Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Latin America’s violent conflicts. Many are buried in mass graves or as “no names”. One team is helping to identify those that have gone missing over the past four decades. The Argentine Team of Forensic Anthropology (EAAF), are a world-renowned scientific squad unearthing the evidence and listening to the stories that the bones of fatal victims of violence have to tell.
In episode one, Valeria Perasso and Alejandro Millán discover how the team was born and came to embrace a politically relevant task with scientific tools. They visit their lab and learn how they make bones speak. And, they speak to the sons, daughters, mothers and brothers who have received the remains of their long-sought “disappeared” from the forensics’s hands. What do these bones mean to them?
This past March 24th marked the fortieth anniversary of the 1976 ‘golpe de estado‘ which brought to power the most brutal and murderous military regime in Argentina’s history. Over the course of its seven-year-seven-months’ iron-fisted rule (initially aided and abetted by the United States) the regime “disappeared” and murdered some 30,000 Argentines in the name of implementing its so-called “Process of National Reorganization.”
Today, April 20th, is the fortieth anniversary of the sequestration and “disappearance” of my Argentine friend, Héctor Natalio Sobel, who is commemorated as the first of the many progressive lawyers “disappeared” and eliminated during those torturous years. Héctor was a passionate defender of human and labor rights. An “abogado laboralista” (labor lawyer), his professional life was dedicated to fighting for workers in work-place injury cases (primarily in Argentina’s notoriously dangerous construction industry), to bringing legal suits on behalf of individual workers who had been defrauded out of wages, as well as representing unions’ claims of violations of labor contracts by employers, etc.. He also defended political prisoners during the military regime that held power between 1968 and 1973. Furthermore, Héctor worked tirelessly with organizations dedicated to ameliorating the conditions of the tens-of-thousands of Buenos Aires “villeros” (the shanty town dwellers of the numerous “villas miserias” or “misery villages” that surrounded the nation’s capital and that we’re home to many of his worker plaintiffs). A “left-wing Peronista,” Héctor had been cautiously optimistic that the 1973 return to democracy and Perón’s return to Argentina after an eighteen year exile would usher in new era of national progress, renewal and justice. Those hopes were sadly and tragically misplaced.
Héctor –who had just turned thirty-eight at the time of his “disappearance”– left behind a wife (and fellow lawyer), Carmen Sara González de Sobel, as well as two young daughters, aged ten and eleven. Attached you will find a photo of Héctor with his daughters taken a year or so before the events of March-April 1976.
Héctor Natalio Sobel and daughters, c. 1974
Here are links to two articles that his younger daughter, Valeria, published in the Argentine newspaper Página-12 some ten years ago. “Extraños privilegios” and “Qué es ser hija de desaparecido” They are deeply moving as they humanize and personalize the abstractions associated with words like “guerra sucia” and “desaparecido.” I hope that those of you who read Spanish will take the time to have a look.
In solidarity and in remembrance of Héctor and all the other victims, saludos cordiales–
This is the video that Valeria Sobel makes reference to in one of the articles, the one moving image of her father and in color! It was filmed in one of the BsAs villas miserias (1973) by, I assume, a German television crew. The narration is in German(!) so I have no idea of what is being said. Héctor is the man in blue-striped shirt and dark-rimmed glasses. The “worker priest” with whom he appears was murdered by the ‘Triple A’ some months before the March ’76 coup. Sad, sad memories.