The Night of the Pencils: When Argentina Junta Hunted the Youth
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In mid-September 1976, a group of 10 teenagers were abducted and disappeared by members of the Argentina junta's state security forces in the Argentine city of La Plata, about 33 miles from capital Buenos Aires. It was the beginning of the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina until 1983.

Archive photo of brutality under Argentine brutality

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The teens, all aged between 16 and 18, were captured in the middle of the night, of Sept. 16-17, by masked men who violently raided their houses and took them to clandestine detention centres in what is known as the "Night of the Pencils," because they were all idealistic high school students.

The students were illegally imprisoned and tortured, only four of them survived. Six of were brutally killed, adding numbers of dead and missing from dictatorship.

Francisco, Maria Claudia, Claudio, Horacio Daniel and Maria Clara remain disappeared. Pablo Diaz, Gustavo Calotti, Emilce Moler and Patricia Miranda miraculously survived.

Most of them had political militancy backgrounds as many of them had attended the 1975 spring protests in which they demanded the restoration of a preferential transportation fare, a benefit seen by them as a social gain lost due to the authoritarianism of the military government of their province.

After the military coup of March 24, 1976, students of La Plata, like all activists in Argentina, were persecuted because of their activism in left-wing organizations.

The dictatorship managed to sweep this terrible episode under the rug until 1985, when the testimony of one survivor, Pablo Diaz, was heard during the the Trial of the Juntas, the judicial trial of the dictatorship's executioners.

"They stripped me and put me on a cot. I was screaming and they told me they would give me a torture session that I would never forget. Then they burned my lips ... I could smell the burnt flesh and they were asking me to give names," Pablo Diaz said before the court.

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According to Diaz, the 10 teenagers were kept in underwear in flooded cells sometimes containing 10 centimeters of water. Women were tortured and raped, he recounts, “One day I heard the guards discussing the fate of one my colleagues, 'she died, throw her to the dogs,' 'No,' answered another guard, 'bury her, you killed her.'"

During Diaz's testimony, neither the prosecutor nor the defense lawyers asked questions, inside the room there was absolute silence, only people crying could be heard.

What happened on September 16 became known worldwide because it epitomized many of the crimes committed by so-called state terrorism, and because it is was committed against a vulnerable social group—the youth of Argentina.

But this horrible story is also a milestone of social memory for human rights activists in Argentina, raising questions about the relationship of official history and trauma: What is remembered? How do Argentines remember what happened? And how they can prevent something like this to happen again?

Human rights activists Emilce Moler was one of four who—like Pablo Díaz—survived the cruel episode, spoke with teleSUR on the 40th anniversary of the Night of the Pencils.

Moler acknowledged how difficult it has been to rebuild her life and reconstruct the events that began that night when she was brutally tortured by agents of the dictatorship.

“I was abducted because I opposed the political project of the military, I was member of a Peronist association … I was 17 and was handing out flyers and pasting posters saying 'Down with the dictatorship,' so they saw me as an enemy and they didn’t care that I was just a fragile small girl of about 1.5 meters and weighed about 47 kilograms,” Moler said.

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The now-human right activist believes that such horrible episodes under the military rule mean that today social activists and the public in general to the streets and express their demands without being abducted, imprisoned, tortured disappeared or killed.

However, Moler said she would have liked to pay tribute to her fallen comrades with a different kind of government —referring to the government of current President Mauricio Macri—“A more inclusive government, friendly with human rights and not a government whose president believes that the issue of human rights is a 'curro,'" a slang term used in Argentina meaning a "fraud" or "illegal business."

“The right-wing government that currently rules in Argentina is ravenous about economics, just like the dictatorship was. They don’t allow the economy that comes from the people and they don’t like those who oppose their plans,” Moler said.

Moler believes the Night of the Pencils is still relevant today, especially because the crimes committed by the dictatorship have not been prosecuted and at least 25 former police or military officers are currently on trial for crimes against humanity.

During the military dictatorship, an estimated 30,000 political dissidents were murdered or disappeared by the security forces. It is believed some 250 people under 18 years of age were among them.


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