This year’s last traditional monthly meeting of the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory was held on Saturday, November 28. The theme was the case of “Daniel Antokoletz. Advocating in Difficult Times. Law as Resistance”. It was a meeting to remember the lawyer who disappeared in ESMA, but also to reflect on the practice of law in our country, both in the past and today.
This time, the event was inaugurated with some welcoming words and a presentation by the director of the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory Alejandra Naftal.
The guests were Adela Antokoletz, Daniel’ sister, a teacher and member of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo – Founders.; Liliana Andrés, Daniel’s wife, attorney and ESMA survivor; Andrea Pochak, attorney. Undersecretary of Protection at the Secretary of Human Rights; Eduardo Barcesat, constitutional lawyer and political prisoners’ attorney; Eduardo Tavani, attorney, political scientist. Vice President of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights. Journalist Irina Hauser was this edition’s chronicler.
The visit had a special beginning, because prior to the presentation of the guest there was a screening of tribute videos about the recently departed Victor Basterra and Sara Solarz de Osatinsky, emblematic survivors and witnesses of the clandestine center.
Then, Alejandra Naftal welcomed everyone, clearly moved: “Here we are, moved by sharing this place with everyone. Today we shared two videos in homage to Victor Basterra and Sara Solarz, two lifetimes of witnessing. With their testimonies, they were both essential in the trials for crimes against humanity that are taking place in our country. “
Afterwards she referred to the reason for The Tour: “Today the tribute to Daniel Antokoletz brings us together to reflect on advocating in difficult times, the right to resistance and, why not, resistance as a right. We are going to remember his life before he was kidnapped. We’ll reflect on what happened and on what is happening in the field of law, on the role of lawyers, both during the dictatorship and today. “
A video profile of Daniel Antokoletz was screened, to which Alejandra added: “Daniel was a prestigious lawyer, an important professor. We always say that on every five o’clock tour, when we honor a colleague, we are honoring the 30,000.” She then gave the floor to Adela Antokoletz.
In the beginning Adela referred to Víctor Basterra and Sara Solarz de Osatinsky: “It’s hard not to feel that their courage, and the fact that we are witnessing it, is also a deep homage to Daniel and the lawyers who risked their lives like him.” He then went on to tell small anecdotes in reference to the way Daniel was, and his commitment to human rights. “I believe that Daniel always continued to be a Marxist, along with his sincere approach to the Peronist movement. And I believe that he used those means to make us better understand the world in which we lived.”
To conclude, he added: “Daniel was an endearing person, someone who had the right to continue living. I am sorry that my family has not been able to witness the trials, and the high degree of reparation we are receiving.”
Then it was the turn of Liliana Andrés, who told everyone how she met Daniel at the University of Belgrano in 1970 as his student: “As a teacher, you could tell by his imprint that he was different, not stiff at all. He made us doubt things, read between the lines, he was very nice as a teacher and a great friend of his students. We became a couple the following year.
Then she spoke about Antokoletz’s work as a lawyer for political prisoners, and the situations they had to go through due to his strong commitment to the causes he defended: “In ’72 I remember that he started as a defense attorney of political prisoners and everything became increasingly difficult. In Mar del Plata he received threats and had to leave, he ended up in La Rioja, where he was approached by relatives of an Argentine man who had lived in Chile for years and who was detained. He traveled there on two occasions, during a tremendous time in Chile, and after all the efforts he made he was able to get him back to Argentina, together with other Argentines who were in the same situation. Even when he had been threatened, he continued to travel to different prisons in the country. I always joined Daniel, sort of as his secretary. It was a time of great commitment, a very politicized time, we were reacting to something that could really be new, we dreamed of other things. “
To close her presentation, and in reference to the articulation of the past with the present, Liliana said: “Today, we would see Daniel with all these ideas the new generations are mobilizing, the struggle of indigenous peoples, against the new mining industry, against agribusiness, against institutional violence and also with the feminist cause. As up-to-date as he was, he would have been very interested in this.”
After Liliana, Eduardo Tavani who took the floor to speak about the generation both he and Daniel were part of, both as committed young people and as lawyers determined to turn law in favor of the people and not the powerful: “During the dictatorship, the lives of most young people were marked by important events. Our generation witnessed and participated in enormous events. Political, cultural and social conclusions. That generation did it with pure passion, with great generosity, and that’s the reason they were unique. The revolution was just around the corner, and how could we not go for it. The libertarian movements roused our spirits. That generation assumed its time without the benefit of inventory. It got organized, it resisted, and it became radicalized and it did not stop, not even when faced with the terrorist state, which occupied the entire scene and unleashed the worst barbarism we can remember”.
