Uki Goñi – Oslo Freedom Forum

Uki Goñi – Oslo Freedom Forum


Thank you for having us all today.
It’s so important to hear these words we’ve just heard and the words we’ll be hearing later in the course of this same day
and tomorrow. I’m here… I can’t say that I’m a human
rights campaigner or a human rights advocate. I’ve never formed an organization or
been a member of an organization. I am here because as a young man, in my early twenties, I worked in a small
newspaper in Buenos Aires, a small newspaper published in English
for the British community call The Buenos Aires Herald, in a
large Spanish-speaking nation. It was a newspaper that wrote
mostly about cricket test results, bridge parties, flower shows, I covered lots of flower shows for the Herald when I started… A British community newspaper. And
then in 1976 a terrible coup happened in Argentina.
Maybe some of you know about that. For seven years Argentina was ruled by very bloody, very violent generals, who decided, as their preferred method of committing the terrible genocide that they committed, was to kidnap their victims, plainclothes man would arrive in unmarked cars, take the victims, rip the victims
from their homes, take them to death camps that were set up
all over Argentina, Nazi style, and rather than cremating the bodies as the Nazis did, although they did that too, they would
throw them alive from aeroplanes into the waters of the
South Atlantic Ocean, at first they used to throw them out dead,
but then they discovered that dead bodies floated and washed up on the coasts, and that was not what they wanted, they wanted
the bodies to disappear completely, so they… instead they learned to drug them and
throw them into the water so that they would swallow the water and sink. Now, for us… I would like you to have a
look at these men, because, I don’t believe in politics, I don’t believe in ideology, I
don’t believe in religion, not because I don’t respect people’s ideologies, or
religion or politics, but because I don’t think that’s the reason these crimes are committed.
I think these crimes occur because the men who rise to power are psychopaths.
I think they occur because the society the live in has… the society itself has reached a point where it is very
sick, after decades, for example, in Argentina there’d been decades of military dictatorship… I want you to look at their faces. I don’t know if that’s the face of a man
ideologically driven or just a very sick psychopath, and
this face is… well… Their names don’t matter. Their
names change throughout history. It could be Hitler, Mussolini, Harguindeguy in this case. But the difference is that, of course, when they rise to this power they have… they are anointed by the fact that they’re rulers of the country, and they have
the support of institutions, like the Church in this case. And what happened in
Argentina is that there was no civillan response to
the thousands of disappearances that were happening. The press did not report on it, the
political parties did not come forward with it… Nothing happened. It happened in total..
What I call the “Wall of Silence” happened. Now, at the newspaper where we worked, the Buenos Aires Herald, women started coming and saying: “You know, last night they came home, they took my
kid out of bed, he’s gone, I’ve been to the police station, the
military barracks, I can’t find him anywhere. Would you publish a story about this?”
And I, because I spoke better Spanish, I have an Argentine family background, so I spoke better Spanish than the Americans and the British working at the newspaper, so it was my
job to, you know, take the reports that these women brought. And I said: “But why don’t you go to the big
Argentine newspapers, the big Spanish-language dailies?” And they said… “Hijo!” They would say, “We’ve gone, they
won’t even let us through the door.” Because the Argentine newspapers would not publish this. So the Herald became the clearinghouse for these kind of stories. And this is the kinda terror that was
going on at the time. To give you an idea. And it was just not that they were, you know, terrorism was an issue in Argentina, but it
was not a real large threat, the number of people killed by
terrorists in Argentina was in the low hundreds, there was never a danger of
a terrorist takeover in Argentina, they never occupied a large area of land, and… This is the presidential palace, it is still
the presidential palace today. And this was the military weapon of choice. Those of
you who are Americans will recognize, that’s a 1960s Ford Falcon. The Ford Motor Company kept building
Ford Falcons in Argentina into the 1980s, this same model, and the green Ford Falcon was the car that they would use to kidnap
people. And when I came home from working at the Herald at that time, I was 23-24 years old, there would be one of these green Ford Falcons parked outside my house every night with two thugs inside it. And of course we were getting bomb threats
continually at the Herald, one of our journalists had to leave Argentina
because of the threats, our editor Robert Cox, who was a a British
citizen, had to leave Argentina as well. They would sit there waiting and I would
think, going into my house, I said: “Ok, if they
start shooting, you know, I’ll throw myself on the floor, or something, and I can dodge the bullets.” But the truth is the only bullet you can’t dodge is when they lie straight in your face.
When they’re telling you: “People are not disappearing.” When they hire American PR companies to
report to the world that what reporters are writing about Argentina is not true. Luckily I did survive and I’m here. Now these are the women who came to
see us at the Herald, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo who started meeting in
1977, just a few at a time, at the… in front of the presidential palace. This is… When the women came to
see me, and I recognize their faces, I know them. This Lilia Orfanó. This is how they came. This is the
state they were in. Their kids had just been taken. We didn’t know that they were being “disappeared.” We thought they… you know, that they were being taken to police stations, they’ll be released at some point. And this was me, you know, I was 23 years old. I was thinking of dating. I was
thinking of forming a rock band. And suddenly I had to deal with… How do I
report this? How do I report it responsibly? How do I do it without risking my own life? Without putting the lives of these women in danger? And these photos that you see of these
early marches were not taken by Argentine journalists. They were taken by the
foreign press, who would take these pictures, and those are the only ones that survived because the Argentine press would not send reporters. And this is the mothers today. Taty Almeida,
whose son disappeared. And I took these pictures of them so that you could see
that they’re still marching today. Three decades after the fact, still
looking for justice, because trials are going on in Argentina. I testified at two of the trials, one only recently, a couple
