Tag Archive | "dictatorship"

Uruguay’s Election: The Pending Questions of Justice and Human Rights

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily representative of The Argentina Independent.

On Sunday, Uruguayans will be electing their new president for the next five years. Browsing newspapers headlines, many are the themes on the political and social agenda, ranging from the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the capital, Montevideo, to rising levels of insecurity.

Leading presidential candidates in Uruguay, from left to right: Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry  (Photos via Wikipedia)

Leading presidential candidates in Uruguay, from left to right: Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry (Photos via Wikipedia)

Thirty years have passed from the historic elections of 25th November, 1984, which hallmarked the return of democracy in Uruguay after more than a decade of dictatorship and 13 years without an election. So much has changed since then. In 2013, Uruguay was selected by The Economist as the country of the year for “path-breaking reforms that do not merely improve a single nation but, if emulated, might benefit the world,” such as gay marriage and a law legalising and regulating the use of cannabis.

But much has stayed the same. In particular, coming to terms with the legacy of the dictatorship – that is, the systematic human rights violations such as political imprisonment, enforced disappearance and torture – is an unfinished business, and remains an open wound within society. Last year, the newly established and appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, unambiguously summarised the situation in Uruguay at the end of his first visit to the country.

De Greiff stated that “a chapter of Uruguay’s recent past is yet to be resolved adequately”, pointing to how there had been “little progress” since the end of the dictatorship in confronting the serious human rights violations committed between 1973 and 1985. The expert further asserted how this was “not about revenge or looking only to the past, but about laying a solid foundation for a just and equitable society that will allow new generations to address the challenges of the future.”

More recently, in August and September 2014, the director of Amnesty International Uruguay, Mariana Labastie, met with the four presidential candidates – Pedro Bordaberry of the Partido Colorado, Pablo Mieres of the Partido Independiente, Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Blanco and Tabaré Vázquez of the Frente Amplio – to discuss their commitment to human rights and the struggle against impunity.

Labastie underscored how “the topic of human rights is often absent from the agenda of the electoral campaign or it does not occupy the place it should.” She also highlighted how all the four candidates committed themselves to continue investigating the truth about victims of enforced disappearance. But is this enough?

Former dictator Juan María Bordaberry (photo: Wikipedia)

Former dictator Juan María Bordaberry (photo: Wikipedia)

Forty Years On

The Uruguayan dictatorship, in power between June 1973 and February 1985, perpetrated countless human rights violations inside and outside the country’s borders – the latter committed within the framework of Operation Condor, a continent-wide operation set up by the dictatorships of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to hunt down political opponents across borders.

It has been estimated that approximately 200 Uruguayans were victims of enforced disappearance, while there were approximately 6,000-7,000 victims of prolonged political detention, and thousands more instances of torture, sexual violence, and inhuman treatment and individuals having to flee into exile. Three decades from the democratic transition in 1985, responding to the human rights violations of the dictatorship can no longer be delayed. This is particularly so since, between 1986 and 2011, a law – the so-called Ley de Caducidad – effectively blocked the investigation and prosecution of all dictatorship-related crimes. Time is now of the essence. Many relatives of disappeared individuals as well as survivors of secret detention and torture have already passed away in the three decades elapsed. If there are any more delays, the opportunity for justice may be long gone.

A year after his visit, the UN Special Rapporteur presented his report on his mission to Uruguay at the 27th session of the Human Rights Council (8th-26th September, 2014). De Greiff’s report is a rather accurate diagnostic as well as a useful checklist of pending matters in Uruguay; his recommendations should be seriously acted upon by the next president of Uruguay.

The Report

The Special Rapporteur underlined in his report to the Human Rights Council that, in Uruguay, the burden to investigate the past has largely fallen on the shoulders of victims of serious human rights violations, their relatives, and human rights activists. They were the ones who tirelessly mobilised to push for – up to the present time – initiatives in favour of the promotion of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition. The Rapporteur also noted how the lack of progress and the passing of time has generated fatigue in the victims and their relatives. Taking into account that many of them are of an elderly age, it is urgent that their requests are attended to.

UN Special Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff (Photo via UN)

UN Special Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff (Photo via UN)

The Rapporteur organised his report according to the four elements of his mandate. In terms of justice, he acknowledged the important progress since 2005, especially pointing to the verdicts against two former dictators, Juan María Bordaberry in 2010 and Gregorio Álvarez in 2009, sentenced to prison for human rights violations, and the overturning of the Ley de Caducidad in 2011. At the same time, however, de Greiff joined the choir of critical opinions about the stance of the Uruguayan Supreme Court of Justice that, in 2013, considered the crimes of the dictatorship to be common crimes and, therefore, susceptible to the application of statutory limitations according to the national criminal code. Moreover, the Rapporteur expressed his concern about the transfer of criminal judge Mariana Mota last year and the unwarranted delays and obstacles that still hinder the resolution of ongoing criminal investigations and trials.

In terms of truth, de Greiff welcomed the efforts of civil society, especially the 1989 Never Again Report by the Peace and Justice Service, and the work of forensic anthropologists that located and identified four disappeared individuals in Uruguay in the past few years. However, he lamented a lack of attention paid to the larger universe of victims beyond the disappeared, to include victims of prolonged detention, torture, the kidnapping of children and sexual violence, and the establishment of policies to secure access to state archives.

On reparations, the expert applauded the sanctioning of several laws since redemocratisation to remedy different groups of victims, including the setting up of a special reparatory pension for former political prisoners and compensation for victims of state terror. Still, as of June 2014, only 360 cases of economic reparations were granted to victims of state terror, while confusion between different sets of rights characterises these laws, forcing victims to choose between pension rights and reparation benefits. Finally, in terms of guarantees of non-repetition, de Greiff commended the establishment of the National Institution for Human Rights in 2012 while highlighting the lack of vetting and thorough reforms to the Armed Forces and the Judiciary.

