Home Institution

Columbia University

Publication Date

Spring 2010

Program Name

Argentina: Social Movements and Human Rights


Thirty four years after the military dictatorship in which 30,000 Argentine citizens were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered, their families and Argentine society as a whole continue to search for the truth of what happened to their “disappeared.” This search, however, has not been easy. To start, the military leaders carried out their reign of terror in incredibly secret ways – burying many bodies in unmarked mass graves or, famously, throwing bodies out of airplanes in the Atlantic Ocean – making the recovery and identification of the remains almost impossible. Although organizations like the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and the Latin American Initiative for the Identification of Disappeared Persons are working harder than ever towards the cause of identification, of the 30,000 disappeared they have only recovered 500 bodies, and of these bodies they have only identified 86. The question becomes, therefore, what is the motivation to continue the search for Argentina’s disappeared thirty-four years later given that it is known and widely known acknowledged what happened to them? Do the family members of the disappeared support to the continuation of the search, and, if so, for what reasons? The answer to these questions, it seems, lies in an analysis of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team with the opinions of different family members of the disappeared and sociological, anthropological, and psychological theories as a lens. In order to facilitate this, a study was carried out in the Capital Federal district of Buenos Aires, Argentina from May 3rd, 2010 to June 8th, 2010. With the help of CELS – an organization that supports the academic study of topics related to the military dictatorship – theories of “traumatic” and “ambiguous” loss as well as the cultural right to mourning and the concept of the “public demand” for truth were identified and studied as a foundation to the project. Next, three family members of disappeared were interviewed: a member of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo – Línea Fundadora who has yet to find the remains of her daughter, a man who’s disappeared brother’s remains have been identified but not returned to him yet, and finally a member of the human rights organization Familiares who’s brother has been both identified and buried. The study of these three interviews within the framework of the aforementioned theories served as the main point of analysis for the project and brought into light various important conclusions pertaining to how different family members view the work of the Forensic Anthropology Team. Ultimately, this small study seems to suggest that the state of the individual family member’s personal mourning process – especially as it relates to the status of the identification of their loved one’s remains – strongly affects their reasoning to support the continued search for the disappeared. It seems, therefore, that the Argentina Forensic Anthropology Team – with the foundational support of family members of the disappeared – has years of work ahead of it.


Social and Cultural Anthropology


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