Libertarian vice-presidential candidate Victoria Villarruel has criticised Argentina’s human rights policies and questioned the worth of the Museo Sitio de Memoria ESMA world heritage site.
Villarruel, 48, suggested in an interview on Tuesday that the former ESMA Navy Mechanics School – which was recognised as a World Heritage site by UNESCO earlier this year – would be put to better use as a school for children.
The ex-ESMA was home to a clandestine torture and extermination camp during Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship, an era during which tens of thousands of people were disappeared at the hands of the military junta.
Criticising Argentina’s approach to the era of state terrorism, Villarruel said she would like “all the victims” of the dictatorship era to be recognised and alleged that previous governments had engaged in widespread corruption in the funding of human rights policies.
"ESMA is 17 hectares that could be enjoyed by all the Argentine people, especially because at the time they were intended to be schools, and what we need most are schools," said the far-right lawmaker as she responded to a question over whether the site would continue to function as a site of memory should her running-mate Javier Milei win the election.
It is not the first time that the La Libertad Avanza vice-presidential candidate, who comes from a military family, has sought to cause controversy with comments on human rights and the dictatorship.
The national lawmaker and lawyer has sought to highlight killings committed by left-wing guerrillas before and during the dictatorship’s seven-year reign of terror and equate the killings with the state terrorism practised by the military junta.
"The human rights area has been a real black hole for the delivery of subsidies, state funds and payouts," said the national deputy
"I think there should be an audit of how those funds were delivered, because they were delivered while people live in the street hungry," she added in an interview with the TN news channel.
Villarruel, who chairs the Centre for Legal Studies on Terrorism (CELTYV) civil association that assists individuals accused of crimes against humanity, has repeatedly rejected the estimate from human rights groups that as many as 30,000 were disappeared by the dictatorship.
"It is an issue [that’s] very dear to the feelings of Argentines: there were victims here but not all the victims are there," she declared.
Last September, Villarruel led a controversial tribute in the Buenos Aires City Legislature that paid tribute to the victims of leftist guerrilla organisations during the turbulent years preceding the dictatorship.
"I would like the missing victims to be added," she insisted in the interview.
Villarruel has previously stated that she is against Argentina’s historic 2020 abortion reform law and said that she would like to "reopen the discussion" should Milei and her defeat ruling coalition candidate Sergio Massa and his running-mate, Agustín Rossi, in the November 19 run-off.
"For us [La Libertad Avanza] there has to be a discussion regarding this. Also, I would like the discussion to be based on scientific grounds and on serious arguments and not as ideologised as those that tinged the enactment of the law in 2020," she said, alleging without proof that "children are being aborted at term."
The Milei-Villarruel formula obtained almost 30 percent of the votes in the first presidential round of October 22, behind Massa-Rossi with 37 percent. Polls for the run-off put the two tickets in a technical tie.
Leading human rights campaigner and President of the iconic Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo NGO, Estela de Carlotto, criticised the national deputy's remarks.
"What Villarruel wants is to erase history. And history will not be erased because that is what the organisations that defend human rights and the Argentine people are there for," Carlotto told Futurock Radio in an interview. "The former ESMA is a global image of the horror in Argentina."
"Let Villarruel say whatever ridiculous thing she wants, we shouldn't give him a minute's attention," added the campaigner, who has been at the forefront of the struggle to identify those who were kidnapped as babies by the military junta and separated at birth from their slain families.
"We are working very hard not to lose memory, to advance the best for our society. We don't do anything with rancour, with anger. Let us waste time on this person. I am not going to waste a minute of my life," said de Carlotto.