Argentina Betrayed: Memory, Mourning, and Accountability

Argentina Betrayed: Memory, Mourning, and Accountability

Argentina Betrayed: Memory, Mourning, and Accountability

Argentina Betrayed: Memory, Mourning, and Accountability


The ruthless military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983 betrayed the country's people, presiding over massive disappearances of its citizenry and, in the process, destroying the state's trustworthiness as the guardian of safety and well-being. Desperate relatives risked their lives to find the disappeared, and one group of mothers defied the repressive regime with weekly protests at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. How do societies cope with human losses and sociocultural traumas in the aftermath of such instances of political violence and state terror?

In Argentina Betrayed, Antonius C. G. M. Robben demonstrates that the dynamics of trust and betrayal that convulsed Argentina during the dictatorship did not end when democracy returned but rather persisted in confrontations over issues such as the truth about the disappearances, the commemoration of the past, and the guilt and accountability of perpetrators. Successive governments failed to resolve these debates because of erratic policies made under pressure from both military and human rights groups. Mutual mistrust between the state, retired officers, former insurgents, and bereaved relatives has been fueled by recurrent revelations and controversies that prevent Argentine society from conclusively coming to terms with its traumatic past.

With thirty years of scholarly engagement with Argentina--and drawing on his extensive, fair-minded interviews with principals at all points along the political spectrum--Robben explores how these ongoing dynamics have influenced the complicated mourning over violent deaths and disappearances. His analysis deploys key concepts from the contemporary literature of human rights, transitional justice, peace and reconciliation, and memory studies, including notions of trauma, denial, accountability, and mourning. The resulting volume is an indispensable contribution to a better understanding of the terrible crimes committed by the Argentine dictatorship in the 1970s and their aftermath.


The arrival at a teeming Plaza de Mayo of the five-hundred-yard-long banner displaying the youthful images of thousands of disappeared Argentines was heralded by a band of drummers and a group of dancers who had been steadily making their way through the crowd-lined Avenida de Mayo that connects Argentina’s congress building with the presidential palace. The disappeared who had been persecuted and assassinated by the military regime were about to make their glorious entry into the heart of Buenos Aires on this Day of Memory in March 2010. The dancers and drummers stepped aside upon reaching the Plaza de Mayo. This gesture allowed the banner to take center stage in the historic square and honor the disappeared and their relatives. They walked as one because the political lives and deaths of the disappeared were entwined with the protests of the relatives at the Plaza de Mayo, where Argentina’s independence had been proclaimed in May 1810 and where presidents and dictators had won and lost the support of popular crowds. The banner symbolized the continued influence of the disappeared on Argentine society and the enduring care of their relatives for nearly four decades.

My sentiment was bittersweet as I recalled standing at the same Avenida de Mayo on 10 December 1983 to watch President Raúl Alfonsín make his way to the Plaza de Mayo in an open limousine. The expectant smile on his face made a lasting impression on me. Alfonsín had just been inaugurated in Congress after having won the October elections on a call for truth and justice and the promise that the disappearances would soon be clarified. Now, twenty-seven years later, this hope had mostly evaporated, lost in the illusion of time, but at least the disappeared and their relatives had gotten the nation’s attention, and many perpetrators were in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the dictatorship that had ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983.

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