Jorge Rafael Videla was head of the military junta and rose to power in Argentina on 24th March 1976 after president Isabel Martinez de Perón, the third wife of Juan Domingo Perón, was deposed. Political propaganda and stencils featuring Videla and referencing the Argentine dictatorship can be found all over Buenos Aires. All photos by Buenos Aires Street Art Videla graffiti stencils in Buenos Aires (photo © BA Street Art)
In 1976, Argentina was in a deep economic crisis and Isabel Perón was regarded as a weak leader. She replaced a lot of ministers with more right-wing politicians and handed a lot of power to a group called the Triple A (Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance) that was set up to eliminate the threat of communism and far left terrorist groups such as the Montoneros and ERP. Alongside admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera and Orlando Agosti, Videla ruled Argentina de facto during the National Reorganisation Process or what is commonly referred to by Argentines as ‘El Proceso’.
Stencil graffiti of Videla and the figures behind the military junta can be found all over Buenos Aires. Former dictators Videla and Reynaldo Benito Bignone were convicted and condemned to life imprisonment in July 2012 for overseeing the systematic stealing of babies born in captivity during the military dictatorship in Argentina.
Videla and Bignone were each handed 50 year prison sentences for the “theft, imprisonment and hiding” of babies many of whom were born in clandestine maternity wards during the brutal regime known as the Dirty War. The trial lasted 15 months and investigated 35 cases of infant kidnapping (the real figure is estimated to be around 400). Bignone was the last military ruler during ‘la dictadura’ assuming power after the Malvinas Falklands conflict.
During the dictatorship (1976 to 1983) thousands of people were kidnapped, tortured and murdered’ in one of the most horrific periods in Argentine history. The official figure of relating to ‘the disappeared’ is commonly referred to as 30,000 while CONADEP ( National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons) has proved 7,954 cases.
As stated by CONDEP: “Among the victims are thousands who never had any links with such activity but were nevertheless subjected to horrific torture because they opposed the military dictatorship, took part in union or student activities, were well-known intellectuals who questioned state terrorism, or simply because they were relatives, friends, or names included in the address book of someone considered subversive.”
Also during the dictatorship, left wing terrorist groups such as the Montoneros and ERP put bombs in houses and killed people among them women and children. According to figures by the organisation The Centre of Legal Studies about Terrorism and its Victims (CELTYV) an estimated 1,094 people were killed and 756 were kidnapped by these terrorist groups.
Stencils can be found all over the city calling for justice for the victims and their families. An unrepentant Videla testified that there was no systematic plan to steal babies and accused the pregnant mothers of “using their embryonic children as human shields.”
In 2010, Videla received the maximum sentence as the figure responsible for 20 of the thefts along with Bignone who is already serving a life sentence for other crimes against humanity. Videla died on 17th May 2012 in the prison of Marcos Paz (updated). Bignone died on 7th March 2018 in prison (updated) despite an Argentine law that usually permits criminals over 70 to see out sentences at home.
The Ford Falcon, often blue or green in colour, was one of the symbols of the dictatorship and the car used by the police (Policia Federal Argentina) and military to carry out kidnappings. Victims were then taken to detention centres at ESMA in Nuñez, Campo de Mayo and El Pozo de Banfield were interrogated, beaten up, electrocuted, even raped or murdered. The stencil (above right) photographed in Villa Crespo has the words to “Ayer y hoy” meaning “Yesterday and today”, referring to kidnappings that were common a few years ago in Argentina, and the phrase “Represión, secuestro, tortura, asesinato”, meaning “Repression, kidnapping, torture, murder”.
Other ‘dissidents’ were murdered or their bodies were dumped out of aircraft into the Rio de la Plata. Many of these crimes took place while Argentina was hosting the 1978 World Cup.
During World Cup ’78, the shouts and screams of the excited crowd in River Plate’s Stadium could be heard by prisoners who were tortured in the nearby ESMA detention centre. Meanwhile, the military junta kept the true story away from the TV cameras and eyes of the world as Argentina went on to beat the Netherlands 3-1 in the final. These two stencils (above) that BA Street Art photographed are adaptions of the official World Cup ’78 mascot Gauchito and the tournament logo and paint a different picture.
Another stencil in downtown Buenos Aires near 9 de Julio uses the world “inmundo” meaning “filthy” to mock the ‘Copa del Mundo 78’.
Among the nine others standing trial alongside Videla and Bignone, seven were convicted and two found not guilty. Most of them were ex-military or police personnel during the dictatorship. Antonio Vañek, who was in charge of the ESMA torture centre in Nuñez, was condemned to 40 years in prison, while his counterpart Jorge “Tigre” Acosta received a 30 year sentence. And the doctor of ESMA, Jorge Magnacco was given 10 years in prison, while the ex-captain Victor Gallo and his wife were given 15 and five years behind bars.
All photos © Buenos Aires Street Art