ESMA and The Realities of Human Rights Violations


On Friday, we visited ESMA. This is one of the largest detention centers of the dictatorship. It is speculated to have housed over 5,000 of those who were disappeared. ESMA hit a bit closer to home because we had a lot more information than we have had in other centers. Having a tour guide explain everything along the way and having so much detail in the displays really adds vividness to the preconceived notions we all had. For example, in the attic where prisoners were kept, there was a space that showed visitors how much space each of the prisoners had. Seeing those measurements really hit home. We knew these people were in awful conditions because it’s what we have been told over and over before and during the trip. When you enter these detention centers, you can feel the mistreatment and you can imagine how bad it was. But, ESMA painted a totally different level of vivid, in my opinion. It was dark, even with windows and other sources of light. You can imagine how dark and humid the rooms must have been prior to. The torturers painted the windows dark and boarded them up. The guide talked a lot about humidity issues, which is why they have the holes now. But when it was still a detention center, there were no holes, Fresh air was impossible to get.

The guide painted a very clear picture. Prisoners were given rotten food. Even pregnant women were demonized and treated as subhuman. Nobody was afforded any form of cleanliness. Guards decided when you used the bathroom. Women on their periods were forced to free bleed instead of having proper hygiene. The physically ill just got sicker and sicker because they weren’t given proper (any) healthy care. Rape was common. And every prisoner was subject to the pain of their counterparts. The sounds, smells and occasional sights would have been horrific and unimaginable. All of these things were factors outside of the “actual” torture. As the tour guide said, these are all forms of psychological and physical torture that was imposed on these prisoners.

I spent a lot of time considering how some survivors are getting by today. I’m sure many got help afterwards or found something that allowed them to properly process and release some of the trauma. But I worried about those who didn’t. I’m concerned about those who just tried to tough out this awful trauma. What difficulties are they dealing with and how does this impact them now? When reading “Psychological Consequences of Human Rights Abuses”  by Kris A. McLoughlin and Catherine Kane, they noted that victims of human rights violations are usual left with severe and debilitating mental issues. This is something that one could write off as being an obvious effect of torture and wrongful imprisonment. However, I don’t think that we consider the extent to which these issues may affect survivors, especially when we see so many of them living mostly normal lives now. 

ESMA wasn’t all bad though. In the last room they showed some pictures of the officers that committed these crimes. They highlighted the multitude of criminals that have been charged, which brought a lot of relief at the end of the tour. Prior to that, we were told about the president in 2005 (? I believe) that made an apology statement for what the government had done to it’s people. In Judith Blau and Alberto Moncada’s “It Ought to Be a Crime”, they discuss how it is the responsibility of the state and other governing bodies to condemn human rights violations. By apologizing, charging and trying to give reparations, the Argentine government is doing something to take responsibility. Certainly, they aren’t doing everything they can but I am glad they are doing something for those who were affected by what happened under the eye of the government. 

All in all, ESMA was an experience. It painted a more vivid picture of what it was like to be a prisoner during the dictatorship and it highlighted the process of recovery. History tends to repeat itself but I hope that this serves as an example of what not to do for some country. 


Let’s Tango!

A few days ago we got to attend a tango show here in Buenos Aires and I must say I absolutely loved it! I have never been to a tango show in my whole life, so getting to experience that for the first time, especially in Argentina where tango is the national dance, was incredible! I loved the music, and the total dramatization of each performance. It almost felt like watching a play! I think that being able to convey a storyline purely through music and dance is a beautiful art form, and I would definitely love to have another opportunity to see a tango show! It was such a fun night, and another awesome look into the culture of Argentina. After the show, I was able to get a picture with one of the dancers (shown above), and I couldn’t help but feel so giddy to get to meet her! This was definitely one of my favorite nights of the entire trip, and I’m so glad I was able to share the experience with such great people as well. 


As Rosenberg states in “Child of Cain”, every Thursday, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo gather at 3:30 to walk slowly in a circle around the plaza with a crowd of a hundred or so people. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to participate in this march, and it left a very strong emotional impact on me. As we slowly marched around the Plaza de Mayo, with a Mother leading us, names of the disappeared people were called out, and in response we chanted “Presente”. To me, this represented the fact that even though these people have disappeared, we still see them, hear them, and acknowledge them, and we are still fighting for their justice. They may be disappeared, but for us, and especially for the Mothers, they are still present. The roll call was reminiscent to me of a roll call in school, which further painted this picture of children, rather than adults. I think this is important because for the Mothers that lost their children to the dictatorship, the age of the disappeared does not matter. A Mother’s grief can never be fully understood because for them, it’s just as painful as losing their small child or newborn baby. Hearing the names of the disappeared being called out and constantly acknowledging them with “Presente” made the march feel all the more personal, and I think that made it a much more powerful experience. The fact that a large group of us all walked together and were chanting in unison made it feel like a community coming together to both bear the pain as well as acknowledge the disappeared together. It was a beautiful and moving experience and I think it’s so important that more people know about this demonstration and come out to show their support and participate, to keep the fight for justice alive as well as the memory of those lost to the dictatorship. 

