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THE COMVAnATIST LATIN AMERICAN DICTATORSHIP IN ERICH HACKL'S NOVEL SARA UND SIMÓN AND MIGUEL ASTURIAS'S EL SEÑOR PRESIDENTE Gabriele Eckart When Austrian writer Erich Hackl's novel Sara und Simón was published in 1995, the truth about the military dictatorship in Argentina from 1976 to 1983 was not widely known. The majority of the Argentine military had not yet admitted that approximately thirty thousand people had been made to "disappear," among them children as well as adults. In order to understand Hackl's intention in writing this novel it is important to know that, until that time, the majority ofArgentines continued to support the military's declaration that the reports of these disappearances were pure fiction: Den Aussagen der überlebenden Opfer hatte die Mehrheit der Argentinier kaum Beachtung geschenkt.Die Mütter und Großmütter von Verschwundenen , die jeden Donnerstag vor dem Präsidentensitz auf der Plaza de Mayo für die Herausgabe ihrer Kinder demonstrieren, nannten viele nur 'locas,' Verrückte. ("Mein Gefängnis" 200). The majority ofArgentines hardly paid attention to the statements ofsurviving victims. The mothers and grandmothers ofthe vanished were called crazy, because they were demonstrating every Thursday in front of the Presidential Place for the return of their children.1 Once the dictatorship came to an end, the failure of the courts to prosecute military officials intensified the people's reluctance to accept what had happened under their rule. After military tribunals in 1985 rejected the cases against the generals, the civil courts took them over. Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky has described the trial: The members of the military juntas who had made the entire society tremble until just a few years before rose respectfully to their feet on the order ofa young clerk each time the members ofthe federal chamber that was judging them returned to the courtroom. But all nine denied having ordered the use ofmethods that were injurious to human rights. They did not acknowledge the facts and accused the concentration camp survivors of fabricating their testimony about a descent into hell. They even suggested mat theirjudges were also part ofa sinister conspiracy against the virtuous guardians ofthe nation. Ifany mistake had been made, it was the responsibility of their subordinates. (97) Nevertheless, between April and September of that year, nine highranking military officials were forced to resign. Moreover, after listening to the testimonies of the victims, the civil judges condemned the two highest-ranking generals of the army, Videla and Massera,2 to life in Vol. 25 (2001): 69 DICTATORSHIP IN HACKL AND ASTURIAS prison for having ordered the kidnapping, torture, and deaths of numerous political prisoners—a sentence made meaningless shortly thereafter when both generals received pardons from President Carlos Menem. The situation in Europe was similar with respect to public awareness ofthe harsh realities of the Argentine dictatorship. The destiny of those who had vanished interested almost no one because there was little proof that they had actually disappeared. Without a doubt, Hackl wrote his novel to open the eyes ofthese "sleeping people." It narrates in a realistic form the history of Sara, a political prisoner who was severely tortured while in custody, and ofher "disappeared" child, Simón, as if the plausibility of this kind of novel could replace evidence in a tribunal. Unfortunately , it is this very vision of literature as a means of enlightenment and thus as a weapon of political struggle that causes Hackl to choose narrative strategies that cannot effectively reflect the brutal realities of a Latin American dictatorship, nor of any other such regime. In 1995, a short time after the publication of Hackl's novel, Adolfo Francisco Scilingo, one of the military officers who had been found guilty, revealed to Horacio Verbitsky the secret of the desaparecidos: the Argentine military had thrown thousands of political prisoners into the ocean from airplanes. This practice guaranteed that there would be little or no trace of the bodies. There was a flight every Wednesday and, on two occasions, Scilingo himself gave thirty people tranquilizers and then threw the victims into the ocean alive. He said that he had thought about defying the order, but a Catholic priest who worked...


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