Terror and Public Spaces: Reconciling Argentina’s Tragic Past in the Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada

Rosana Womack


During Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-1983), the Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) was the military’s largest, most active clandestine center, with   an estimated 5,000 dissidents disappearing through its doors. Once a revered and honored learning institution, ESMA became the locus and emblem of torture, death, slave labor, illegal adoptions, and other crimes.  ESMA’s fate after Argentina’s return to democracy has been at the center of heated debate. As human rights groups and the families of the disappeared rallied to claim ESMA as a space for memory, the military junta sought to stop their efforts through impunity.  The memory that human rights groups and families of the disappeared represent does not align with those of the military forces and their supporters. For the military, the use of ESMA as a site for memory solely of its role in the Dirty War represents a half-memory and a half-truth in which omits prior historical events. Through the analysis of primary and secondary sources, archival data, and personal interviews, this paper elucidates ESMA’s role as a site for memory as it pertains to the Argentine military junta in order to address alternate memory-work that is currently ignored within debates over ESMA’s reconfiguration.

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