Hello Longhorns! My name is Joelean Hall and am starting my senior year studying abroad in Buenos Aires. I am majoring in International Relations and am taking classes at Torcuato Di Tella in Latin American international relations, regional politics as well as an introduction to a neuroscience cognition course (confused this for a sociology class but I’m happy I’m sticking with it!).
More specifically, I signed up for a a course on militancy and dictatorships in Latin America during the Cold War. As an assignment, our professor required us to visit and take a guided tour of the an illegal detention and torture center now turned museum called el Museo Sitio de Memoria. Situated only a few blocks from the national stadium in Buenos Aires, it primarily serves as evidence of the state terror the military dictatorship inflicted on civilians. This location was a part of a network of clandestine and illegal centers located throughout Argentina. The tour (which was *free*) lasted about 2 hours and only covered the main parts of the building called “the casino.” I wouldn’t go into great detail about the methods of torture that were described to me but it is enough to say that of the roughly 5,000 civilians that passed through the doors of this building, only 250 survived to recall the terrors of it. With approximately 30,000 “desaparecidos” (people that have disappeared) between the 70s and 80s, it is still evident that there is an unresolved trauma and conflict in Argentina still.
Among the most difficult things to understand and digest about the tour, was the international intervention aspect. Both France and the United States aided the dictatorships in different ways — The United States provided political and military training and courses in la Escuela de las Americas at the Panama Canal that taught different torture methods in the 1950s and 60s. In addition to that, the United States created and backed el Plan Cóndor, an intelligence coordination between the US and right-wing dictatorships in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, and Bolivia to eradicate communist influences and ideas through state repression and terror on civilians. Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan along with the CIA provided both technical and military support for these dictatorships until the end of most of them in the 1990s.
After the tour, my friends and I were feeling a mix of strong emotions we didn’t quite know how to deal with. Thankfully just a block away, there was a cultural center called Centro Cultural de la Memoria Haroldo Conti with a *free* play, open to the public. The play was comical albeit difficult to understand as it has a lot to do with the culture of north of Argentina — a region I have yet to visit. This helped us relax a bit and enjoy the rest of our evening.
A main takeaway from the whole day for me was not only how much more I have to learn about Argentina but also how can I get involved more at my university and community. I feel an integral part of living in another country is not only being here as a tourist to explore but as a member of society to both learn from and contribute to. As an American citizen and UT student it is also imperative we understand not just the culture and fun of a country, but the history and relations it may have with our own. For so many — if not all — countries in Latin America, U.S. military, political, and economic intervention is apart of their history, written in usually by force. What is our responsibility now, 40-50 years after? I think one step is commemorating these events, elevating the history of this time frame in a way that respects the losses of individuals, families, and the peace of mind for a society for some time.
I hope this isn’t too heavy for a first blog post but it is important and will be an impactful aspect of my time here. Stay woke and Hook ‘em!
This post was contributed by Joelean Hall, a 2018 Global Ambassador.
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