Argentina couldn’t rewrite its history, and neither can the Conservatives

Memory is precious in politics; something  Labour lost sight of in 2010

Share

In 1986, the world’s cinemas were full of an Argentinian film, La Historia Oficial or The Official Version. A middle-class woman, Alicia, slowly discovers that the five-year-old girl, Gaby, whom she and her husband had “adopted”, had been born in a clandestine interrogation centre to a woman who was tortured and murdered as the friend of a falsely alleged subversive in the Argentinian dirty war of 1976-83. The film ends with Alicia leaving her husband, who has known the truth all along, and Gaby being reunited with her real grandparents.

It’s a touching film, but it obscures the even darker truth. Because thus far, no such “adoptive” parent has volunteered the truth in Argentina. Children and grandparents have worried away at the facts. But there has been no Alicia and whole swathes of middle-class Argentinian society have resolutely kept their silence about what they knew, what they could have known if they had ever thought to ask and what they should have known if they had not been either too implicated or too frightened to act.

This week I was shown the Navy Mechanical College in Buenos Aires where the “subversives” – some 30,000 of them – were held. In the eaves of the college they were kept in rows of tiny wooden cabins, always hooded, their hands and feet shackled and weighed down with a 20kg cannonball. Across the busy road there are now chic blocks of flats, a pizzeria and two cafés. There were then, too. Next door there’s a school. And in the basement, which is now just a large empty concrete space with a few bare light bulbs, there was a suite of torture chambers.

Those seized by the authorities would arrive bundled in the trunk of a car. They would be taken up to the attic and brought for their interrogation back down the same staircase used by the naval officers. Once a week some would be “transferred”. Injected with a dose of “vitamins”, they were drugged, taken to the airport, flown out over the ocean and dumped live into the waves. Only a few bodies ever appeared. When some landed on Uruguayan beaches, the dictatorship there burnt the bodies and demanded that the Argentinians dumped their victims further out to sea.

At one point the rest of the world caught wind of what was going on. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights came to investigate in 1979. The military reaction was to reshape the building and pretend that the events that the witnesses referred to could never have taken place.

When the dictatorship ended in 1983 – Argentina is celebrating its longest ever period of democracy – the immediate instinct was to try the leaders of the junta, but to grant an amnesty to the hundreds who were also involved in the brutal repression. When the court and the government decided to repeal the amnesty a decade ago, the military remained in violent denial. It refused to hand the building over and even tried to pull it down, so it was not until 2004 that it could be used as evidence in court.

Memory is the most precious thing in politics, so it’s a delightfully peculiar fact that the song “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” has become the rallying cry for the left-wing Peronists, even though it was written by a British lord, and a member of Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative Party to boot.

It is something Labour lost sight of in 2010 when we engaged in a protracted leadership campaign that allowed the coalition to rewrite British economic history. The partners tried to erase the fact that David Cameron and George Osborne supported and even endorsed Labour’s spending plans right up to the eve of the global financial crisis. They forgot all the reports Conservatives had written about cutting financial regulation and pretended they had been for tougher banking rules all along. And every speech they had made denying Gordon Brown’s responsibility for the years of economic growth was binned and replaced by a diatribe against the man they claimed had single-handedly brought about the economic woes of the world.

Such was the chutzpah involved in the great rewriting history exercise of 2010 that it comes as no surprise that the Conservatives have wiped their website of all pre-2010 material. There is, after all, another chunk of historic editing to be done about the Great Austerity Success of 2010-15.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Broker

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Vehicle Broker is req...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Data Capture / Telesales

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Front Of House Team Member

£16500 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific