by Amaranta Wright
New Internationalist magazine, July 1998
When Argentina's military dictatorship fell 14 years ago,
the kidnappers, torturers and contract killers nervously crept
back into society and prepared themselves for hard times. They
may have received official pardons for the 30,000 people they
helped to 'disappear' in the Dirty War against 'left-wing subversives'.
But the fear must still have hung over them that one day there
would be a settling of accounts in the new democracy.
They need not have worried. Despite efforts to exclude them
from public life, the men who carried out one of the worst atrocities
in the history of Argentina have found a lucrative niche.
Noticias, Argentina's leading serious news weekly, revealed
in a recent investigation that successful security firms are now
being run by men who were once key figures in the Navy's 'intelligence
unit'. The Navy was the dictatorship's most brutal arm: hundreds
of live prisoners were thrown from its helicopters and planes.
The liberalized economy of Argentina has produced, as elsewhere,
extremes of wealth and poverty accompanied by a growth in crime.
'The unstable climate has given these dictatorship strongmen
the perfect opportunity to privatize their experience,' says Maria
Caeati of the human-rights research group CELS. 'Security firms
use ax-torturers because they have the experience to execute their
tasks with more rigor and conviction than anyone.'
'Repressors have been able to set up companies and monopolize
the market with all the money they made during the dictatorship,'
says Laura Bonaparte, spokesperson for the Families of the Disappeared
Commission. The organization estimates that $70 million was made
from selling the property - and even the children - of the people
Former Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo first highlighted
the issue in 1995 when he accused the country's leading entrepreneur,
Alfredo Yabran, of hiring three ex-Navy intelligence officers
as security chiefs for his murky business empire, which includes
Argentina's private postal service.
Roberto Naya, a graduate of the Navy School (ESMA), worked
for Alfredo Yabran's conglomerate and made it one of the biggest
clients for the services offered by two of his former colleagues.
Victor Dinamarca, who co-ordinated 42 torture centers in ESMA,
and Adolfo Donda Tigel, who has also been identified as a leading
torturer, now operate companies providing a wide range of security
All three have denied their violent past and their links with
each other. But some of their contract workers - lesser-ranked
torturers - show no sign of discretion and talk proudly of their
'I don't regret torturing and killing,' says Julian 'The Turk'
Simon, a big, bushy man who transports valuables for one of the
security companies (which he refused to name). 'If I was given
a cause I believed in I would torture again. It is my profession.
That is where my experience lies.'
'The Turk' is known in human-rights circles as having been
one of the country's cruelest interrogators. He has been identified
in 58 cases of torture at ESMA, but is suspected of many more.
After the dictatorship he went into hiding. Today he sits in a
grungy bar every morning, waiting for bloody errands that no-one
else will do. If you calm his nerves and can be patient for long
enough he will tell you how he tortured with electric shocks.
'I am not a dangerous man to normal people,' he says. 'I don't
kill without a contract. But there are still too many leftist
influences, too many intellectuals and too much scum in the country.
If someone told me to take them out, I'd do it.'
Simon laments the fact that his principles make him too much
of a liability for the company to employ him directly. He makes
extra money in his spare time, selling candies and firearms But
he is grateful that his former colleagues give him work from time
to time. They do so out of nostalgia, he says.
Even if human-rights groups could expose the links between
former torturers, because of the pardon there would be little
they could do about it. While the thought of killers mingling
with citizens on the streets of Buenos
Aires terrifies many, it doesn't seem to bother others who
live in the rich security-guarded suburbs and private villages.
Martin Forrester knows the military past of the gatekeeper
who greets him every day as he leaves his house in the plush suburb
of San Isidro. 'We laugh with him because he keeps telling us
there'll be a coup next month. He's crazy... But he keeps the
robbers out. That's the main thing,' says Forrester.
However, men like 'The Turk', who seem to cherish their experience
as torturers, are slowly giving up on Argentina. There are other
campaigns to be fought in other parts of the world where their
profession can be put to better - and more lucrative - use.
'I want to be employed for what I'm good at, in a cause where
I'm appreciated,' says Simon. 'The war against narco-traffickers
is the next one to be won. If any foreign institution requires
my expertise, I'll be here, ready.'
Amaranta Wright is a freelance journalist based in Buenos
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