Friday, December 2, 2011

Torture Tours, Part 4

Yesterday, December 1, was the 35th anniversary of the disappearance of María Eugenia Sanllorenti de Massolo, my brother-in-law’s first wife, about whom I wrote briefly in a blog item last July. In 1976, in the university city of La Plata (pictured above), “Maru” fell into the hands of unknown kidnappers; her whereabouts remained unknown until early this year, when the Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense (Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team) identified her remains in a mass grave in the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires.
The EAAF, to go by its Spanish-language acronym, is a group of forensic anthropologists who have worked to identify the victims of state-sponsored violence not just in Argentina, but nearly 30 other countries around the world – ranging from Angola and Bosnia to El Salvador, Guatemala, and even Iraqi Kurdistan. Its work is accessible not just to jurists and professionals but, in a sense, also to tourists: the EAAF was responsible, for instance, for excavating and identifying remains at the so-called Club Atlético (pictured above and below) in the Buenos Aires barrio of San Telmo. It’s not a conventional tourist attraction, but if one goal of travel is to learn, the Club Atlético is an eloquent reminder of clandestine atrocities that often take place just out of sight, but in our names, and sometimes just beneath our feet.
Readers of this blog, and my guidebooks to Argentina and Buenos Aires, can meet at least one member of the EAAF team. Patricia Bernardi (pictured below, at right) is a partner in La Demorada, a stylish B&B cum art space in the village of San Antonio de Areco, the “gaucho capital” of Buenos Aires province, less than two hours from the Argentine capital.
One of the prime movers in creating the EAAF was U.S. forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow, whose work brought about several convictions in Argentina and elsewhere (in Iraq, he testified against Saddam Hussein’s crimes). Snow also participated in the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to identify the remains of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in San Vicente, Bolivia, as detailed in Anne Meadows’s Digging Up Butch and Sundance.

Meanwhile, the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Social Justice is creating the Clyde Snow Social Justice Award to honor his human rights legacy, and is seeking donations to create a permanent endowment. Snow himself will receive the first award but, in the coming years, it will go to “individuals or organizations around the world whose work contributes to the re-humanization of victims of human rights abuses.”

In a better Argentina, perhaps, Maru might have survived to be my concuñada – a Spanish-language term meaning my brother-in-law’s wife – but I was not part of the family until five years later. I do know her son, now my nephew, who has grown up to be a remarkably well-adjusted professional despite losing his mother as a newborn. In October, my wife flew to Argentina for a small family ceremony in the city of Tandil, Maru’s birthplace, that included both him and Maru’s own mother.

My wife says that the identification and burial of Maru’s remains has provided some sense of “closure,” to use a widely abused word. Real closure, though, would come from identifying, trying, convicting and sentencing the individual(s) who abducted, tortured and murdered her. Of course, 35 years later, it’s no longer certain that those responsible are still alive themselves.

For what it’s worth, our own daughter is a third-year anthropology student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is presently taking a class in forensic anthropology there.

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