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Milton Läufer: Trivializing Tragedy

Butler, Spivak, Žižek, and Other Intellectuals Around the World, Express Concern About Human Rights in Argentina

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Image taken from Flickr user Patrick McDonald

By Milton Läufer

Introduction: Why We Signed an open letter to Argentine President Ing. Mauricio Macri and the Mayor of the City of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta

Over the past two weeks, thousands of internationally renowned artists and academics including Judith Butler, Alan Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy, Gayatri Spivak, Slavoj Žižek, Roberto Esposito, Jacques Lezra, Gabriel Giorgi, and Homi Bhabha have signed a letter written by students and professors at New York University that, among other things, calls for the resignation of Darío Lopérfido, the Minister of Culture for the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Similar letters have been signed by artists like Joan Manuel Serrat, Chico Buarque, and Silvio Rodríguez to reach over 20,000 signatures in all.

This extraordinary collective outcry was sparked by an interview in which Minister Lopérfido asserted that the often-cited figure of 30,000 individuals “disappeared” by the State during the last dictatorship in Argentina was an exaggeration, and that this number was invented as a strategy to collect government aid. To fully understand what is so offensive about this statement, one must understand its context in Argentine politics today.

Like many other Latin American countries, Argentina suffered several coups d’état over the past century. As is well known, the military dictatorship that lasted from 1976 to 1983 was the country’s most violent: tens of thousands of people, including pregnant women and teenagers, were kidnapped, held in secret detention centers, tortured, and killed. Because they were often buried in mass graves, only a fraction of which have been found, determining their exact numbers and pursuing justice on their behalf has been a complicated matter.

The restoration of democracy brought with it an internationally unprecedented series of trials and guilty convictions for many of the junta’s leaders. However, the delicate political situation of those years brought an end to these legal proceedings, and in the 1990s the convictions were overturned. In 2004, during the presidency of Néstor Kirchner, the Supreme Court declared that there was no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity and the trials began again, resulting in more than 2,000 indictments and hundreds of convictions for false imprisonment, torture, murder, and infant abduction. Moreover, 120 individuals born during the illegal imprisonments of their mothers and given to families sympathetic to the junta have regained their identities to date, and several have even met their grandparents for the first time.

With the mainstream media against them, the Kirchner administrations that supported these efforts over the course of ten years faced heavy opposition, especially from groups associated with the military that equated the violence of certain armed factions during the dictatorship to the military government’s systematic extermination of its own citizens. This category error is known as the “theory of the two demons.”

The day after anti-Kirchner candidate Mauricio Macri was elected president, the newspaper La Nación published an article titled “No More Revenge” that echoed the aforementioned “theory” and indicated that the political changing of the guard would be a good time to call an end to the “revenge” trials.

In disquieting harmony with this warm welcome, the new government is the only one since 1983 not to have met with human rights organizations like the famous Mothers—and Grandmothers—of the Plaza de Mayo (incidentally, the president of the latter was taken to court during Macri’s first month in office). Government representatives did sit down, however, with the pro-military organizations mentioned above. Similarly, the recent wave of State employees fired by the new administration included those hired to look into precisely these crimes against humanity—individuals who, because of their international reputations in forensics, were called in to investigate the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, Mexico, among other major cases. There has also been an alarming rate of police repression in the three months since Macri became president.

It is against this political backdrop that Minister of Culture Lopérfido sparked international outrage by parroting the “theory of the two demons” and downplaying the scale of the dictatorship’s violence. In his own defense, the Minister declared that his remarks were taken out of context, which is ironic because it is precisely their political context that makes them so significant: they are clearly aimed at devaluing policies developed in recent years by claiming that these arose from the base materialistic impulse of a scramble for subsidies. This is the problem, not the undisputed right to express one’s opinions freely, as La Nación (a publication to which Lopérfido has family ties) tried to argue in a recent editorial defense of the Minister. Worse still, both the national and municipal governments have failed to condemn Lopérfido’s statements. Only the Minister of Human Rights has spoken out, half-heartedly asserting that the government does not share Lopérfido’s view—a grossly insufficient response.

Our condemnation of Lopérfido’s statements has nothing to do with political partisanship. This is not about any one government in particular. What we are asking is that concrete measures be taken so that no Argentine government can backslide when it comes to the defense of memory, truth, and justice. Sadly, President Macri gives no sign of having received this message, as though he did not understand that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it—and that in this case any repetition, whatever form it takes, is bound to end in tragedy.

*                      *                     *

As Argentinean and international intellectuals, writers, artists, academics, and cultural workers, we are concerned about recent measures taken by your government and recent comments made by its officials regarding human rights.Through our academic, artistic, and intellectual endeavors, we have shared our deep admiration for the tireless struggle of human rights organizations to reveal the truth about the crimes against humanity committed in Argentina during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983) and the years leading up to it, and have supported the efforts of these organizations to carry out the appropriate judicial processes. We have also supported the efforts of democratic governments that expressed their commitment to these organizations and which sought to consolidate the policies of truth, memory, and justice that have become pillars of our democracy and an object of international recognition.

