Written by Jonathan:
After an early start on Monday morning we tried unsuccessfully to catch a bus to the Palermo neighborhood on the shores of the Rio del Plata. All of the buses were full so we decided to split into groups to take taxis to the Parque de la Memoria. A stunning display on the edge of the massive river between Argentina and Uruguay, the park encompasses a visual history of the Argentine dictatorship, works of art commemorating those whose lives were lost, and multiple large walls of names and ages of those who disappeared and were killed. We used this opportunity to learn more about the involvement of the US in the dictatorships in Argentina and other South American nations. Our tour guide gave us a brief history of Operation Condor, the US military plan to install far right wing military dictatorships throughout South America for economic reasons.
After a long bus ride across town and a quick supermarket lunch we arrived at Automotores Orletti, a past auto shop that once served as a clandestine detention and torture center. The people who ran the memory site gave us an overview of the history of Argentina leading up to the 1976 coup, and the relations of the United States with Argentina at the time in particular. During this talk we enjoyed mate tea, a popular drink throughout Argentina that we had been meaning to try. The people at the shop told us all about Operation Condor, and the reactions of the Argentine people to such US interference.
We eventually got a full tour of the automotive shop, and it was striking to see that it had barely been changed since its days as a clandestine detention center. The rooms in which prisoners had been detained and tortured were particularly disturbing, as there were still bullet holes in the walls, and our guides gave us detailed descriptions of what had occurred there. It was also interesting to discover that one of the rooms in this building had been used as an office for Uruguayan soldiers and secret police, showing the true collaboration between Operation Condor countries.
Later in the night a group of us went to a cafe to meet with a woman who is involved with an organization that makes "baldosas," which are plaques on the sidewalk commemorating the last known location of people who had been disappeared during the junta. It is shocking to find such markers all across the city, in front of schools, houses, and businesses. This woman told us all about the process of identifying these locations and working with the family of the victim to create the baldosa.
Overall it was a great day of reflection and realization, as we learned more about the involvement of the United States in the atrocities that we have been hearing about. On Tuesday we look forward to continuing this learning by visiting ESMA, a former extermination camp during the junta.