Tasks Ahead

The report ends with a list of conclusions and recommendations spanning across three pages, all needed in order to respond adequately to the unfinished business of the recent past. The most urgent recommendations that the new government must at least work on in its five-year mandate are -in the opinion of this author- the following three: the removal of all of the obstacles that block the denunciation of past human rights violations to the courts and the progress of judicial proceedings without undue delays; the establishment of an official mechanism to investigate past crimes; and the design and sanctioning of reparations policies encompassing both material and symbolic reparations and targeting all different categories of victims.

The next government in Uruguay has a historic opportunity to finally deliver truth, justice and reparations to victims of human rights atrocities and their families, as well as to the rest of society. This opportunity for justice should not be missed.

Dr Francesca Lessa is a specialist in issues of justice and human rights in Argentina and Uruguay based at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford.

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Music and Dictatorship: The Cultural Legacy of ‘El Proceso’

In 1966, whilst condemning the use of violence in response to a racist United States, Martin Luther King Jr famously said that “a riot is the language of the unheard”. If rioting is the language of the unheard, then music is what gives this language life. Beyond the ubiquitous western obsession with Dylan, Joplin, the Beatles, or Patti Smith, equally impressive is the role Argentine rock- rock nacional- punk and heavy metal played in countering the country’s repressive political dynamics.

Whilst these genres spawned a number of artists that would influence the national music scene to this day, we focus in the contributions of three seminal artists whose responses to the 1970s and ’80s dictatorship contributed to a profound shift in Argentina’s popular culture landscape. Charly Garcia, Los Violadores, and V8 each represent the most complete examples of how rock, punk, and heavy metal respectively interacted with the mainstream culture of the time.

'Los Violadores being searched by police'

‘Los Violadores being searched by police’


In March 1976, the Argentine military seized power and began a dictatorship that would mire the country’s democratic and cultural expression for the next seven years. Referred to by the military junta as ‘the process of national re-organisation’, or ‘el proceso’, this was justified by the government as a necessary response to left-wing ‘subversives’ who were allegedly undermining Argentina’s political and economic stability.

The dictatorship crushed political expression and social outreach. Beyond the military’s political opponents, the hunt for so-called ‘subversives’ also forced journalists, students, social workers, and religious charities into submission. According to the report handed down by the National Commission on the Disappeared in 1984 -Nunca Más- at least 8,960 people were ‘disappeared’ or killed by state hands during the dictatorship and a further 1,300 were detained (human rights groups estimate the true figures at around 30,000). Unofficial estimates put the total at 30,000.

Aside from its impact on broader civil society, the dictatorship also stifled the Argentine arts scene by mandating a puritanical and state-controlled Christian morality and limiting independent cultural expression through censorship and restrictions on public gatherings. Nonetheless, music’s ‘harmful’ influence still infiltrated Argentina’s youth during this time.

In an interview with The Argentina Independent, historian and journalist Sergio Pujol stated that throughout this period the folklore subgenre known as ‘Nueva Canción‘ (New Song) was implicitly associated with the guerillas and left-wing politics, and imbued with notions of protest, testimony, and complaint. Further, the rock nacionalcritique “was aimed at the bourgeois way of life from a hippie consciousness and a countercultural style: closer to [Herbert] Marcuse than Che [Guevara].”

For this reason, junta member Emilio Massera paralleled rock with Marxism and other ‘plagues’ of modernity in a famous speech at the University of El Salvador in 1977. At the same time, other means of dissent such as journalism foundered. Pujol notes that even Rodolfo Walsh’s famous ‘Open Letter from a Writer to the Military Junta’ was restricted in its social reception, leaving “little more than rock in those years.”

Rock Nacional

At the start of the dictatorship, rock nacional occupied a fraught political space. Leftist Argentines favoured the politically explicit nature of folk, with figures such as assassinated Chilean musician Victor Jara dominating the popular imagination of what the political struggle should entail —collectivism, greater economic equality, and liberation from foreign imperialism.

Rock, on the other hand, equaled hedonism.

In ‘Rock and Dictatorship’, an exploration of the historical evolution and role of rock nacional during this period, Pujol summarises general leftist sentiments: “The music of the people was not —could not be— progressive music. Exceptions excluded, rock musicians were seen as harmless addicts, people a little naïve who perhaps could not understand the nature of imperialism and preferred to lose themselves in the illusions of music in place of the struggle for a better world.”

At the same time, rock national was far removed from the austere cultural dynamics prescribed by the military in its search for “positive and essential” national values. Hence, it received little traction from either side of the trenches.

Charly García's first solo album, 'Yendo de la cama al living'

Charly García’s first solo album, ‘Yendo de la cama al living’

Charly García was one of the central figures of rock nacional during the 1970s and ’80s, whose current cultural reach remains strong. García was instrumental in the bands Sui Generis, La Máquina de Hacer Pájaros, and Serú Girán and subsequently forged a successful solo career. His music was not directly rooted in the notion of political struggle but was often largely allegorical and provided an important means through which Argentines could identify with life under an unnamed repressor.

For example, his 1982 solo album ‘Yendo de la Cama al Living’ (‘Going from the Bed to the Living Room’) expressed the feelings of surveillance which many had encountered in the previous decade and which caused many rock nacional artists —including Javier Martinez from Manal, Billy Bond, and Leon Gieco— to leave Argentina to guarantee their personal safety. Acting as a counterpoint to songs about the social uncertainty caused by the Falklands/Malvinas War and the dictatorship, in ‘Collective Unconscious’ García assured the public that despite the social ‘transformer’ the dictatorship represented, the pulse of the country would emerge vibrant following these events: “Nurse your freedom, you will always carry her/Inside your heart/They can corrupt you, you can forget her/But she is always there.”

The following year, García would remember those who had fallen in the dictatorship and envision a return to democracy in his song ‘The Dinosaurs’. “The friends from the neighborhood may disappear/ The singers on the radio may disappear/ The ones who are in the newspapers may disappear/ The person who you love may disappear…/But the dinosaurs are going to disappear.”

Experts like Pujol and Dario Marchini both challenge the tendency to characterise rock nacional musicians as highly politicised due to the abstract nature of their lyrics and their distance from political dissidence. But for Pujol, as rock nacional became more popular throughout the 1970s and ’80s it also took on a political role in the way it sustained the public sphere.

