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A film about Argentina’s history reveals today’s politics

Iin three A few weeks after it opened in theaters last month, before Amazon started showing it, nearly 1 million Argentines went to see “Argentina, 1985,” the film about the general and admiral who prosecutes Latin America’s most evil dictatorship. story. It recalls the events of that year in Argentina with music cassettes, manual typewriters and lots and lots of cigarettes. For most viewers, it refers to the unknown or half-forgotten history. In a bland way, the film criticizes the version of “historical memory” espoused by Nestor and Cristina Kirchner, a Peronist couple who have been living in all but four of the past 20 years. in the administration of Argentina.

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When the Armed Forces came to power in 1976, Argentina was suffering from skyrocketing inflation, political killings every five hours and bombs every three hours as Montoneros, a guerrilla group and others armed the left Mobs fought right-wing death squads, partly because of a civil war within Peronism. Many Argentines trust the military to restore order and return power quickly. Instead, it presides over a systemic campaign of state terror involving secret prisons, kidnapping and torture. It was only economic failure and the disastrous invasion of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) that led to the junta’s general election in 1983.

It was won by Raúl Alfonsin of the Radical Citizens League, a centre-left liberal. He quickly followed through on a campaign promise to abolish the junta’s self-amnesty.He established one of the first ever truth commissions: its report, entitled noncamas (“Never Again”) found that at least 8,960 people had “disappeared” in the junta’s dirty war, many of whom had no ties to the guerrillas. Alfonsín is determined to bring the perpetrators of violence and lawlessness to justice. He changed the law so that if military courts dragged their feet in trying their colleagues, civilian courts could try them.

And so it happened. The film focuses on the work of the lead prosecutor on the case, Julio Strassera. In a brilliant performance by Ricardo Darling (Oscar-winning The Secret in Their Eyes), he is portrayed as an ordinary man thrust into an extraordinary role. Strasera’s young assistant, Luis Moreno Ocampo, would go on to become the ICC’s first prosecutor. They work in an atmosphere of threats and threats. “We will give military commanders what they have not given victims: a fair trial,” Strassera said. Prosecutors have drawn heavily on the work of truth commissions. Witnesses gave harrowing testimonies of torture and ill-treatment.

The court sentenced two of the junta members to life imprisonment, three to fixed-term prison terms, and four were released. It was historic, being the first time in Latin America that a dictator was tried and sentenced by a civil court. Alfonsín also ordered that the court should investigate the guerrilla commanders responsible for the deaths of more than 1,000 people in the decade before 1979 and whose actions sparked a military coup. The leader of the Montoneros, Mario Firmenich, was sentenced to life in prison.

It will take a lot of courage to bring the junta to trial because the army is still strong. Alfonsin faced several military insurrections as the prosecution of other officers continued and the government became unpopular due to economic problems. He had to stop further trials. His successor, Carlos Menem, ordered an amnesty, freeing the generals and Mr Firmenich.

Trials under Nestor Kirchner began again when the army was emasculated by budget cuts under Alfonsin and Menem. In 2004, he apologized on behalf of the country for “the shame of having kept silent on so many atrocities in 20 years of democracy”. Kirchners version of justice is selective: While more than 1,000 elderly officers have been sentenced, Mr Firmenich lives quietly in Spain, teaching economics. Many with ties to Montoneros served in Kirchner’s government. The current vice president, Cristina Kirchner, blasted the judiciary for accusing her of corruption (a charge she denies).

One criticism of “Argentina 1985” is that Alfonsin referred to him briefly, urging Strasserra to do his job without fear of political interference. But the judgment speaks for itself. Doing so shows the extent to which the Kirchners have falsified Argentina’s recent history. And Alfonsine is a hero of the rule of law in a region where it remains desperately lacking.

Read more from our Latin America columnist Bello:
Sergio Massa is the only one standing between Argentina and chaos (October 13)
Peru has an incompetent president and a discredited Congress (September 29)
Nayib Bukele wants term limits abolished in El Salvador (September 22)

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