Torture survivor speaks on Argentina's 'Dirty War'
A former Argentinian political prisoner spoke about her abduction and subsequent torture at the hands of state police, as well as her recent efforts to bring her captors to justice, Wednesday in Golding Auditorium. Patricia Isasa was kidnapped by Argentina's then-military government in July 1976 during a trip to the country's Santa Fe province when she was 16 years old. She was beaten, raped and electrocuted during more than two years in captivity.
"In your language, you say 'disappear' about a thing," she said. "In Argentina, since 1976, 'disappear' is about a person. Nobody knew where you were. I didn't know where I [was.]"
The kidnapping was one of thousands that occurred during Argentina's "dirty war," which followed a military coup led by Lt. Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla in March 1976. The military dictatorship lasted until 1983, when Raul Alfonsin was democratically elected president.
Isasa said the state-sponsored abductions helped keep the military junta in power.
"Other students became afraid after disappearances," she said. "When you become afraid, it's more easy to take control."
Isasa also screened a documentary, titled El Cerco chronicling her search for her kidnappers, which began in 1997 and has resulted in the imprisonment of eight individuals who are currently awaiting trial.
Those accused by Isasa of participating in her abduction included Eduardo Ramos, Mario Jose Facino and Victor Brusa, all of whom occupied prominent roles in Argentinian society at the time of Isasa's investigation. In the film, the three men denied any validity to Isasa's claims.
"This [accusation] is from a leftist organization led by Patricia Isasa's attorney," Brusa said in the film. "It is all fabricated. I am neither remorseful nor guilty."
In the film, Isasa spoke of the physical and emotional damage left by her experiences. "I felt anguish and sadness, because I really should not ever have been there," she said. "I was too young."
Isasa drew a connection between her kidnapping and the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison by American soldiers. "Today, this kind of behavior repeats," Isasa said. She said there is no difference between the severity of the torture of Iraqi prisoners today and that of her own experiences.
Isasa spoke of the Argentian government's minimal efforts to assign responsibility for the kidnappings. Although the government established a National Commission on the Disappeared in 1983 to investigate the war, abuses were merely documented and no blame was assigned. In 1987, Alfonsin passed a Due Obedience law, protecting military officials from prosecution. The law was repealed in 1998 and some officials are currently facing trial.
Isasa said encouraging remembrance of the horrors of the dirty war is the best way of preventing similar abuses from happening again.
"The military has no chance to repeat [its violent actions] because we promote the memory," she said.
In her documentary, Isasa argued that society does not want to acknowledge the crimes of accepted members of the community. "People wanted a drunk, an insane person [to be the perpetrator], not the truth, the truth that people in their community did this," Isasa said.
The event was co-sponsored by the Latin American Studies program and the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.