Several files from a recently received addition to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) archives contain detailed reports and data relating to the Desaparecidos (the Disappeared) issue in Argentina during the period from 1976 – 1979, when Argentina was ruled by the Military Junta.
The files represent the variation and scope of the ICFTU collection, they showcase the response of the Trade Union movement to oppression and persecution. The prominence of Trade Unionists among the Desaparecidos meant campaigns launched by organizations such as the ICFTU in conjunction with Human Rights groups bringing to the attention of the world the atrocities being carried out.
The process of letting people disappear was carried out by the Argentinian junta in order to quell opposition and also avoid publicity for perceived violations of human rights. International opposition towards torture and the murder of political opponents generated unwanted attention on the state involved. The method was also striking fear into internal opponents. One form of disappearance was to horrify many. Having been arrested and hauled off to specific locations for torture, the captives where then put on board an aircraft and flown out to the Atlantic Ocean where they were dropped in while still alive. Numerous others were shot and buried in unmarked graves which have been exhumed since.
Figures vary from 10,000 to 30,000 according to the source regarding how many people were disappeared in this fashion from the period 1976-1983. The government simply denied any knowledge of what had happened and without any bodies they could feign ignorance.
In the case of Argentina this did not work as groups began to form and protest during its dictatorship. Protest groups such as the Mothers of The Plaza del Mayo began campaigning in 1977 for information; many were mothers of those who had vanished without a trace.
The file 700.26 in the ICFTU archive, ‘Argentina Desaparecidos’ details names, age, addresses, last seen location and occupations of those who disappeared. Perhaps the most heartbreaking file is 700.26, ‘Argentina Happenings’, with specific information including pictures of disappeared babies and children whose parents were deemed political opponents. Many of these were born in captivity and are believed to have been adopted while their parents were executed, growing up not knowing the fate of their real parents.
Text: Liam Conway