(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
If one is to point to a sector of Argentine society that was singledout to be closely watched by the whole repressive and persecutory apparatus of the military government, then, inevitably, one must mention journalists. There was nothing casual or mistaken about the fact that the number of victims in proportion to the number of professionals working in this field was extremely high. Besides being directed against culture in a general sense, which is always treated with suspicion by dictatorships, it is clear that this attack on journalists was an attempt to silence a very important group in society, in order to prevent all public debate.
Naturally, journalism attracts a very wide range of intellectuals, artists and literary personalities as well as people with a high level of concern for politics and sociology. Furthermore, journalists' trade unions are renowned for strongly defending their members. Because of this they stand out among those struggling for the freedom of
On 24 March 1976, the junta of the Commanders-in-Chief let it be known in their communiqué No. 19 that 'anyone who by any means emits, spreads or propagates news, communiqués or images with a view to upsetting, prejudicing or demeaning the activity of the Armed, Security, or Police Forces, will be liable to a punishment of up to ten years in prison.'
In time the meaning and scope of this warning became evident. The military took over the Argentine Journalists' Federation (Federación Argentina de Trabajadores de Prensa). Foreign news agency correspondents were expelled from the country, and numerous books in private and public libraries were seized and burnt.
It was reported in La Razón on 29 April 1976 that Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Eduardo Gorleri, head of the 14th Regiment of the Airborne Infantry, which is under the command of the 3rd Army Corps, based in Córdoba, had invited journalists to witness a public burning of books by Marxist authors, or those with a similar philosophy, that had been confiscated from different bookshops in the city. On this occasion Lieutenant-Colonel Gorleri declared they were going to burn 'pernicious literature which affects our intellect and our Christian way of being ... and ultimately our most traditional spiritual ideals, encapsulated in the words God, Country and Home'.
Many journalists were imprisoned, or disappeared, or were killed.
Those responsible for the repression saw journalists as a threat to the consensus that was meant to exist for the government's highly controversial and compromising actions. journalists were also seen as a threat to the secrecy that was meant to surround the illegal, repressive system of disappearances, which was aimed at paralysing the nation with fear.
The mere possibility of some testimonies eventually being published, or of someone being given information on what was going on, was considered, by the 'regime a major threat to its policies. Something had to be done that would be more than the application of measures of control against those voices that were critical, or simply trying to report the situation objectively. Those who were engaged in journalism had to feel the full weight of the repression, to discourage the slightest criticism of the government right from the start, and so avoid any public confirmation of the ghastly fate of thousands of citizens who had been kidnapped.
Although this was one of the most serious problems in the country, or, perhaps because of this, public opinion was kept misinformed about what was going on. In these circumstances the media generally refrained from giving information about those who were arrested and were considered subversives by the authorities. Everyone knew that people were being seized, but they were prevented from knowing how many, who they were, and where they were taken. In the first few years the big-circulation newspapers even thought it prudent to refrain from publishing classified advertisements with the names of people being sought by relatives.
Characteristic of this atmosphere was Internal Memorandum No. 44 in La Voz deI Interior, a Córdoba newspaper, dated 22 April 1976. It was addressed to the Editorial Department and stated: 'Córdoba 22.4.1976. By a decision of the Management, and in accordance with the instructions of the 3rd Army Corps Command, no information can be published on requests by relatives for information on the whereabouts of people who are presumed detained.'
The result was that large sections of the population ingenuously believed that the kidnappings were not going on, or, when they heard of a specific case, they were incredulous or considered it of little importance.
It was also during the first few months of government, when the groundwork was being laid by the government for achieving its objectives, that most journalists were kidnapped. In the course of 1976 at least forty-five journalists were detained in an illegal fashion, and to this day nothing more has been heard of them. In the first eight months of 1977, a further thirty journalists disappeared; and it is estimated that the total number of journalists who suffered the same fate was about 100.
To give a complete picture of the situation it must be noted that a further 100 journalists were actually imprisoned without evenbeing brought to trial after 24 March 1976. In addition, a number of journalists fled the country when faced with the danger of a threat to their lives.
The Commission drew up its information with a wealth of evidence on what had become all too frequent an occurrence: the participation of State forces in kidnappings and the destruction, ransacking and extortion of money from the relatives of victims.
By way of example there follows a brief summary of some of the reported cases.