In an interview with Buenos Aires daily Página 12, Pujol recognised the capacity of rock to cradle solidarity by bringing people together at concerts. “There, rock literally was physically at the forefront, with its public knowing that after jumping up and down at a full Luna Park [Buenos Aires venue], the police would be outside bringing their paddy wagons to get everyone in jail.”

With public gatherings restricted during this time, both touring and choreography became highly politicised acts in themselves. Additionally, with rock nacional not necessarily being embraced as politically explicit music during this period, its capacity to criticise the weakness and complicity of Argentine social institutions and customs with the human rights abuses of this time was, and remains, strong. In Pujol’s opinion, “the most interesting thing Argentine rock had to say, and especially García, was not so much a critique of authoritarianism of the military as the genuflection of Argentine society. Before, during, and after the dictatorship.”


Los Violadores in 1985 (photo: Wikipedia)

Los Violadores in 1985 (photo: Wikipedia)

In the late 1970s, punk was a scarcely recognised genre in Latin America. Beyond the reaches of Argentina, Los Saicos had emerged in Peru during the mid-1960s as possible pioneers of the genre worldwide, around a decade before punk arrived in Britain. In Argentina, Los Voladores (The Flying Ones) formed at the end of the 1970s, in 1981 changing their name to Los Violadores (The Violators).

The documentary ‘Ellos Son Los Violadores‘ (‘They are the Violators’) directed by Juan Riggarozi, explores both the band’s etymology and political impact. In a period where the creation of a distinctly ‘Argentine’ identity was mandated by the dictatorship, members of the band cite foreign artists as inspirational.

The band’s founder and guitarist, Pedro Braun, travelled to London in 1977 and says his artistic trajectory was shaped by its punk scene, whereas singer Pil Trafa visited the United States in 1978. Their first ever concert was in the affluent Belgrano area of Buenos Aires in 1978, and the following year the working class Pil Trafa wrote the defiant song ‘Represión’ —which the band started playing in 1981, when Pil Trafa joined the group— clearly delivering on Pedro Braun’s desire “to cause a shock among society and the people.”

In ‘Represión’ the band juxtaposed scenes of repression in all facets of daily life with the broken promise of economic growth and national progress under the dictatorship: “Repression behind your house/ Repression in the kiosk at the corner/ Repression in the bakery/ Repression 24 hours a day/ Long weeks sacrificed/Tough work, very little pay/ Unemployed people, it doesn’t matter/ where is, beasts, the equality we desire?”

In this way, Los Violadores were distinct from the rock nacional artists in the manner in which they drew the social battle lines and aimed to challenge what they perceived as the complicity of civil society with the dictatorship. The band’s manifesto of defiance was christened with the song “Uno, dos, ultraviolento’” formally released in 1985. This song references Anthony Burgess’ classic novella on free will ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and satirized conservative Argentine society, “The bad guys in leather/ We want to have fun/ With my Drugs/ Off to the attack we go.

Nonetheless they were not widely patronised by leftist activists, with Pedro Braun stating that “it was like we were historical aliens. The way we stayed together: it was us against the world.”

In this period, the band also collaborated with German punk band Die Toten Hosen to help them tour Buenos Aires in 1980. The German band had contemporaneously released a single entitled ‘Hier Kommt Alex’ (‘Here Comes Alex’) also referencing ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and, like Los Violadores, maintained a strong anti-fascist stance throughout their musical careers.

Heavy Metal

Resistance to the dictatorship through music was also present in the heavy metal scene.

V8, one of the most important heavy metal bands in Argentine history, emerged at the end of this period. Given the military government’s highly Christian sensitivity and the ‘hippie’ dimension of Latin folk music, the visceral and confronting nature of V8’s lyrics and performance style were designed to shock civil society.

They dressed solely in black when performing and refused to participate in a concert put on by the military government supporting Argentina in the Falklands/Malvinas War. And in a time when repression was the norm, heavy metal fans found the concerts of bands such as V8 or Riff to be release they needed. This often ended in violence.

In the documentary ‘Heavy Metal’, directed by Juan Astrain, vocalist Alberto Zamarbide stated that their music “was a shout of resistance, very particular in the ‘80s —like punk, like heavy metal… the enemy was the military government.”

“V8 was a catalyst for everything that was being brewing within the youth,” adds former drummer Gustavo Rowek. “It focused all the hate towards the hippies, as a generation that had absolutely failed with their ideas.”

Nowhere was their dissent more apparent than in the particularly explicit song ‘Destruction’: “I no longer believe in anything/ I no longer believe in you/ I do not believe in anyone/ because no one believes in me/ …but luckily I can see/ What the decision/ The final judgment/ Will be the solution, destruction.”

This rebellious atttitude was not without consequences, either for the musicians or the fans. “Walking around the street, wearing black clothes and long hair, we would end up inside [in prison], it was always the same. I was completely used to it. Sometimes I talk to younger kids and they don’t know the inside of a prison. We knew all the police stations in the City and the Greater Buenos Aires,” laughs Rowek.

V8 in 1983 (photo: Wikipedia)

V8 in 1983 (photo: Wikipedia)

As in the case of Los Violadores and Charly García with punk and rock nacional respectively, V8 inspired a new wave of Argentine heavy metal bands from the mid to late 1980s, both increasingly professional and prolific.

Argentina, Politics, and Music Today

Whilst many of its aspects have since been forgotten or cast aside, one of dictatorship’s strongest (albeit unwilling) legacies isthe music produced during that period.

Whereas prior to 1976 rock nacional was a formative genre often heavily influenced by Anglo-Saxon rock, blues, jazz, and folk, today it is a source of national pride. Similarly, military attempts at censorship merely led to the emergence of punk and heavy metal in Argentina as popular sources of cultural expression during and after the dictatorship.

Today in Buenos Aires, a visit to a punk venue such as Salón Puerreydon will soon reveal Los Violadores or even V8 as old favourites. On the city’s airwaves, not a day passes by without the broadcast of Charly García and his contemporaries.

Garcia’s fabled and troublesome dinosaurs, meanwhile, faded to black long ago.