of months ago. And this is the kind of stories we wrote at
the Herald. This is our editor, a British editor,
called Robert Cox. I was 23, Bob must have been about
43 at the time. And he was arrested at one point, he was
“disappeared” for two days. And they took him to the basement of the
Central Police Headquarters. And he went down the steps, and when he got down
there, there was a huge swastika painted on the wall. And underneath the swastika it said “National Socialism.” And he was stripped naked and
interrogated. And he was taken to cells and even though he was not physically
tortured himself, he could hear the torture going on in all the other cells.
And fortunately he was released. And this was a woman called Renée
Eppelbaum. Her three kids were taken. All three of her kids. She lost all her children. She came to
see me. I became very close with with Renée. She was kind of a substitute mother. And I
would ask myself: “If I’m kidnaped, will my mother do for me what Renée is doing for her children?
So many cases. This girl never turned up again.
A pregnant girl whose life we did manage to save, Ana María Careaga, after we published this, I wrote
the story, after this was published, she appeared. But then they
kidnapped her mother, who’s the woman who brought me the story, and her mother is still “disappeared” today. These are all… Babies were kidnapped
as well even though… Sometimes we were able to save some
babies lives by publishing their pictures. In this case we weren’t able to. These people never appeared again. This
woman was the mother of a young man who was “disappeared.” And then after they kidnapped her
son they started following her all over Buenos Aires. She couldn’t stay at her home, she was sleeping in hotels, she was sleeping with friends. She was a teacher, they they would hang out outside the school. And she came, and she’s holding her ID
card, if you see. Everybody in Argentina has and ID card. And she said: “Please take a picture me take a picture, because they might kidnap
me and I need to have proof that I existed.” And this is the picture we took and we
published it. More stories of… The police would
break up the demos. I would go to the demonstrations of the Mothers and they would, you know, chase the mothers all over Buenos Aires. And this was the turning point, and it’s nice to say it here in Oslo: In 1980, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, who was a
human rights campaigner in Argentina, won the Nobel Peace Prize. And this is the real problem for the
military and a real problem for the Argentine press who didn’t want to report it. It was a turning point. And as you can see
I was able to write a story that was the first time I actually put my name on a
story, when I thought it was safe enough to do it. Because the mothers were able to march
peacefully without being touched by the police for the first time. Because Pérez Esquivel had won the Nobel Peace Prize. And that’s him there at this March. We were talking about individuals, in this case the story… you know, Robert Cox, who was the editor of the Herald, is not here today and I’m here in his stead. I think he would have liked to
have been here but he had another engagement. And he’s the unsung hero in this case. Bob on his own realized how grave it was what was happening in Argentina.
And he put the power of the Buenos Aires Herald behind the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. The Herald became the voice of the
Mothers. It’s not that we did it. But we did help by magnifying the voice of the Mothers at
the time. As Bob has said, I’ve heard him once in an interview, he said: “It was an honor to be able to shout and
scream, at that time, when nobody else was shouting.” And that’s what Bob did. And these are
like family pictures. That’s Bob and his wife who were so brave. But I just wanted you to see that at the same
time we really leading perfectly normal lives. I would go from the Herald and
spend the weekend at Bob’s home with him and his five kids and his wife. Play guitar for the kids. This is Bob at
the office at work at the Buenos Aires Herald. That’s me at the Buenos Aires Herald at the time. And
this picture, which looks so innocent, that’s Bob and his family in 1979. And again, like the picture the lady I showed you before, Bob had this picture taken because his wife…
They tried to kidnap his wife, they were threatening his children, they
would write letters to his children threatening the family, and they got so scared they said, they got a photographer from the
newspaper and they stood… that’s the street outside their home, and said: “Let’s have our picture taken in case we’re kidnapped, so that we can prove to the world that we existed.” And this is them a few days later
leaving Argentina, because they just couldn’t go on, in 1979. I stayed on at the Herald for
a few years after that. But I have to tell you
something. It was not easy at the Herald because the people at the Herald did not necessarily support what Bob and I and a couple of
others that were… you know, the rest the people at the Herald did not like what we were doing. And Bob, who did not like going to embassy cocktails or coming to events
such as this, and I’m not sure I’m too happy about being here, but you have
to do it, because it’s not for you. And Bob started going to embassy cocktails, because he said: “Uki, I have to go, because I have to tell people what’s happening because nobody
believes what’s happening.” And I remember he went to an embassy cocktail and he came back so upset, and he said: “Uki, I was there and this American woman came up, and she’s a reader of the Herald, and…” We got lots of flak saying, you know, why
you’re writing about these communists? And this otherwise very sane and cultured woman said to him: “Why are you writing about communists, you know, fuck human rights!” That’s what we were told. And that’s what we had to put up with. And, well, that’s Bob and I, you know, today. Now this, and I think, I don’t know, my time is up, I see. Taty Almeida, whose son is still “disappeared,” I would like her to say what the Herald
meant for her and what the Herald mean for the Mothers, when we were able to publish what they
were feeling, and this is her meeting with Bob a couple of months ago. And I’m glad to have this to show it to you, so you can hear it in her own words. “That someone not born in Argentina and a newspaper as important as the Buenos Aires Herald should lend a voice to the pain of us women such marvelous courage you were very brave we did it because they were our children We’ve always been with you! Yes, we know, look, I swear I’m still moved when I think about how you supported us the risk you took and your solidarity was marvelous because nobody else did it and thank God you’re still alive and very handsome! And you’ll keep backing us, of course! And I don’t think there’s anything I can add to that. Thank you so much.

Danny Hutson

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