Minister of Justice and Human Rights Julio Alak has come under intense criticism from opposition legislators and non-governmental organisations for the controversial New Year’s asado, or barbeque, held on the property of the former Naval School of Mechanics (ESMA), which functioned during the last military dictatorship as a clandestine detention centre.
The asado was held on 27 December for employees of the Ministry of Justice as an end of the year celebration; nearly 2,000 people attended the event.
“If any place exists that can demonstrate the transformative process initiated by [former president] Nestor Kirchner and continued by [President] Cristina Fernandez, that place is the former ESMA”, Alak told those gathered at the celebration last Thursday afternoon.
Approximately 5,000 people were held in ESMA between 1976 and 1983, suspected by the military government of being political subversives. Many were tortured and eventually killed on the premises or disposed of during “death flights” over the South Atlantic. The building now functions as the Haroldo Conti Memorial Cultural Centre.
“Actions like these allow us to redefine this space that, during the years of state terrorism, functioned as a centre of torture and extermination”, said representative of the Office of Human Rights of the cultural centre Carlos Pisoni, speaking at the asado.
Other groups have taken offense at the choice of location, however; the Association of ex-Disappeared Prisoners and the human rights organisation Brothers and Sisters of the Disappeared for Truth and Justice today called for Alak’s resignation, stating “this despicable asado is an affront to the memory of more than 5,000 disappeared comrades”.
Carlos Lordkipanidse, president of the Association of ex-Disappeared Prisoners who himself was kidnapped and held at ESMA in 1978, told Radio Mitre “it is absolutely horrifying that they did this at ESMA. It shows an absolute lack of respect”.
He added “the detainees who passed away were cremated on a parrilla [grill], that was the method used to dispose of bodies.
“Alak has to resign”, he affirmed.