Dedicated to Graciela Macotinsky and Osvaldo Fridman respectively, who were forced to live in New York during part of the dictatorship for reasons of personal safety. Graciela, Osvaldo and Paula, you are like family to me.

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Estela de Carlotto Named Latin America’s First Outstanding Citizen

Estela de Carlotto received the honour in Montevideo (Photo: Pablo Porciuncula / AFP / Telam)

Estela de Carlotto received the honour in Montevideo (Photo: Pablo Porciuncula / AFP / Telam)

The Latin American Association for Integration (ALADI) has named Estela de Carlotto an Outstanding Citizen.

The president of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo is the first person to receive the title, which was awarded “in recognition of her tireless work to promote and respect of human rights, as well as her permanent fight for Memory, Truth, and Justice”.

Carlotto received the distinction in a ceremony at the organisation’s headquarters in Montevideo, Uruguay, yesterday.

In her acceptance speech, Carlotto said: “I am just an ordinary woman, one of many – thousands – who is fighting in this world for others, for those who suffer, for those who are in need, and for their freedom.

“What mother wouldn’t look for her daughter when she doesn’t return? She would look for her forever. And if the daughter was pregnant when taken, you would look for both generations. I have been inspired by my love for my daughter, and for this grandson, and for her friends who I knew.”

The Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo is a human rights organisation that has the goal of finding the children of those disappeared during Argentina’s 1976-83 dictatorship. An estimated 500 women were pregnant when they were kidnapped, and forced to give birth in captivity. Their babies were then adopted, and the women were subsequently killed. The organisation was founded in 1977 by mothers of the disappeared, and it has so far found 115 of the missing grandchildren, including Carlotto’s own grandson, Ignacio Guido, who was found on 5th August this year.

Carlotto said she would continue her fight to find the hundreds of grandchildren who remain unidentified.

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Doctors Tried for Role in Kidnapping of Children during Last Dictatorship

Estela de Carlotto showing picture of recovered grandchild 109 (photo: Télam)

Human rights organisation Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, has been at the forefront of the fight to find those born in captivity. Here the organisation’s president, Estela de Carlotto, shows the picture of a recovered grandchild (photo: Télam)

The trial of two doctors and a midwife, accused of kidnapping babies during the last military dictatorship, has began in Buenos Aires. It is the first time medical workers have been prosecuted for their role in falsifying the birth certificates of the babies born to those held in detention during the military regime.

The group are accused of being involved in the theft nine women’s babies, five of whom have since recovered their identities. All nine women were subsequently killed.

Prosecutors accuse doctors Norberto Bianco and Raúl Martín, and the midwife Luisa Yolanda Arroche, of “providing essential assistance” to hide the identities of the babies born in Campo de Mayo clandestine detention centre and hand them over to sympathisers of the military government to raise them as if they were their own.

Martín was the head of clinical services at the military hospital and has been accused of relaying information about the kidnapped women. Bianco, head of the hospital’s traumatology service, has been called a “key figure” in the theft of the children, and Arroche is accused of having falsified the birth certificate of one of the stolen babies, Francisco Madariaga Quintela.

It is estimated that around 500 children born in captivity and then stolen from their mothers during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. The human rights organisation Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo has since recovered 115 children, including the grandson of the president of the organisation, Estela de Carlotto.

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Brazil: Tribunal Rules on Crimes Against Humanity

The Brazilian Supreme Court upheld the amnesty law (photo: Fabio Pozzebom/ABr)

The Brazilian Supreme Court upheld the amnesty law (photo: Fabio Pozzebom/ABr)

The regional federal tribunal of Rio de Janeiro has, for the first time, characterised as crimes against humanity the murders and disappearances carried out during the military dictatorship (1964-1985).

An amnesty law has so far prevented Brazil from trying military officers involved in the dictatorship. However, the Rio court has given the go-ahead to the process against five officers charged with murdering and concealing the body of a deputy critical of the regime, Rubens Paiva, in 1971.

The accused had lodged an appeal before the second instance court to stop the trial, carried out by a first instance judge, claiming protection under the 1979 amnesty law. They will now appeal this ruling before the Supreme Court.

“It is the first time that the Brazilian justice recognises that certain crimes committed during the dictatorship are crimes against humanity,” said prosecutor Silvana Batini. “There were previous decisions in that respect made individually by some judges,” she explained, but never by a second-instance collegiate tribunal.

In a statement, tribunal member Messod Azulay said that the amnesty law —ratified by the Supreme Court in 2010— does not deal with crimes such as homicide and concealment of bodies, which fall under the criminal code. He also pointed out that the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights does not recognise amnesty laws in cases of crimes against humanity. “We have a specific chance to be held accountable to society, as it should be in mature democracies,” said the judge.

In 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that “the provisions of the Brazilian
Amnesty Law that prevent the investigation and sanctioning of severe human rights violations are incompatible with the American Convention [and] have no legal effects.” With this ruling, Brazil became the fourth country in Latin America (after Peru, Chile, and Uruguay) to have its amnesty law invalidated by the IACHR. However, only Argentina and Uruguay have repealed their respective amnesty laws.

Brazil officially recognises 400 people dead and disappeared during the dictatorship.

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Chile: Three More Charged over Víctor Jara’s Murder

Víctor Jara was one of the xxx (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Víctor Jara was one of the fathers of Chile’s New Song Movement (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

A judge in Santiago has charged three more former military personnel with the murder of Chilean singer Víctor Jara who was killed on 16th September 1973, just days after Augusto Pinochet’s military coup ended Salvador Allende’s government.

Former military officers Hernán Chancón Soto and Patricio Vásquez Donoso were charged with taking part in the killing, whilst ex-army prosecutor Ramón Melo Silva was charged as an accomplice. They join a list of eight other former army officers who were charged in late 2012 and early 2013 with the killing of Jara, who was a singer, songwriter, poet, political activist, and member of the Communist Party.

“This decision has to be celebrated and we hope this investigation can continue,” Jara’s widow, Joan Jara, said at a press conference. “We know this marks a milestone.”

Jara was arrested the morning after the 11th September coup and taken to the Estadio de Chile along with thousands of others. He was tortured and ultimately shot dead, and his body, riddled with 44 bullet bounds, was dumped outside the stadium. He was 40 years old.