He continued: “Those generations also included lawyers. All of them were able to put their differences on the side. They came from different backgrounds, but they were aware that this decision would help to banish a presumptuous, conservative and seemingly neutral legal profession that inhabited the classrooms and the courts. That is why it was important that they could disembark in the university. That University of Buenos Aires that was renamed the National and Popular University of Buenos Aires, so that the people could attend. With Daniel, I learned that there are things you don’t negotiate, that the law is also the right to resistance, that when there is no justice there is only chimera, that neutrality in the law equals being on the side of the oppressor. That justice has always been, and still is, based on classism, it’s selective, and we hope that at some point we can change that.”
To conclude, he reflected on the current situation: “In times of legal warfare, false news and arbitrary arrests, of political prisoners, I have no doubts about where these comrades would stand today, and hopefully nothing will distract us from fulfilling that endeavor they taught us about and for which we have tried to live within this trade. “
For his part, Eduardo Barcesat spoke about his relationship with Daniel and his motivations as a jurist: “Daniel and I met through Eduardo Luis Duhalde and we found ourselves drafting the declaration on the Right to Economic Independence. Those were the bases for what became the American Association of Jurists the following year”.
He also referred to his commitment to the cases of forced detentions and disappearances: “Usually, he came into my office, and dazzled me. Before going to court he used to raise an habeas corpus in administrative headquarters. I did not do that, nor tried, but we did agree on one thing: we knew that we were fighting against the impossible: that both the situation of the undated detainees and the disappeared detainees became public, which was the most tragic hypothesis. One time we coincided at the Court House’ press room and José Cubas, the dean of judicial journalists, asked us in good faith why we were doing this if we knew that nothing was going to happen. Daniel quickly responded, and he said: ‘because this is the right thing to do. It’s the rule of law. What is wrong is not to do it. ‘
Barcesat also spoke about his way of being and remembered Daniel’s mother, Adela Gard Pérez de Antokoletz, one of the founders of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo: “I remember Daniel’s sympathy, the way he bonded, how he taught his class. We traded, he came to our class, I went to his class and we did a little act like we fought and this made the students a bit more excited and they engaged in a way it was very moving.
The misfortune of his forced disappearance motivated me to meet his mother and sister. But Adela Gard also left a tremendous impression on me, especially when in 1981 in one of the conferences on forced disappearance of people in Paris, she addressed the public with that ladyship and mastery that she had, and they gave her a standing ovation”, he concluded .
Andrea Pochak spoke about justice in our country and its use as an instrument of the ruling classes: “Argentine history shows the role lawyers played in the defense of the needy and the weak. But, on the other hand, Argentine history and also its present day I would add, show that traditionally the law in our country has been an area of pressure from the ruling classes. Law was and continues to be considered as a tool to maintain the status quo. A tool at the service of the political and economic elites. That is why it was no mistake that the civic-military dictatorship in our country had the either explicit or implicit endorsement of the judicial power of that time.”
She also mentioned the current situation of the judiciary in Argentina: “Lawfare, the judicialization of politics, the use of repentant whistleblowers, pre-trial detention as a rule in order to extort and persecute political opponents. This is why the strong resistance to any attempt at judicial reform in our country is not casual.” To conclude, she added: “However, there are many of us who learned from these fighters, from courageous people like Daniel Antokoletz. There are many of us lawyers who learned that we have to have the flexibility to choose the best tactics for each time without ever giving up on the firmness of principles “.
Finally, the chronicler of the meeting, Irina Hauser, gave her impression about the figure of Daniel and spoke about activism in the profession as a commitment and a tool to fight against the misuse of justice and journalism: “Daniel Antokoletz was an ideologue, and surely that is why he was persecuted. An ideologist like many lawyers who subscribed to the architecture of the human rights movement. I was thinking about the notion that refuses to relate the practice of law with the idea of activism. We are talking about lawyers who were defenders of political prisoners and engaged in activism. It also happens to journalists, this pejorative idea of the militant journalist. What better than to have your own ideas, to be an ideologist like Daniel was. “
To bring the meeting to an end, she made a proposal: “From my humble place I propose that we are not afraid of that idea of activism. We have this great example, this legacy of so many lawyers standing behind their ideas and their activism, and in such a complex context. There are situations to be faced, defending new political prisoners, challenging the constructions and the intricacies that the law has found to perform a misuse of persecution, such as lawfare. From the position of journalists, it is up to us to disarm this world that is shaping up and that sometimes tries to make us believe fake news, behind which there is a great apparatus of power that tries to dominate us “.