We consider these statements a clear attempt to trivialize the atrocities committed in those years, as well as to discredit human rights organizations and policies.

This is why we want to express our categorical rejection of the recent statements by the current Minister of Culture of the City of Buenos Aires, Mr. Dario Lopérfido, who in a public debate on Monday, January 25th asserted that the number of forced disappearances at the hands of state terrorism during the military dictatorship “was a lie fabricated at a table to get subsidies they gave you” (“fue una mentira que se construyó en una mesa para obtener subsidios que te daban” –sic). We consider these statements a clear attempt to trivialize the atrocities committed in those years, as well as to discredit human rights organizations and policies. If it is a question of numbers, the commitment should be to deepen and expand research on each of the crimes committed by state terrorism, determining responsibility and identifying complicities—a task that can only be achieved by providing resources and implementing policies accordingly.

Furthermore, the Minister referred in the same interview to “a confrontation between two armed gangs,” thereby subscribing, to our amazement, to the dangerous “theory of the two demons” according to which the violence of the guerrillas during those years is held equal to the systematic state-sponsored extermination of all kinds of dissent.
We believe these statements represent a serious step backwards and an affront to all those who are committed to human rights –a commitment we would by all means like to share with your current Government. They are the expressions of an attitude that is especially inappropriate coming from a public official. As Argentinean and foreign citizens bound by strong ties to Argentina’s culture and history and to the cultural production of the City of Buenos Aires, Mr. Lopérfido’s words harm our participation in public cultural policies. Our confidence in and our respect for public initiatives by the City Government, and by extension the Federal Government, is compromised by public expressions such as the Minister of Culture’s, whom you endorse by allowing him to remain in office.

We demand an unequivocal response from national and municipal authorities regarding the attempt to undermine and trivialize this democratic commitment.

In accordance with various social sectors insisting on the same, this letter demands the resignation of the Minister of Culture of the City of Buenos Aires, Mr. Dario Lopérfido. The current Secretary for Human Rights, Mr. Claudio Avruj, recently stated that the current government “does not agree with Lopérfido’s words” and that “arguing about the number of desaparecidos does not promote unity among the Argentine people” (La Nación newspaper, January 29, 2016). We believe that these statements are insufficient when what is at stake are the core values of our democracy. The aim of uniting the Argentine people is absolutely inconsistent with the tenure of an official who has demeaned our heritage as a nation and prompted painful and unnecessary discord.

Unfortunately, we note that the statements of Mr. Lopérfido, though extreme and particularly offensive, arise in the general context of the national government giving, by act or omission,increasingly alarming signs of a lack of commitment to the policies of truth, memory, and justice. Among such gestures is, for example, the fact that the President has not received the human rights organizations in person, making him the first democratic chief executive not to meet with these groups in his or her first weeks in office. We are concerned about the sustained dismissals in areas related to the trial of crimes against humanity, such as the Truth and Justice Program and the Ulloa Centre. We watched with alarm as, in another unprecedented move and before meeting with human rights organizations, the Secretary for Human Rights, Mr. Claudio Avruj, chose to meet with representatives of the Center for Legal Studies on Terrorism and its Victims (CELTYV), who have demanded the freedom of military personnel convicted of crimes against humanity. Finally, we are concerned by Mr. Pablo Noceti’s appointment to the position of Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Security: besides being linked to lawyers who represented members of the last military dictatorship, in 2003 Mr. Noceti expressed –as human rights cases were being reopened around the country– that these trials were the “legalization of revenge, structured and designed by political power” (Página 12 newspaper, January 25, 2016).

Argentina’s democracy is sustained by the continued reaffirmation of our “never again” in response to state terrorism: from this fundamental premise we branch out to address many of the struggles of our society against various forms of violence, abuse, and exploitation. The “never again” of democracy in Argentina has been and continues to be a reference for many struggles for human rights at the regional and global levels. We demand an unequivocal response from national and municipal authorities regarding the attempt to undermine and trivialize this democratic commitment.

