In anticipation of how Argentina’s presidential debates with Javier Milei tomorrow and on October 8 might turn out, the recent vice-presidential debate on September 20 on the TN television news channel featured Victoria Villarruel as its exclusive protagonist because the other candidates opted to polarise against the La Libertad Avanza representative.
Victoria Villarruel, 48, is the daughter, niece and granddaughter of military officers who has for many years been an activist for the recognition of military actions during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. A lawyer, she only has brief political experience, beginning in 2021 as a deputy alongside Javier Milei.
The post of vice-president originated in the United States Constitution to ensure automatic succession to the Presidency and is only important when that happens. Milei’s running-mate is especially important because her possibilities of having to succeed to the Presidency, although always remote, are objectively greater, given the possible difficulties of governance facing a La Libertad Avanza administration as a party with only two years of history, with zero governors or mayors and a handful of deputies and senators. Jamil Mahuad, the president who dollarised Ecuador (although his work lasted), had to resign within a fortnight due to the tensions triggered.
But the recent vice-presidential debate featuring Villarruel failed to focus on that eventuality, nor on the candidate’s degree of knowledge of the disruptive economic issues which are the strong points for the proposals of a Milei government. This ignorance adds more risk to the sustainability of their application.
Should La Libertad Avanza triumph, the vice-presidential candidate is thinking of concentrating on issues of security and defence, thus making her denialism of the crimes against humanity committed by the dictatorship doubly worrying.
As a deputy, Villarruel has every right to demand recognition of the military victims of the guerillas as well as of the honest majority of servicemen who did not participate in the crimes of the last dictatorship, many of whom fought honourably on the Malvinas Islands, not to mention the totally democratic state workers staffing today’s Armed Forces, who deserve the highest praise from society. But all that does not give her the right to deny the existence of crimes against humanity. Victoria Villarruel has denied the existence of state terrorism on several occasions and as a candidate has repeated the formula: “If there were crimes, they have already been tried.” It’s not a question of “if there were,” since “there were,” a denialism inadmissible in a national lawmaker and vice-presidential candidate.
It is probable that Kirchnerism so heavily abused the praiseworthy second drive they gave to the trials of dictatorship crimes, trying to appropriate the symbolic capital of the Madres and Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo by making recovered grandchildren their candidates and government officials, that a part of society not experiencing the return of democracy and the trial of the military juntas (promoted with far more merit by 1983-1989 UCR president Raúl Alfonsín), believes that “the human rights of the 1970s” are a symbol that belongs to Kirchnerism and not all society. Those annoyed with this government thus vote for La Libertad Avanza also to confront the human rights organisations as well as many other of the provocations of the politically correct associated with Kirchnerism: abortion, gay marriage, inclusive language, social justice, Abuelas President Estela Barnes de Carlotto, Alfonsín and even Pope Francis.
But there are issues which should go beyond electoral speculation, such as crimes against humanity. Those youngsters calling for more concern for current human rights and becoming irritated with “the human rights of the 1970s” as an issue for old people might well be right. But we adults, and much more so those aspiring to public offices, must not exploit that frustration by banalising the crimes of the 1976-1983 dictatorship and finding incentives for the ignorance of those who did not live in the last decades of the past century.
That is why it is imperious to approve now, with the same speed with which the government secured approval for amending the fourth category of income tax scales, a law to penalise denialism but now with the votes of Juntos por el Cambio and the entirety of the opposition.
Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Spain,the Czech Republic, Israel, Latvia and Liechtenstein have legislation penalising, with different degrees of severity, those justifying or denying the Holocaust. In France being an apologist for war crimes or crimes against humanity, Holocaust denial or denial of the 1915 genocide committed against the Armenians under the Ottoman Empire are all considered criminal offences.
And the resurgence in this century of partisans of the extreme right has made it necessary for first Austria and then, in 2005, Germany to amend their Criminal Codes to define the exaltation of Naziism as a manifestation of the crime of incitement to racial hatred, an offence which contemplates prison sentences of up to 10 years in the case of Austria and three years in Germany.
In Argentina various bills have been presented to penalise denialism, although they have often lost parliamentary status due to the inactivity of our Congress, a fact often motivated by extreme political polarisation. Such is the case of the bills presented by the deputies Cecilia Moreau (2016 and 2018); Daniel Pérsico (2017); Horacio Pietragalla (2019) and Patricia Mounier (2021), as well as by Senator Alfredo Luenzo in the latter year. Last year this initiative was repeated by the deputies Estela Hernández in March and Eduardo Fernández in September. Those presented this year by María Carolina Moisés in June and Gisela Marziotta in July await treatment in the lower house’s Criminal Legislation Committee while Senator María Inés Pilati Vergara also presented a bil back in July. Just as the rise of the extreme right 60 years after Naziism obliged Germany to toughen its punishment of growing denialism, Argentina is undergoing a similar process, 40 years after the dictatorship, making penalisation more necessary.
As part of the celebrations of the 40 years since recovering democracy, Editorial Perfil is distributing in schools a re-edited compilation of El Diario del Juicio, its 1985 publication covering the 18 months which the juntas trial lasted.
On the same day as the vice-presidential debate, the publication was relaunched in the solemn courtroom of the Cámara Federal del Palacio de Tribunales, where the military juntas of the dictatorship stood trial and were convicted.
The date was not arbitrary. On September 20, 1985 the CONADEP (Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas) truth commission delivered its Nunca Más report, containing the accumulation of the evidence for crimes against humanity which served as the basis for the subsequent trial. Four of the five presidential candidates (Patricia Bullrich, Sergio Massa, Juan Schiaretti and Myriam Bregman) were present with their testimony: the only one refusing to do so was the libertarian Javier Milei. In my final words to close the ceremony, I called upon the political parties not to await a new Congress but to approve a law to penalise denialism now.
All the bills to penalise denialism come from Peronist legislators. In Alfonsín’s honour the Unión Cívica Radical should present one synthesising them all, thus uniting the opposition with the government in an issue that goes beyond party lines.