’ tragedy. In what could be called remarkable detail, Dinges specifically delineates the circumstances that brought about the multi-continental treaty known as `Operation Condor’. In this chapter the author formally accuses some of the highest ranking officials in 1970’s South American government of participating crimes against humanity and he provides spectacular proof. Dinges only makes claims that he supports with absolutely sound evidence. In addition to the facts he provides, Dinges relates specific personal experiences from his time in South America that serve to further illustrate his points. He gives himself authority as an author by creating a concrete story and because of the police misconduct and general mistreatment he underwent, it is easy for the reader to trust him. 

The chapter begins with a brief description of typical torture techniques used by DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional) and other security forces to obtain information from suspected terrorists during the Condor years. Dinges says, “[Prisoners] Manacled on a metal bed frame, naked and spread eagled, with electric currents delivered to their most intimate and sensitive body parts, victims lost all physical control.” With this description, along with several other gruesome details, the reader is immediately conscious of the gravity of state authorized terrorism. During the Condor years government sponsored militants throughout Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil ran wild on a witch hunt for enemies and dissenters of each states respective regime. Per specific orders given by the upper echelon of the Condor governments, these militants universally and relentlessly sought out dissenters and brutally tortured them for information before killing them. The CIA quoted Chile’s Colonel Manuel Contreras saying: “We will go to Australia if necessary to get our enemies.” 
According to Dinges, this systematic government terrorism began in Chile under General Pinochet. Throughout the 1970’s the cooperation between Chile and what would become `Condor’ governments grew until much of South America was overrun by military anti-subversion actions. Inspired by the government of Pinochet, in 1975, the Argentinean government signed decree 2770 into law giving the military virtually unlimited power. This detail is the link between our learning cluster and this reading. The tragedies that happened in Argentina during the late 1970’s could not have come to pass without the power that decree 2770 gave the military and, its draconian language can be seen as an invitation to the mass murder that was to ensue(Dinges 112). Dinges writes that the decree gave the military power to execute anything that “might” be necessary to eliminate their enemies. 
This decree fundamentally changed Argentina. It redistributed nearly all government power to the military and less than half a year after it was signed, the country underwent a full military coup. In the hands of its armed forces Argentina united with Chile and other South American countries under operation Condor. With its newly found power the Argentine military systematically attacked, captured, tortured, and killed leftist resistance groups. Today many of the victims of those attacks are known as the “Desaparecidos”.

“Tomala vos, damela a mi”. La Noche de los Lapices: el Deber de Memoria y las Escuelas Federico Guillermo Lorenz

By Monse Sepúlveda

In this chapter of the book La Noche de los Lapices: el Deber de Memoria y las Escuelas, Federico Lorenz analyses the role teachers and schools play in the process of remembering the 1976–1983 military dictatorship in Argentina, and more specifically, the disappearance of 90 high school students, an event known as “La Noche de los Lapices” (Night of the Pencils). Lorenz explains how as part of the transition to democracy, “memory” (remembering the genocide) became president Alfonsin’s stance on the conflict. He made it mandatory that all high schools teach their students what occurred to those 90 students. By late 1980s, this effort to educate the population about its own history created the conditions for people to denounce the abuses of the dictatorship and seek justice. 

During this time, Pablo Diaz, a survivor of “La Noche,” gave his testimony in a trial; this was the first time for many people to hear about the details of the atrocities committed by the state. Pablo Diaz became an advocate for the memory of the 90 students and an activist for the reestablishment of student associations. Diaz published a book on his experiences and participated in the production of a movie based on his book. These materials, Lorenz argues, were all based on a particular discourse: that the students were innocent victims to a system of violence. This discourse, though, ignored the militancy of most of the students, who were part in the student movement and, who, in most cases, joined the “subversive” movement. 

As years passed, the purpose of these materials changed from denouncing the atrocities of the state to transmitting this history to the new generation. Lorenz points out that showing these materials to many youth who were ignorant about the historical background of the genocide, caused negative reactions amongst many of them. Here, Lorenz points out the responsibility of docents to seek out the necessary material to provide students with the historical background to the genocide. 
Lorenz ends his piece by arguing that teachers must analyze the discourse implicit in these materials to determine the “story” they wish to transmit to their students. This discourse becomes crucial when it shapes the way many students understand “La Noche.” Lorenz suggests that teachers should complement the common students-as-victims discourse and should also represent the as they were: activists.

The Politics of War Memory and Commemoration (2000), T.G Ashplant’s, Graham Dawson’s and Michael Roper

By Malahat Zhobin

T.G Ashplant’s, Graham Dawson’s and Michael Roper’s text, The Politics of War Memory and Commemoration (2000), focuses on analyzing how ” Argentine society incorporates (or excludes) the memories of its conflicted and painful recent past.” The text stresses that the memories that are trying to be recovered are not of war but are “memories of a period of extreme political violence and of state terrorism.” The text claims that in order to grasp Argentina’s social reality during the dictatorship, the individual and public memories that must be inquired. Argentina’s motto, Remember! So as not to repeat!, is brought to light in the text and is said to be the agent that fuelled the public to reclaim their memories of the past and to not allow repeats. The efforts of remembering and reclaiming the past resulted in the very famous book Nunca Mas to be created in pursuit of revealing the truth. Throughout the text, the importance of reclaiming the past and preserving memories is highlighted. Towards the end of the text some interviews with people who were involved with the dictatorship are quoted and used as examples of who memory of an event can vary and what constitutes as the “truth.” 

This text was very helpful in trying to comprehend the actuality and truth of the events that occurred during the Dirty War. There is indeed a discrepancy between memories of an event and the actuality of that event, and even though this is acknowledged in the text, it is also recognized by the text that the memories and untold testimonies of the dictatorship are essential to realizing the events that took place. I think that it will be very interesting to see how the efforts of preserving memories and testimonies of the recent past are made today in Argentina. I think that the voice and mood of the text was very determined and optimistic. Having determination and optimism in a situation such as the one that Argentina had to struggle through is imperative. Remember! So as not to repeat! This should be the motto that the Argentine people live by. While reading this text I found it very interesting that so any people try to understand and remember the patterns of history, so that in return they become aware of the repeats. I think that it is very important to know the past and to make efforts of changing the present and future but it is sometimes inevitable that history will follow its patterns. Currently in the United Sates, the NDAA has been signed which has taken many of the freedoms the U.S citizens away such as freedom of speech. This opens the door to the possibilities of such atrocities as the dictatorship of Argentina. Nevertheless, these are extreme and farfetched notions and ideas. My point here is that history has an inevitable force of repeating itself and indeed a way to stop it is to understand the past and preserve memories of the past in order to foresee the events that might take place soon.