THEME: DESAPARECIDOS (missings)

“Desaparecidos “is a project based on my feelings about the illegal detention and kidnapping that I suffered -when I was a teenager- together with my father and the time that followed. Those were the times of the dictatorship in Argentina. This work belongs to the project “Chess in times of peace”, because only in times of peace are revisions possible, even of the tragic.

 

When was life ever truly ours? When are we ever truly we are? ( Octavio Paz, 1957)

 
 
In those adolescent days, within that small town in the province of Buenos Aires, my main dramas were those of teenage love. Nevertheless, it became the time to witness the horror of reality, without space nor time to talk about it. The sense of space and time were not there. There was only that monotone, threatening, incommunicable present time repeated day after day.
 
I was never a hero nor was I a militant or involved in anything forbidden.
 
When they released us, there was only silence and inquiring glances, coming both from the people who continued to relate with my family as if the kidnapping had not happened at all, and from those neighbors who suddenly approached us with a silent, solidarity look. My parents and I became more resilient and that was thanks to those silent supports and the words written in the looks of those people.
Other relatives, friends and neighbors quickly drifted from us and immediately stopped having a relationship with my family.
 
The world was still spinning, but the repressors kept passing next to my house. I would meet them walking around the corner, when I came home from school, and they would wave and smile at me from the Green Ford Falcon (*).
My parents and I had nowhere else to go. But we were still alive, and played our roles to live a normal life. For my family’s situation, in that town and in that time, that camouflage was the escape.
My parents and I had nowhere else to go. But we were still alive, and played our roles to live a normal life. For my family’s situation, in that town and in that time, that was the escape.
 
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To my classmates I became invisible. They stopped greeting me and inviting me to birthdays, parties or mere after-class meetings. No teacher said anything. I just felt that some glances were different; some with pouring sadness and heavy concern, others with contemptuous and distant curiosity.

 

But my boyfriend of around that time and a few friends supported me with much respect, without saying a single word about the dictatorship, the prohibitions and censorship, and much less about the kidnapping I had suffered. 
Seen from today, in democracy, it is easy to think that this reaction was madness. But at that time, people agreed with what was happening, they were afraid of suffering what was happening, or they could not imagine what was happening.
 
I realized that their friendly presence by itself was healing. That friendly feeling, along with my parent’s attitude, that kept themselves at ease and protected in silence but with honor, nursed my resilience.
 
The whole town pretended nothing had happened, and so did I, but I was still struggling with unspeakable memories.
 
A kind of violence was kept inside of me because I played to not know what I knew. And I felt ashamed of myself. I longed to be part of the group of young people that didn’t know. I felt guilty for that. But now I know that, in that chaotic violent time, and especially in my town, pretending not to know a thing was a way of escaping the humiliation, subjugation and torture. Years later, I could to say.
 
That 1977, I laughed at a show by Les Luthiers "Mastropiero que nunca", on winter holidays, in a theater in Buenos Aires, saw the news on TV and read newspapers that endorsed Nadia Comaneci. I screamed the goals of the victory when Argentina won the Soccer World Cup in 1978, though at the same time, I felt guilty and ashamed of myself.
 
Yes, I knew what nobody wanted to know or could believe. I just deeply desired to be a common young woman among the people in my town. It was a time when I admired Maya Plisétskaya, Nureyev,  Jorge Donn, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Cezanne and Edward Hopper... And the light of Caravaggio and Vermeer.
 
To read Cortazar was forbidden but I enjoyed García Márquez y Jorge Amado, Carl Sagan and Ray Bradbury, Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, Saint-Exupéry and Richard Bach. In those times, I could not understand Borges nor Lewis Carroll.
 
I listened to Barbra Streisand,  Carpenters, Carly Simon, ABBA, “Saturday Night Fever",  “Last train to London”... Regarding national rock, I mainly listened to Charly García and Spinetta, who were my favorites. And Baroque music with Bach ahead, and Piazzolla, always.
 
There were no mentions of the “missings” issue. Only Charly García´s song, "Canción de Alicia en el país", released in 1980, slightly touched the matter. Listening to that song scared me, and I cried in silence because I was feeling uncovered, in the nude, in danger. I did not mention that to anybody. Even today that song provokes a very deep emotion.
 
Years later, I knew that the school’s director warned that nobody, teacher or assistant, should mention anything bad about my family’s situation. I realized how important it was that my father did not lose his job and that he could count on the solidarity of his boss. I became aware of how important it was that my parents convinced the illegal repressors who controlled my city and our lives, not to use me as a whistle-blower (denouncer of possible young people who could be considered enemies).
 
And, years later, I heard about two high-society people of my town who collaborated with great care with those military.
 
In 2011, I was called to the “Trials for the Truth”, and I did not want to testify, at first. Partly because I thought I didn't have anything important to say, and partly because I was being forced into revealing to other people a touching subject from which I myself had fled and forgot about all these years. But I finally gave my testimony, which with humility contributed to the continuation of the investigation made in 1984 by the CONADEP (National Commission for the Disappearance of Persons, for its acronym in Spanish). My father and I did not know in which clandestine center we had been prisoners. Like other survivors with whom we "shared" the days of captivity, we doubted between two detention camps. It was in my statement and thanks to the questions of the judges, that I remembered a detail -a strange sound that sometimes appeared and disappeared suddenly- and thus they could determine what location had been! I let several months go by, until I walked along the sidewalk of that place, located two blocks from the Cathedral of La Plata.
 
In 1984, when the CONADEP called on the  “witnesses-survivors” and “witnesses” of the illegal repression to give testimonies,  all of us who had suffered illegal repression were afraid that the dictatorship would return. After all, the CONADEP was the courage of a recent democratic government to investigate crimes against humanity committed by the dictatorship immediately preceding it. Without precedent in the world. So much so, that the lawyer who took the statement advised my father to only give his testimony and exclude mine. That only his name should be registered and not mine. That would be a way to “protect me” just in case the democratic government fell, so my testimony was included in my father's declaration. 
 
I always thought there was no record left. In 1984 the Internet did not yet exist or computers and all testimonies were recorded on paper, with typewriters and even in handwriting.
In 2011, I searched for that information and found my father's statement in a digital form. That seemed unreal! I took a look at his expressions and I recognized his way of speaking. And I realized how old he was at the time of the disappearance. I became aware that I had never thought about it from his side.
 
After some time, I looked in the Court of Justice of La Plata City for other testimonies, other people with whom we “shared” the captivity, with whom I never spoke and whom I never saw. I only heard them scream in pain or supplication, smelled them, or felt them crowded against our bodies. That week, I was hooded, that is, blindfolded, with handcuffs on my hands and my feet tied; so I couldn’t see them. Most of those “voices” are still missing, but two of them survived. I could read their testimonies, and they made a reference about me and my father. 
That was very important to me. "That" was real, there are witnesses, other prisoners were able to give testimony of the clandestine detention center because they also experienced it. It's not just my memory.
 
Personally, that testimony helped me to reorder my memories about those times,
which were like an unassembled puzzle that was left abandoned midway. 
It often happens that it’s possible to talk about something when one is far away from that something.
 
(*)  Since 1976, the Green Ford Falcon was the preferred car of the dictatorship for kidnappings and illegal operations.
(**) That strange sound was the shouting of children going out to play at recess: the clandestine center was very close to a Primary School. Most of these illegal detention centers were located in the middle of the cities, that's why most of the arrests took place late at night or in the early morning, when people were sleeping. So there was less chance of witnesses. My father and I were in “Brigada de Investigaciones de la Ciudad de La Plata”, located  two blocks from the La Plata Cathedral.