Mothers of ESMA

On May 31st, we visited ESMA, a detention center/concentration camp located in downtown Buenos Aires. ESMA is the most known detention center during the Dirty War. It is located on the main road in the heart of the city, between the World Cup Stadium and the main airport. With that being said, it’s crazy how many killings and tortured were done here in front of everything! It is known that around 5000 people were tortured here. 

There was a lot of information and interesting things that I learned about at ESMA but one that really stood out to me was this room here. This is the room where the mothers gave birth to their babies. The words at the bottom translate to “How is it possible that children were born here?” I just could not imagine what these women had to be going through. This is more than just torture. This is a part of dehumanizing, which was the goal from the soldiers. In “A Single Motherless Death,” “I couldn’t pronounce myself. I was skin between speeches.” This refers to the dehumanizing of the prisoners and how they were affected by the torture. We also learned that pregnant women weren’t fed properly nor received the proper medical attention they needed to keep the baby healthy. Being at ESMA puts you in the perspective of the prisoners and you get a glimpse of what they went through. It was all very interesting. 


The other day we attended a great tango show here in Buenos Aires. The dancing was spectacular and the singing was top notch, although the underline message throughout the show was very machista, which is basically toxic masculinity in Latin culture. The machismo could be seen in the way the man treated the women in the beginning while setting up the show before the actual dancing began. They were throwing money at the girls, being aggressive with them in their tone and physical when they actually grabbed their arms in a forceful manner so they would come to them. Then the men began fighting each other at some point over the girls, and after the fight was over they had to ask the audience to applaud because no one found it funny. The way they objectified the woman by tossing them around to be dominate is such an old and backward way of treating women who deserve more respect and to just be equals not less than men. Then at one point, the man singing told the girl to give him a kiss and when she said no he called her “Loca.” Why is a woman crazy for not wanting to give into a sexual request from a man?

The way it was just accepted and laughed off is a problem because it normalizes these attitudes and reinforces these behaviors that other people feel comfortable mimicking. This was a reflection of deep misogynistic, machismo society that Argentina still has deep in its root and needs to be checked. It’s easy to say that it’s alright because it has always been like this, but it’s even harder to take a real look at it and realize it’s wrong because it’s reflecting back to the society that these behaviors are okay and even worse, enjoyable. When we accept things because that’s the way its always been that way, change never comes. It’s not about being sensitive, but rather it’s about not being disrespectful to half of the population so we can all support each other and thrive. When we put women down like this, men feel the need to do so too and compete with each other in aggressive toxic ways to defend their manhood. It’s a vicious cycle that will only end when we stop these old sexist ways of portraying women and men in Latin culture starting with tango.

In the center of town..

On Thursday we had the opportunity to visit a detention center that was used by the Air Force. It looked like any other house that we had passed and I found myself walking right by it. Fernando, leading us across the street, finally pointed at it’s sign…outing its once monstrous function. The building itself was difficult to navigate, as it had been three separate spaces connected into one. The building quite frankly gave me the chills, and I did not like being there for very long. I found that the funding provided by the government is being cut and that many clandestine detention centers have been experiencing similar issues, and struggling to properly maintain//conserve the space. In order to keep the memory of the disappeared persons alive there is a need to educate people within their personal community or society and from other places around the world. From the reading about the psychological consequences of Human Rights abuses, it states that: “silence communicates a message of indifference to victims, which only serves to worsen psychic pain”…

By keeping these centers alive communities can prevent further mistakes of the same nature being made in the future… “Raise awareness and speak out against to condemn global human rights violations. Call upon your own governments to condemn and renounce torture, gender abuse, and other forms of human rights 

The photo pictured here is of a window pane I saw located in the interrogation or room used for torture in the center that we visited. It shows eyes watching our movements and staring back at us, almost as if the souls of the disappeared have never left….


Serene Waters

I have always liked the water. I can look at the water for hours and just reflect on life. It helps to know that all my problems can be washed away one day. The river at Parque de Memoria was very peaceful and serene. I looked slightly down, and I see the waves gently crashing on the rocks at the riverbank. I look across, and I noticed the smooth sun rays lying flat on the surface of the river. I look right, and I see a statue of a boy, facing away from Argentina. It is omnious. How can the widest river in the world contains the darkest memories?

In Horacio Verbitsky memoir called The Flight, an excerpt explains how prisoners were thrown into the water alive: “The fact that they received what was thought was a vaccination and they could feel that they were becoming like zombies…” Apparently, the most “Christian” way of killing prisoners were sedating them, and throwing them off the plane. The person is left to drown, not ever knowing their destiny had just ended. To me, this is the most sadistic way of killing someone. The fact that Christian values are heavingly against murder, and the priest at the time used religion to justify his actions goes to show how sickening and mind blowing the dictatorship was. 

Although the waters are calm now, I do believe that the spirit of bodies in there have not rested at peace. They are still fighting for human rights, but vicariously through the new generation now who fight endless for equality and equity. 


Happiness Nwozuzu