The reign of terror from the Argentine military dictatorship included torture and assassination, leading to the disappearance of at least 30,000 people. Now 45 years later, Swiss director Andreas Fontana takes the tragic events of Latin American history to the big screen to show viewers how many different people and places including the US and European countries helped create an international state of terror.
“I think it’s important to tell this story from a vague moral perspective,” Fontana said in a telephone interview with NBC News about his first feature film, Azor, which is being shown nationwide in IFC Center in New York on Friday, September 10thWith The Story of a Swiss Banker Who Travels to Argentina to Replace a Missing Partner Throws a much wider network representing a system where many different countries benefited.
Azor settled in 1980 and follows Yvan De Weil (played by Fabrizio Rongione), a private banker from Geneva who travels nearly 7,000 kilometers with his wife, Ins (Stphanie Clau) to Buenos Aires at the height of the kidnappings and repression of the dictatorship. Argentine military Me
Viewers will meet De Weils ex-partner’s high-value clients and delve into the tense atmosphere of a society where political indirectness can end in sudden disappearances.
A banker can be both respectful and stylish. But when you look at De Weils’ work, how he conducts business with clients, it may be unclear. And if you consider the violence of the Argentine dictatorship, then it is no longer vague, but completely turbulent, Fontana said.
Just two months after the military took power in Argentina on March 24, 1976, the Argentine secret police met with him. counterparts from five other Latin American countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay) to discuss long-term cooperation in a US-backed campaign targeting communists, socialists and other left-wing supporters, as well as those opposed to military and right-wing governments.
The campaign relied on international cooperation, including the use of encryption machines provided by a Swiss company secretly owned by the CIA and the German intelligence agency, as well as the French army, which learned and shared the tactics of torturewith
“Nobody talked about him anymore”
Ioana Padilla, an Argentine theater actress playing the daughter of one of the clients in the Azores, was 9 years old when her mother, Mercedes, was taken by force.
My memory is unclear if they took her out of the house, or if she was taken from a bar she frequented downstairs, she said in a phone interview. We were always told to go to bed at 9pm But what I clearly remember is waking up the next day and looking at the apartment in a mess.
Padilla’s mother disappeared on August 20, 1976. Padilla describes her mother as someone who had many friendships with left-leaning artists and made anti-military comments once at a cocktail party at the Argentine Embassy in the US
But she remembers many people in her family’s wealthy social class, the Argentine elite, supporting the military coup.
Padilla recalls popular slogans in favor of dictatorship like Somos derechos y humanos (We are right and human) and El silencio es salud (Silence is health).
The latter was particularly touching because Padilla could not talk about her mother.
The atmosphere was awful, she said. I would hear people say something like: Some flowers have to die for all the weeds to die. And you could not really talk because it was dangerous. I went to school the next day [after her mom disappeared] and acted as if nothing had happened.
Padilla says her father tried to find her mother, but he started receiving threatening phone calls. So her family stopped talking about her.
When someone asked about my mother, I would say she was on a trip to New York, she said. We told my younger brothers, who were 3 and 4 at the time, that my mother had an accident in the United States and she was hospitalized. Her return was delayed and delayed until no one talked about her anymore.
Padilla’s family also endured threats from various political parties. She says her paternal grandfather, a banker, escaped the bomb that had been placed under his desk, possibly by a left-wing militant group.
Unfortunately, there are flags that are claimed from the left or right. And they appropriate those issues. It should not be so. Human rights are human rights. And they should be for everyone, she said.
Violence “as a legitimate political strategy”
Mariana Heredia, a Argentine sociologist who is an expert on dictatorship, says the military government kept itself in power by promoting the idea that violence is justified as a political strategy.
However, she points out, this idea was common with other Latin American governments and right-wing and left-wing militants.
The dictatorships of the 1970s were preceded by the trivialization of violence as a legitimate political strategy, she said in a telephone interview. It is difficult to understand what the military did in the region without taking into account that violence in previous years had become acceptable.
Heredia explained that on the one hand, power was being taken unconstitutionally by the military. And on the other hand, insurgent movements also adopted violence as a reaction to the oppression or excesses of those governments. These perspectives, she concluded, legitimized violence on both sides of the political spectrum.
The acknowledgment of the violence eventually created a national security doctrine that called on the military to fight not only external enemies, but also to identify and fight them internally, Heredia said.
From this perspective, the military coup was backed by the false idea that it could restore order and also obey the law. But, says Heredia, she militarized politics instead of attacking social movements and this reached levels of violence that had never been seen in the region before.
There was an absolute consensus among the military elites in Argentina to undertake a dirty war, she said. That internal enemy had to be annihilated. And therefore, it was not necessary to economize on resources, even when they were extreme, to eradicate it.
To this day, Heredia says that a large part of the military elites of those years still claim to have emerged victorious from the war.
There was a long time within Latin American elites, let’s say the military and their closest allies, an agreement on the need for repressive violence, she said.
A quest for justice advances human rights
Svane Garibian, a international expert in criminal law and transitional justice based in Switzerland, says political movements in Argentine society that bring visibility to the missing have become a model for human rights defenders around the world.
Because of this political movement during the Cold War in the 1980s and 1990s, we see a very profound revolution in the field of international human rights, Garibian said in a telephone interview. In particular, the “dirty war” in Argentina, and Operation Condor in general, contributed to a turnaround in international human rights law.
“Dirty War” refers to disappearances, killings and other violence in Argentina during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. Operation Condor is a program run by the military dictatorships of Argentina and five other South American countries in the mid-1970s to brutally suppress opponents.
Garibian explained that subsequently, non-governmental organizations and political movements approached human rights in different ways.
The use of DNA testing in searching for victims’ bones, now seen worldwide, owes in part to Latin America and Argentina in particular, Garibian said. Thus beginning in the early 1990s, the systematic use of DNA testing created a new paradigm in the fields of science and international law.
She noted that other countries seeking justice for victims in Argentina applied the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows them to prove unsolved war crimes or crimes against humanity that took place outside their borders.
In Spain, through the use of universal jurisdiction, former Argentine Navy officer Adolfo Scilingo was convicted of crimes against humanity committed in Argentina, she said. Scilingo was directly involved in los vuelos de la muerte [death flights], where the army systematically threw unconscious victims at Ro de la Plata. Spain is a starting point for using universal jurisdiction to try mass criminals.
While Argentina’s dirty war and Operation Condor policies have forced various countries to seek justice for victims outside their borders, human rights could also be a two-way mirror, Garibian said, urging countries to consider including them in mass crimes around the world.
Neutrality does not exclude Switzerland. “I believe we are now at a crucial moment where more and more studies will be done together on Switzerland ‘s involvement in mass crime around the world,” she said. So within the academy field, this is not a taboo. And many colleagues have begun to open a door to discuss the indirect involvement of Switzerlands as a place in various events of the past, including colonialism.
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