Gabriel Giorgi

New York University

Cecilia Palmeiro

New York University – Buenos Aires / Universidad Tres de Febrero

Mariano López-Seoane

New York University – Buenos Aires / Universidad Tres de Febrero

Josefina Ludmer

Escritora

Néstor García Canclini

Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana de México

Andreas Huyssen

Columbia University, New York

Francine Masiello

University of California, Berkeley

Sylvia Molloy

Escritora – New York University

Andrea Giunta

CONICET / Universidad de Buenos Aires

Laura Malosetti Costa

Universidad Nacional de San Martín

Daniel Link

Universidad de Buenos Aires / Universidad Nacional Tres de Febrero

Mariano Siskind

Harvard University

Walter Mignolo

Duke University

Jacques Lezra

New York University

Esteban Buch

Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

Hugo Santiago

Director de cine

Roberto Jacoby

Artista

Nelly Richard

Crítica y ensayista (Chile)

Graciela Montaldo

Columbia University

Diamela Eltit

Escritora (Chile)

Magdalena Jitrik

Artista

Cristina Freire

Universidade de Sao Paulo – Museu da Arte Contemporaneo

John Kraniauskas

Birkbeck, University of London

Arcadio Díaz Quiñones

Princeton University

Raul Antelo

Universidade de Santa Catarina, Florianopolis

Jorge Schwartz

Universidade de São Paulo

Alan Pauls

Escritor

Sergio Chejfec

Escritor

Florencia Garramuño

CONICET / Universidad de San Andrés

Alejandro Grimson

Universidad Nacional de San Martín / CONICET

Cuauhtémoc Medina

Curador en Jefe – Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo – UNAM

María Moreno

Escritora

Adriana Rodríguez Pérsico

Universidad de Buenos Aires / Universidad Tres de Febrero

Alejandra Laera

CONICET / Universidad de Buenos Aires

Carlos E. Díaz

Editor

Ana Gallardo

Artista

Ana Longoni

CONICET / Universidad de Buenos Aires / Red Conceptualismos del Sur

Gonzalo Aguilar

Universidad de Buenos Aires

Marina de Caro

Artista

Octavio Zaya

Curador, escritor y editor (Boston)

Alberto Minujín

The New School

Gabriel Peluffo Linari

Historiador, Ex-director Museo Blanes (Uruguay)

Alvaro Enrigue

Escritor

Lina Meruane

Escritora y docente (Chile / Nueva York)

Mariano Llinás

Director de cine

Ticio Escobar

Crítico y curador (Paraguay)

Susana Draper

Princeton University

Sandra Garabano

Universidad de Texas, El Paso

Álvaro Fernández-Bravo

CONICET

Leandro Katz

Escritor / Artista

Rossana Reguillo

Universidad Jesuita de Guadalajara

Fabian Banga

Berkeley City College / Foreign Language Association of Northern California

Margo Glantz

Escritora

Mario Bellatin

Escritor

Jorge Gumier Maier

Artista

Jens Andermann

Universidad de Zurich

Juan Marco Vaggione

CONICET / Universidad Nacional de Córdoba

Josette Monzani

UFSCar e Unicamp (Brasil)

Luiz Monzani

UFSCar e Unicamp (Brasil)

María Pía López

Museo del Libro y de la Lengua

Diego Bianchi

Artista

Mónica Szurmuk

Universidad de Buenos Aires / CONICET

Natalia Brizuela

University of California, Berkeley

Valeria de los Ríos

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Denilson Lopes

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Juan José Cambre

Artista plástico

Paola Cortés Rocca

CONICET / Universidad Tres de Febrero

Fermín Rodríguez

CONICET / Universidad Tres de Febrero

Clara Beatriz Kriger

Universidad de Buenos Aires

Cynthia Tompkins

Arizona State University

Francisca Ure

Actriz

Osvaldo Baigorria

Universidad de Buenos Aires

Edgardo Dieleke

New York University – Buenos Aires / Universidad de San Andrés

Leandro Morgenfeld

CONICET / Universidad de Buenos Aires

Víctor Goldgel-Carballo

University of Wisconsin – Madison

Marta Dillon

Periodista

Fernanda Laguna

Escritora y artista

Cecilia Sosa

CONICET / Universidad Tres de Febrero

Cristian Molina

Universidad Nacional de Rosario

Luiz Ruffato

Escritor (Brasil)

Mariela Scaffati

Artista

Mauricio Lissovsky

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

María Soledad Boero

Universidad Nacional de Córdoba

Fernando Degiovanni

City University of New York

Carlos Labbé

Escritor y editor (Chile)

Francisco Garamona

Editor y escritor

Lucía De Leone

Universidad de Buenos Aires / CONICET

Patricio Fontana

Universidad de Buenos Aires / CONICET

Damián Fernández

University of Chicago

Virginia Giannoni

Universidad Nacional de San Martín

Fernando Davis

Universidad de La Plata

Laura León Llerena

Northwestern University

Valentín Díaz

Universidad de Buenos Aires / Universidad Nacional Tres de Febrero

Ruy Krieger

Artista

Juliana Laffitte

Artista

Matías Piñeiro

Director de cine

Francisco Lemus

CONICET IIAC / Universidad Tres de Febrero

Mario Pellegrini

Editor

Ignacio D’Amore

Periodista

Germán Garrido

New York University

Milton Läufer

Escritor – New York University

Juan Pablo Pérez

Docente – Artes Visuales

Heather Cleary

Traductora

Aldo Benítez

Músico

Milton Läufer is a NYU PhD student, writer and author of the novel Lagunas.

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