Jara became famous in the 1960s for his protest music. He was one of the founding fathers of Chile’s “New Song Movement” which was instrumental in bringing Allende’s left-wing administration to power in 1970.

The contrast between the themes of his songs on peace and social justice and the way in which he was killed transformed Jara into a symbol for the struggle for human rights and justice during the Pinochet regime.

Jara was one of around 5,000 political prisoners taken captive during the dictatorship, over 3,000 of whom have never been seen again.

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Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo Find 115th Missing Grandchild

Press conference by Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo on Friday (photo: Belvedere Alejandro/Télam)

Press conference by Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo on Friday (photo: Belvedere Alejandro/Télam)

Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo announced on Friday the identity of the 115th recovered grandchild, the granddaughter of one of the organisation’s founders.

Ana Libertad -the name given by her birth parents- is the granddaughter of Abuelas founder Alicia Zubasnabar de De la Cuadra, who died in 2008. Her parents, Elena de la Cuadra and Héctor Baratti, who were part of the Partido Comunista Marxista Leninista (PCML), were kidnapped by the military dictatorship on 23rd February 1977 in La Plata. Elena was five months pregnant.

They were both held at the Police Station number five in La Plata, where Ana Libertad was born. Whilst Elena remains disappeared, the remains of her partner Héctor, who was thrown from a plane into the Río de la Plata in one of the so-called ‘death flights’, were identified by the Forensic Anthropology Team.

Ana Libertad is currently living in Europe, and she underwent the DNA testing at her local Argentine consulate. The judicial case dates back to 2010, when the National Commission for the Right to Identity (Conadi) received an anonymous email with information about the young woman. The file was then transferred to the office of special prosecutor Pablo Parenti, who deals with these cases and who continued with the investigation. Upon finding out that there were legal proceedings in place, Ana Libertad decided to voluntarily undergo DNA testing. She gave a blood sample at the consulate of the country where she lives on 25th April, which arrived in Argentina on 8th May.

“This is not the first test that is carried out overseas. For years now those who have doubts don’t have to travel to the country. We have worked with the Foreign Affairs Ministry to create an adequate legal and scientific custody chain. Many tests have been carried out, including those of the families. This is the first case with a positive result, but it’s not chance or luck, it’s the result of years of hard work,” said Claudia Carlotto, head of Conadi.

Church Links

The links between the Catholic Church and the dictatorship were brought under the spotlight again as information surfaced on Ana Libertad’s case.

A survivor from the clandestine detention centre set up at the La Plata police station, Luis Velasco Blake, recalled a conversation between Chaplain Christian Von Wernich -convicted for his participation in crimes against humanity- and Ana Libertad’s father, Héctor Baratti. In a visit to the cells, Von Wernich told the prisoners: “You must not feel hate when you’re being tortured,” to which Baratti responded: “Why is my baby girl responsible? She was kidnapped and was born in custody.”

“Children have to pay for the sins of their parents,” replied Von Wernich.

Velasco was a witness in the trial against Von Wernich, where he demanded the priest give information as to the whereabouts of Ana Libertad. “My lawyer in the trial against Von Wernich, Guadalupe Godoy, was the first person that phoned me to tell me the news [about Ana Libertad having been found]. I was surprised. Of course, I am happy,” he said in an interview with the Buenos Aires Herald.

Though Von Wernich was sentenced to life in prison for a number of kidnappings, tortures, and murders, he has not been excommunicated.

It is also known that the family of Elena de la Cuadra had a meeting with the then-Jesuit provincial Jorge Mario Bergoglio -Pope Francis- shortly after her abduction, where they asked for his help in finding their daughter and granddaughter.

When in 2010 Bergoglio said he had only learned about the kidnapping of babies after the dictatorship ended, Elena’s sister, Estela de la Cuadra, criticised him, saying that “I think I have demonstrated with the letters we sent to the Episcopalian Conference in 1979 that there was awareness and concern; there are also documents about how the news of the disappearance of people and children were spread: no one can say they didn’t know.” Though she did not think Bergoglio knew where the disappeared were, “he has a lot to say about what happened and about the mechanism they used, and here’s the letter my father sent him [in the '70s],” Estela told newspaper Página 12 in 2011.

Ana Libertad is the first grandchild to have been found after the recovery of Estela de Carlotto’s grandson Ignacio Hurban (known as Guido) on 5th August, although her DNA test had been carried out over three months earlier. Abuelas have reported that the number of inquiries from people with doubts regarding their identity soared after Guido’s case became known.

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Estela de Carlotto’s Grandson Found

Estela de Carlotto showing picture of recovered grandchild 109 (photo: Télam)

Estela de Carlotto showing picture of recovered grandchild 109 (photo: Télam)

The grandson of Estela de Carlotto, founder and head of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, has been found, after a search for more than 35 years.

Guido Carlotto, now 36, is the son of Estela’s daughter Laura, who was kidnapped by the military, along with her partner, when she was two and a half months pregnant, at age 23.

According to local press, he currently lives as Ignacio Hurban in Olavarría, province of Buenos Aires, and is a musician.

“I’ve found what I was looking for,” declared Estela in a press conference today. “Now I have all 14 of my grandchildren with me – he will sit in the empty chair, his image will fill the empty photo frames.

“I didn’t want to die without having hugged him, and now I will be able to hug him very soon,” added Estela, smiling broadly.

It was revealed that Guido went in to have a DNA test voluntarily, as he had doubts regarding his true identity.

Federal Judge María Servini de Cubría, who broke the news to Estela, indicated that the accuracy of the DNA test is of 99.9%. “I gave Estela de Carlotto the news, she was very moved,” said the judge.

Earlier today Guido’s uncle, also called Guido Carlotto, said that “we told him that the test results were positive and he’s deciding what to do. We gave him all the time in the world to think about it and to meet with us.

“We’re very happy with the news. For legal reasons, all I can say is that he’s a musician and he did the DNA test voluntarily,” said Estela de Carlotto.

