There are so many “must see” sights on an Argentina travel list. Everyone goes hoping to see some tango, eat a good steak, and maybe stop by the Obelisk. Buenos Aires is a gorgeous city and you definitely don’t want to miss the city’s sites, but what do you real know about Argentina, besides the “tourist” stuff?
Buenos Aires is an incredible city today but like almost any great place in the world, if you look back far enough, you can find something truly ugly.
The Dirty War
Between 1976 and 1983 Argentina was ruled by a military dictatorship that is responsible for what is known as the “Dirty War.” The true conflict started much earlier, as far back as 1969 when paramilitary forces began the assaults on civilians. At least 30,000 people “disappeared” during this period though the actual number is likely much higher. The “desaparecido” were often simply civilians who disagreed with the government of the time. Men, women, children… any outspoken person or their families and friends were in danger. Many people were just simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Are you surprised to learn this? You shouldn’t be. Like many tragedies, the “Dirty War” in Argentina was hushed up, denied, and forgotten for many years. The families of those who were taken never forgot though. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who you can still see marching weekly in Buenos Aires, would not let the government forget their children. After years of demanding recognition by this group and many others, Buenos Aires finally in 1997 opened the Memorial Park – A Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism.
Parque de la Memoria
This park, located in the Northern area of the city, between the river and the airport, is dedicated to remembering the “desaparecido” and all those who were killed, tortured, or taken during the “Dirty War.” The park was designed as a public space where the names of the 30,000 known disappeared could be presented in a permeant way. The names have each been carved on a concrete slab which are stacked together in a wall that runs around the park. Artists from Argentina and around the world have also contributed sculptures to the park that represent the fear of the times but also the power to overcome.
I had the unique opportunity to visit the park with a man who lost both his father and brother to the “Dirty War.” There names both appear on the monument wall, along with the names of men and women of all ages. Children as young as 6 are listed and women who were pregnant at the time of their disappearance are also listed as such on the wall. These people were not just kidnapped; many were tortured and forced to give up names of fellow comrades who also despised the military dictatorship.
As you walk around the wall, you can touch each of the names. This element of the monument was intentional as the designers hoped families who were robbed of their loved ones would finally have a physical spot to morn.
Unfortunately, the park is a rarely seen sight for many tourists. It is unlikely to appear on many Argentina travel maps or books. In fact when I visited the park on a beautiful spring afternoon there were all of about 10 people there. Anyone who has been to Argentina knows how much they love their parks and the emptiness of this park is shocking.
The fact is that many in Argentina still wish to forget the “Dirty War.” Many in political offices today still have ties to the military dictatorship and the memorial, which was given the to the families of the disappeared as an act of condolence, is overlooked as an empty space by many residents of the city.
I urge you to take time out of your busy Buenos Aires “sight seeing” packed tour to visit the Parque de la Memoria, even if you have no knowledge of Argentinian history or politics, even if you don’t understand all of what you see. The souls of the people buried in the famous Recoleta Cemetery are remembered by countless tourists every year. So too should the souls of the “desaparecido” be remembered.
We must remember as we travel that our mission is not just to see the “sights” and enjoy our stay. Travel is about connecting the world and learning from each other. Tragedy and evil has happened on every inch of our globe but we cannot simply forget the past mistakes. We must learn from each other and we must learn to protect each other, across international borders and beyond political camps.