It was under of the common understanding among the participants of the International Democratic Education Conference that education is a right that all people should have access to, that Ana María Careaga offered her presentation at the conference yesterday.
She is a human rights activist, who carries out research and educates others on the consequences of state terrorism in Argentina. Careaga is the executive director of the Instituto Espacio para la Memoria (Space for Memory Institute), an entity in Buenos Aires that coordinates the collaboration of civil society organizations with the State and is responsible for disseminating public policy on memory and human rights.
How to educate for human rights is too broad a question. Careaga chose to approach it in terms of her experience at the Institute. She told the story of Melincué, a small province in Santa Fe where two unidentified tombstones became the beginning of this story of solidarity and are now the protagonists in human rights master classes.
“The most terrible is learned at once and the beautiful takes our life”. – Silvio Rodríguez, Canción del elegido (Song of the chosen one).
In Argentina, military coupes alternated with democracies in the XX Century; there were six coupes, in: 1930, 1943, 1955, 1962, 1966 and 1976. The last one, which lasted seven years, imposed a cruel regime of state terrorism in which human rights were extensively violated and more than 30 thousand people were murdered. More than 500 clandestine concentration camps were identified. There were forced disappearances, political prisoners, exiles, thousands detained, the missing were murdered. Aberrant crimes that were repeated throughout the entire country, Careaga explained. At the same time, the social circumstances that the country had to confront on its way to reconstruction following the military dictatorship were terrible. There were vast pockets of poverty and social exclusion from basic rights, including those of housing, health to education. This, aside from the silence, impunity and pain.
The story of Melincué is placed in the midst of that process of Argentine recovery. As professor in the town and her students had committed to identify, with a group of scientists, two bodies that had been buried in a local cemetery as NN (no name). The collective recovery of the remains of Cristina Cialceta, 22 year-old Mexican, and Yves Domergue, 23 year-old from France, who had both disappeared in September of 1976, led to the restoration of their identities in May 2010. The couple had been detained and had disappeared 36 years earlier. It is the story of the recovery of history, of commitment and of solidarity, in which a community of two thousand inhabitants chose not be indifferent in the face of horror.
“That generation, although they did not live through the dictatorship, was also affected by it, because the repression was to implement these economic models that have caused so much damage”, Careaga stated. “They exhumed the bodies, were able to take DNA from the body and identify these two people. When they were able to reinstate their names, the students made a huge placard that said: “We have come to tell you that it was worth it”.
“To be a teacher is not a simple task, but it is beautiful, it fills the soul”. - Juliana Cagrandi, Professor in Melincué
“This experience, of the school in Melincué, signifies a profound change for people. It can be considered a process of alternative education. It is about a different reality than official history. These youths were writing a true story. That has great value,” Careaga reflected.
Following her poignant presentation, Careaga decided to strike a conversation with the audience. Lilly Zeller spoke: “What happened in Argentina could happen anywhere. We think that it happens to others, but that it can’t happen to us. It could happen to us as well. When I went to Argentina to live for a while, I will never forget that when I arrived I saw some beautiful buildings. Then, everything changed when I read and came to know of the pain and the tragedy that the Argentine people had lived there. Forgetting is forbidden”.
Careaga reacted at once. She explained that the Mechanics School of the Armed Forces (Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada), that beautiful building that Zeller was referring to, was a concentration camp known as Cuatro Columnas (Four Columns). She added: “Terror can take the shape of a dictatorship, or of war, but it can also happen in other much more subtle ways: military bases, soft immersion strategies. Domination strategies that profoundly wound societies”.
José Santiago, a young Puerto Rican historian, attested to having lived repression by the State. “Police officers like dogs, assaulting students, parents and teachers during the strike at the University. I’m worried that what has happened in Puerto Rico may be the preamble to the terror lived in Argentina”. Careaga recommended that he looked up the precedents in the history of state terrorism, some of them compiled in publications for the Institute, where complex matters such as dominant economic groups and how the other, the enemy and the subversive are constructed in a process of repression.