Remo Carlotto, Estela’s other son, said that the family is “thinking about Laura, my sister, and the struggle of the Abuelas,” adding that “today we got to live this moment of happiness which we shared so many times from the Abuelas’ house.”

“We want each step to be taken, we’re profoundly happy and anxious to meet him so he can reunite with the history that belongs to him,” said Guido’s uncle.

Guido was born in the Military Hospital of Buenos Aires on 26th June 1978 and, according to witnesses’ accounts, only spent five hours with his mother before she was taken away to a clandestine detention centre in La Plata. Two months later she was murdered and her body given back to the family.

According to the Abuelas, Guido Carlotto is the 114th recovered grandchild. An estimated 500 babies were taken from their parents while they were held in clandestine detention centres during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. Some, including Guido Carlotto, were born in captivity, while others were infants when their parents were kidnapped.

The Abuelas have gained plaudits worldwide for their efforts to recover the identity of the missing grandchildren, including five nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Abuelas were also influential in the discovery of new scientific techniques and DNA tests to confirm a person’s identity with 99.9% accuracy even in the absence of biological parents.

“Today we found my grandson, Guido, but I’m not going to stop now, just as the other grandmothers have not stopped,” said Estela. “This is a triumph for all of Argentina.”

Lead image: José Romero/Télam

Posted in News From ArgentinaComments (3)

Uruguay: Thousands March Against Impunity

Silent march UruguayLike every 20th May for the last 19 years, thousands of people took part in the ‘Silent March’ in remembrance of the victims of the military dictatorship yesterday. This year’s slogan was: “Where are they? Why the silence?”.

Protesters walked down Avenida 18 de Julio in Montevideo last night, and were joined by president José Mujica and his wife, senator Lucía Topolansky. The march is conducted in total silence, which is only broken to read the names of the victims.

Óscar Urtasun, from the organisation Mothers and Families of the Disappeared of Uruguay, expressed his satisfaction over the response of the people that attended the march. “Our great concern is that all this will be forgotten and we need to fill up that space devoid of memory. And it’s still happening. People are moved and they participate.”

Despite the attendance of high government officials, including Mujica, Urtasun highlighted, referring to the march’s slogan, that “for us, the silences of the state are important, as it is not giving us answers and it’s not finding out the truth.” Though he admitted that under the Frente Amplio governments, since 2005, there has been some progress on the matter, he feels that what has been done is not enough.


Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Operation ‘Para Ti': Spinning the Dictatorship

This is an exclusive English translation of an article that originally appeared in Periódico Mu No.74.

Her son disappeared when he was 17 years old. And she was reborn as a mother, activist, and founder of the organisation ‘Familiares’. She was kidnapped and tortured at ESMA and forced to pose for a fake article published by women’s magazine ‘Para Ti’ as part of the dictatorship’s media campaign, designed by a multinational that today works for Monsanto.

Thelma Jara de Cabezas today, at 90, with a picture of her disappeared son (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri, courtesy of Mu)

Thelma Jara de Cabezas today, at 90, with a picture of her disappeared son (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri, courtesy of Mu)

The most degrading moment for Argentine journalism has a date: September 1979. That was when the dictatorship spread to the media, using the services of multinational agency Burson Marsteller. It paid US$1m for the agency to design a campaign to neutralise the first visit of an international commission prepared to investigate reports of human rights violations.

We know now that Burson Marsteller was behind the unforgettable slogan “Los argentinos somos derechos y humanos” (Argentines are upright and humane) that then interior minister, Albano Harguidenguy, ordered be printed on 250,000 stickers. What we don’t know is whether the story of Thelma Jara de Cabezas should be read as part of this campaign, as one of its most successful and long-lasting lies.

A Mother

I’m sat in the kitchen of Thelma’s modest home and timidly place the recorder on the table. It is no coincidence that in this moment she shows me the mobile phone given to her by the witness monitoring programme in the trials for crimes against humanity. “At 2.30pm they will call me as a control check,” she warns. I note the paradox: the phone and the recorder are the same size. And on this table, they become a weapon.

The story of every survivor [of the dictatorship] is like a gun loaded with memories. Thelma fires them off chaotically. There is no full account, only fragments – shards of such intensity that they shoot across the table. “My head is not that clear. There are some things I can’t remember, and some that I can’t forget. For those, I pray.”

Thelma is a Guaraní princess. Born in Corrientes, she married in Ushuaia, gave birth to two children in Buenos Aires, and returned to the end of the world until deciding that was enough moving. After that she stayed in Carapachay, where she raised her two boys alone. She worked as a dental assistant; she was active, modern, determined. In the ’70s she had little time for politics, but encouraged her children to pursue their dreams. The oldest, Daniel, went to Mexico to study cinema. Gustavo, the youngest, became involved with the Montoneros group. On the 10th May 1976 he was kidnapped in a street operative. He had been active for just six months. And he was 17.

Gustavo’s disappearance turned Thelma into one of the founders of Familiares, the first human rights organisation to be born during the dictatorship. “Familiares was just a desk in the apartment of the Argentine League of Human Rights, at Callao and Corrientes, just above the Odeón café,” remembers Thelma. “At that time I did not understand why they didn’t want me to go to Plaza de Mayo. I went anyway and stayed there a while, to speak to the other mothers. They had a lot of ideas, they were always thinking about what to do. In time, I realised that my colleagues didn’t want me to go for security reasons. But I only understood that much later, the danger.”

The Guaraní princess converted, anyway, into a Montonero cadre. In the middle of the dictatorship, her courage took her to the Mexican town of Puebla, where in February 1979 she met with the Latin American diocese and was able to personally hand Pope John Paul II the reports of disappearances in Argentina. From there, she travelled to Spain to interview the leadership of the Montoneros. She was escorted during the whole trip – they had followed her.

