- Not Six Million nor Thirty Thousand:From "Holocaust Revisionism" to "State Terrorism" Denial in Argentina, 1945–2016
INTRODUCTION: "NOT SO MANY"
In early 2016, Dario Lopérfido—then Buenos Aires city's minister of culture—made headlines when he claimed that "there were not thirty thousand desaparecidos (disappeared) in Argentina."1 This blunt statement sparked controversy, as many perceived it as an attempt to minimize the brutality and extent of the repressive plan undertaken by the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional (Process of National Reorganization, 1976–83). It did not stand alone, for this claim was also championed by apologists of the Armed Forces such as denouncer of so-called "terrorists" Cecilia Pando; self-proclaimed "revisionists" like Nicolás Márquez, and Center for Legal Studies on Terrorism and its Victims (CELTyV) co-founder Victoria Villaroel.2 All shared an ethos, presenting themselves as defenders of "historical truth," "complete memory," and "silenced victims" against "official [End Page 153] lies," such as the "idealist youth" and the "genocidal dictatorship."3 To some, Lopérfido not only flirted with "neo-negationism" but also expressed the stance of his party, PRO, which had controlled the national government since business mogul Mauricio Macri won Argentina's 2015 presidential election. Certainly, members of the new administration had shown a more dismissive position toward human rights violations in the 1970s than the Kirchner governments.4 This stance coincided with some of their supporters' expectations, as the day after Macri's victory, La Nación—a major conservative newspaper—published an editorial that showed the change of government as an invaluable opportunity to suspend "vengeance," leave the past behind, and reunite the country.5 Although later removed from his post, Lopérfido was backed by Chief of Customs Juan José Gómez Centurión—for whom "eight thousand truths do not equal twenty-two thousand lies"—and by his then spouse Esmeralda Mitre—daughter of La Nación's late director—who casually compared the desaparecidos to Holocaust victims, as "they were not so many."6
This affair was not exceptional, but one of the latest in a long list of clashes around the historical meaning of political violence and State repression in recent Argentine history.7 This trend can be traced back to the dictatorship itself, which responded to international accusations of torture and executions by labeling them as forgeries made up by exiled left-wing extremists alongside the nation's foreign enemies.8 Such assertions rang hollow once information on clandestine detention centers, widespread abuse and death flights was revealed during a media exposé that accompanied the [End Page 154] dictatorship's downfall.9 However, tensions only escalated after democracy's return: president Raúl Alfonsín's promise to seek justice for the victims of atrocities manifested in the formation of the National Commission on the Disappearance of People (CONADEP)—which published an official report, Nunca Más—and the trial of the juntas, initiatives deemed by some as a revenge policy.10 The claims of Nunca Más were contested not only by those accused, but also by active Armed Forces personnel, institutions like the Military Circle and right-wing NGOs, with Relatives and Friends of Those Killed by Subversion (FAMUS) being the most outspoken. Besides vindicating all servicemen as heroes and replying to the narratives presented by human rights groups and survivors, they protested and lobbied to stop legal actions. It was not in vain, for the "Final Point" law approved in late 1986 established a deadline for filing cases. After an uprising by middle-ranking officers later known as "carapintadas" on Easter 1987, a "Due Obedience" bill—oriented to shielding NCOs—followed suit. Nonetheless, unrest would only be quenched after Carlos Menem—Alfonsín's successor—granted full pardons in 1990. The apologists' campaign did not subside though, with renewed homages to the fallen and the production of renewed counter-narratives.11 When Néstor Kirchner became president in 2003 and derogated his precursors' measures, characterizing himself as part of the "decimated generation," revisionists and apologists for the dictatorship were enraged and responded by founding a plethora of organizations and publishing titles that would become best sellers long...