The latest edition of the Five O’clock Tour, the traditional meeting that happens on the last Saturday of every month organized by the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory under the Secretary of Human Rights, took place on Saturday, April 24th. This time, in the context of the Memory Works, the tour’s theme was “Corporate Responsibility. The Civilian Arm of the Dictatorship”.
Given the context of restrictions due to the epidemiological situation, once again the Tour was taken online. Guests included: Jonathan Perel, filmmaker, director of the film “Corporate Responsibility”; Victoria Basualdo, coordinator of the Special Investigation Unit for financially-driven crimes against humanity within the Secretary of Human Rights; Rufina Gastón, member of the North Area Memory, Truth and Justice Commission, wife of Aldo Ramírez, a disappeared worker of Astarsa Shipyards; Betina Stein, attorney, director of the Central Bank of Argentina.
Graciela Dobal, the Museum’s Head of Museographic Contents and Production, welcomed the guests: “I wish to welcome you to a new edition of the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory’s Five O’clock Tour that finds us once again in virtual mode. Through these events, the Museum aims to reflect on the present through events that took place in the past”. After naming each one of the guests, she gave way to a screening of fragments of Jonathan Perel’s Corporate Responsibility.
Once the fragment of the film ended, Jonathan Perel commented on why he decided to make the film: “My films have always dealt with Argentina’s memory agenda. In 2008 I shot the ESMA, in 2012 I documented several spaces of memory marked by the State, and in 2015, when the report came out, I thought it was ideal. And I thought I had to provide an image to something that was originally a book. The goal was to bring it to a different audience and increase its visibility.
He also commented on how important it was that every corporation mentioned in the report was in the book, and added: “the interesting thing about my film is precisely what it’s not in it, that which has disappeared.”
In the end, he mentioned how important it was to feature the logos of the companies mentioned in the film: “companies offered their company paper with their letterheads in order to present the lists of union leaders that had to be kidnapped. So, how could we not put them at the beginning of the chapters, right?”
Victoria Basualdo began her presentation by thanking the invitation: “I want to thank you for this space that you have set up, which is always a reunion. This work you do of weaving dialogues is the first thing I want to thank you for.” After that, she presented a PowerPoint to explain her research work. “The underlying objective was to investigate and analyze the responsibility of the business community during the last Argentine civic-military dictatorship. The role of business sectors”. She added: “It is very important that we are able to visualize these brands, these 25 companies are not only from different economic activities, but we are talking about 6 different regions throughout the country. And in this sense it is also important to remember the workers’ fight, which also extends throughout the entire country. The occupation of the factories, which later became repression turfs, shows what the repression was trying to supress”.
To conclude her presentation, Victoria referred to the difference between the notions of responsibility and complicity, in relation to the role played by the investigated companies: “As I finish, I wanted to tell you that in addition to this work with 25 cases, we analyzed the forms of military and business articulation. In some cases, the employers went beyond the objectives of the armed forces, persecuting workers who defended their working conditions. The concept of corporate responsibility was present throughout the dictatorship. But we spoke in many cases about complicity, which implies that there is a main subject that carries out the action and another one that joins them. Here, we must speak of a responsibility that does not imply one single level, but a specific element we want to bring back”.
She was followed by Rufina Gastón who referred to the workers occupying the Astarsa Shipyard in 1973. “After the occupation we moved to the Rincón neighborhood to continue raising awareness among colleagues from other shipyards. Together with a group of Peronist Youth activists, we started working in the neighborhood to combine the needs that existed in each territory with the demands from the shipyards,” explained Rufina.
“When the coup came, our field activists in the neighborhoods suffered a great deal. And when the wives went to reclaim them, they told us ‘you should have talked to your husbands and told them to stay away,” she added.
Finally, she referred to the business owners’ responsibility in the disappearance of the workers: “We continue to fight and demand justice, but this time it has to be about corporate complicity. They are responsible for the disappearance of every comrade, for the torture, because we learned from the testimonies that in the lists they had there was a file containing a photo of each one. This proves that both the repressors and the businessmen are responsible for the death and disappearance of our colleagues.”
Finally, Betina Stein took the floor and initially referred to the economic goal of the dictatorship: “The military dictatorship had a very clear goal which was to facilitate the imposition and consolidation of a structural change in the Argentine economic matrix, which would move from a production-based model to another one based on accumulation of wealth and, clearly, financial speculation”.
Then she spoke about the interest companies had in the execution of the dictatorship’s economic plan: “The dictatorship suited business groups like a glove because it allowed them to exponentially expand their profits, reduce their expenses and nationalize their foreign debt. So, it is very clear that there was an enormous interest in actively collaborating with the dictatorship, facilitating locations for torture, kidnapping, infiltration, intelligence. And those missing workers were later fired for not showing up at work. This clearly proves a corporate responsibility in crimes against humanity”.
Finally, he referred to the judicial process related to these cases: “The trial has three important aspects: the criminal prosecution of their perpetrators, the rights of the victims and their families to know the truth, and a full reparation for those damages. And that reparation must be financial. When reparations are financial, it has a great importance and effect.”
To close her presentation, she spoke of the importance of continuing with the judicial processes: “I propose that we continue to insist on these cases, the criminal cases and the lawsuits, because Machado’s poem can also be applied in the Law: ‘Paths are made by walking’. It does not matter if we face adverse outcomes. We must continue to insist. Because this is the only way to keep the policy of Memory, Truth and Justice alive.”
Near the end, guests answered questions from the audience, and the collective of survivors and human rights organizations expressed their support, greeted the guests and thanked the organizers for the event.