Daniel Jara, Thelma's other son, testified in the ESMA trial (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

Daniel Jara, Thelma’s other son, testified in the ESMA trial (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

The Kidnapping

Thelma was kidnapped on 30th April 1979 at the entrance of the Spanish Hospital, in the heart of the capital. She was there to look after her ex-husband. “They brought him in an air ambulance from Ushuaia. Terminal cancer, moribund. It’s 7am – I know because just then a doctor came in and was angry that I was there outside of visiting hours. I go out and see a row of cars, one after another. I feel someone behind me, walking quickly. There is something strange in the car lights. What do I do? I decide to head to the corner because there is a bus stop and see people waiting. That’s when the person behind me grabs me by the hair, puts his hand over my mouth, and pushes me into a car. They take me somewhere – the ESMA – where the torture begins.”

Daniel, Thelma’s oldest son, adds some context to this memory. “At that time, Familiares had gathered a group of strong, determined women. There was Cata Guagnini (Trotskyist leader, two disappeared children: Diego and the journalist Luis Guagini), Lita Boitano (mother of Miguel and Adriana, both disappeared), Graciela Lois (her husband, Ricardo, was 24 when he was kidnapped), and Lilia Orfanó (who also has two disappeared children: Daniel and Guillermo), all women who worked hard and with a lot of character. Someone told me, I don’t remember who, that the idea was to kidnap one of them and they chose my mother. We found out why later: Julia Sarmiento, who was a member of Familiares, had been kidnapped and started to collaborate with the military in the ESMA. She went [with Thelma] to Puebla, and probably knew that Thelma was the only one of the group that answered to the Montoneros leadership.”

Thelma shoots: “During the first three weeks they tortured me, one day a week. I don’t remember if I cried, if I screamed, if I felt pain. Nothing, nothing: I don’t remember now. I remember that they took off my clothes. And the shouting: “Talk you old bitch!”. How long did it last? It wasn’t a short time, I can tell you.”

Did you pray?
“No, not there.”
There is no God there…
“No, there is nobody and nothing. Just them, five or six of them. There is Marcelo: I see his face when he lifts up my blindfold and says ‘look’, and puts the electric prod on my hand. ‘It’s burnt out from using it on you so much, and you do nothing,’ he would complain, and I would be tortured for it. Afterwards, some other survivors told me that when I was in the torture chamber, they were in a room nearby and the lights would flicker, because when they turned up the machine it would lower the tension. They also told me that they saw Marcelo come out sweating, soaked through, complaining about how I was making him work so hard. Marcelo kidnapped me and tortured me. I later found out he was the one who followed me to Puebla and Spain. He was also the one who accompanied me to Uruguay to give an interview to a newspaper while he sat across the table – in the bar where I gave the interview to the magazine, Para Ti.”

Marcelo is Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, sentenced to life in prison on 26th October 2011, in the first trial for crimes committed at the ESMA. Another of Thelma’s torturers was the naval doctor Carlos Octavio Capdevilla and nurse Juan Barrionuevo, who at the time of his arrest was a provincial deputy in charge of the Health Commission in the Tierra del Fuego legislature.

Thelma shoots again: “After torturing me they would throw me down on a blanket on the floor. They would say ‘no food or water for this one for 72 hours’. My eyes are blindfolded. I hear the sound of a sweet wrapper. I remember that one of the guards, the youngest, eats sugary sweets called Media Hora. He doesn’t say anything. There is just the noise of the wrapper – close, as though he made the sound right next to my ear.”

Thelma Jara in her kitchen with a list of names she prays for every day. (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

Thelma Jara in her kitchen with a list of names she prays for every day. (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

The Agency

It was the unmentionable José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz who recommended the military junta hire international agency Burson Marsteller to counteract the reports that the Mothers [of Plaza de Mayo] and families of disappeared managed to publish in forums and the international media. His right-hand man, Walter Klein, then head of economic coordination and planning, travelled to New York to meet Victor Emmanuel, responsible for the Argentine ‘account’. Emmanuel admitted his role in the design of the campaign for the Argentine dictatorship in an interview with Marguerite Feitlowitz that was published in 1998 in her book ‘A Lexicon of Terror’, which cites Thelma’s case extensively. In the interview, Emmanuel justifies his actions: “The violence was necessary to open up the protectionist, statist economy. Nobody invests in a country embroiled in a civil war,” he says, also admitting that “many innocent people were probably murdered” and adding that “given the situation, it required a lot of effort.”

From that era, only the octogenarian founder, Harold Burson, remains at Burson Marsteller. In a recent interview, he explained his company’s area of expertise: “A PR agency buys spaces in the media to send a direct message. We are dedicated to creating areas of influence, be it through people or media. Our goal is to narrate our client’s story so as to rise above their critics and make them see things from our point of view.”

Burson Marsteller’s specialty is crime. Some examples:

1. The Nigerian government hired the firm in the late 1960s to refute accusations of genocide in Biafra.
2. During the rule of dictator Nicolae Causcescu, the company successfully assisted Romania’s efforts to become the preferred trade partner of the US. The campaign included a visit to Romania by television’s NBC Today, for a show that lasted a full week.
3. It represented Union Carbide Corporation, which makes Eveready batteries, as it faced its responsibility for the 1994 disaster in Bhopal, India, which caused the death of at least 2,000 employees and people living near the factory.
4. In the ’90s it specialised in training executives and managers of multinational oil companies in methods of communicating to the public after spills and explosions.

Harold Burson says he has a limit: his firm does not accept campaigns that favour the decriminalisation of abortion. When his interviewer reminds him of his past with Argentina’s dictatorship, Burson responds: “That’s correct, but we did not interfere in internal politics.”

The objective of the work Burson Marsteller did for the dictatorship was something else: to design a campaign to discredit the report that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS was going to release to the world after its visit to Argentina.

The IACHR was in Buenos Aires from 7th to 10th September 1979, in Córdoba for 10th-14th, in Tucuman for 14th-15th, and then passed through Rosario on its way back to the capital. It visited the clandestine detention centres that had already been dismantled – La Rivera and La Perla in Córdoba and El Atlético and El Olimpo, in Buenos Aires. The Commission also visited the ESMA, and for that reason the kidnapped prisoners were transferred.

Thelma fires: “They take us to Tigre. There is a large group of us in a bunker, underground. There, I find the husband of a niece of mine. I know because I cook for everybody – other girls also cook – but the second or third time I cook I hear a voice shouting from the bunker: ‘Thelma made this one as it has the smooth taste of her cooking’. It’s Eduardo, my niece’s husband.”

They were in El Silencio, the island in Tigre that Monseñor Emilio Graselli sold to the ESMA ‘gang’, according to the investigation published by Horacio Vertbitsky. “In that book,” says Daniel, Thelma’s son, “Vertbitsky writes three times that my mother gave an interview to ‘Para Ti’ magazine. She didn’t give it, they forced her to – that’s very different. I called him several times to clarify this, but he never answered me.”

Thelma was one of the last to arrive on the island. Cavallo and the ESMA gang had taken her with false documents to Uruguay to pose for a fake interview that was published on 22nd August 1979 in the false newspaper News World, part of the Unification Church cult. The article included the phrase: “I’ve been kidnapped by the Montoneros”.

The article was reproduced by the official state new agency, Télam, and several local newspapers that published it as fact. In this way, the dictatorship preempted the reports of Thelma’s disappearance that would be filed a few days later by Familiares in a meeting it had with the IACHR. Carlos Muñoz, another ESMA survivor transferred to the island, testified in the trial: “Orlando González, alias ‘Hormiga’, who was photographer for the Navy Club, took the photos of Thelma in Uruguay, which I developed, where she was shown in typical places in Montevideo, as though in some kind of exile.”

Thelma in the 'fake' article in Para Ti magazine in 1979 (photo courtesy of Mu)

Thelma in the ‘fake’ article in Para Ti magazine in 1979 (photo courtesy of Mu)

The Operation

The same day that the IACHR arrived in Buenos Aires, Para Ti magazine published on its cover a fake report with the headline ‘The Mother of a Dead Subversive Talks’. Five pages, several photos, and one argument: a mother discredits the accusations of the Mothers.

When Thelma gave an extensive testimony in the trial of the ex-commanders of the dictatorship, on 24th July 1985, she detailed that before that interview she was taken to a hairdresser on Av. Cabildo. Then they bought her clothes in Once. The interview was held in Cafe Selquet, in the Belgrano neighbourhood. The byline of the article belongs to Eduardo Scola and Tito La Penna was the photographer. Both testified as witnesses in the investigation into the crime committed with this fake report.

Thelma shoots: “They don’t give me any explanation. They tell me that Para Ti wants to know some things. They tidy me up a bit. The journalist puts a recorder on the table and asks me two or three questions that have nothing to do with anything. All very dry. The photographer is standing; he moves around, and looks nervous. It’s all very quick. Afterwards I see that in ESMA everyone has the magazine. They pass it around – ‘look’, they say. They don’t show me. But something happens after the article. They take me to an office where every day I have to copy out something – clips from newspapers, with some paragraphs highlighted. I have to copy out these paragraphs by hand. It’s crazy. I think it’s just a way to keep us there, obeying, like slaves. This goes on for a long time, quite a few months. In that office, with the door closed. One day the door flies opens suddenly and a young officer shouts at me: ‘You must hate us for what we have done to you’. I tell him: ‘I don’t think that. I don’t hate. I just feel a great pain, for you and for us.”

What did they do to you with that report?
“I didn’t know while I was kidnapped nor for a long time after coming out, because I had never read Para Ti.”


Thelma realised what they had done months after being released, on 7th December 1979. Her son, Daniel, who had returned to Argentina to form part of the so-called ‘counter offensive’ [by the Montoneros] was detained. Thelma heard the news from Cavallo, who travelled especially to Corrientes to tell her personally. Outside the jail, as she waited to see her son, she was rebuked by the relative of another political prisoner, who shouted “Traitor!”. He had read – and believed – the article in Para Ti.

This time, Thelma closes her eyes and shoots: “Sometimes they hold dances. The guards, they like to dance. They put the radio or some records on – tango and anything modern. The guards start to dance. The kidnapped girls – they are so young – are forced to dance. And the bosses come, the ones that give the orders, and dance too. Like in the hall of a club or living room, they dance. And we watch, without saying anything. We never know how anything will end. Never. So we look at each other, silent, like watching a dream, a bad dream.

“Seeing those faces, so evil and repugnant, making sure they don’t do anything bad to us, that we don’t hit the bottom. Those faces, right out of a horror film. Terrible, so terrible. The effort to guard even your expression, because it seems like any gesture we make could serve as an excuse to harm us further. It’s so strange what happened to us. Not to speak, to observe. Not do anything that might give them a reason to make things worse. Hold it in, so that they don’t kill or torture anyone. Holding on, and holding on… To think now that my sister-in-law is going to ESMA to dance. She is retired – they pick her up at 9am, take her to ESMA, they have breakfast, talks, conferences, lunch, everything. And they dance.”

You never went back?
Never again.

Daniel, Thelma’s son, asks me if I think it’s possible that a torturer, a monster like Cavallo, could have come up with a media strategy like the one they forced on his mother. He connects the dates, the coincidence of the campaign designed by Burson Marsteller and that article in Para Ti, in the context of all the support that [the magazine's publisher] Editorial Atlántida gave to the dictatorship. He is aiming at the heart of press operations that are now prestigious: Burson Marsteller has just been named Latin American Agency of the Year 2013 by the specialist marketing publication, The Holmes Report. In Argentina, its brand new client is Monsanto.

Thelma has an altar in her room with images of Christ, Sai Baba, the pyramid of Plaza de Mayo, and the photo of her son Gustavo. Every afternoon she recites a long list of prayers that she writes herself for an infinite list of names that she chooses herself. She has a bundle of little papers where she writes the prayers and names.

I ask her to write my name, and the photographer does too. Thelma writes them by hand, for her infinite list. And she fires: “My son Daniel asks me what I find in this spirituality. Peace, I tell him. That’s what I need. That’s what we all need.”

I understand: Thelma’s eternal prayer is against impunity. And for the truth.

Translated by Marc Rogers.
lavaca logolavaca.org is a communications co-operative founded in 2001, and produces a web page, monthly magazine MU, and radio programmes that can be reproduced freely. Our home is the cultural centre ‘MU Punto de Encuentro’, at Hipólito Yrigoyen 1440, Congreso, Buenos Aires.






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