New museum at former detention centre reignites Argentinian debate on memorials

03 June 2015 by Luciana Bertoia, Buenos Aires (Argentina)

A memorial museum newly opened at the location of one of the most infamous illegal detention centres during Argentina’s dictatorship illustrates a national debate about how to commemorate such sites. 

Names of ESMA navy officers are displayed at the Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos (Photo: Luciana Bertoia)
Image caption: 
Names of ESMA navy officers are displayed at the Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos (Photo: Luciana Bertoia)

On 19 May, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner inaugurated the Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos at the former naval academy. The ESMA, as the academy is called locally, operated as a clandestine detention centre and maternity ward [IJT-170] during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Some 5,000 political prisoners were illegally held there, with the majority of its inmates having ‘disappeared’.

During the regime, there were an estimated 500 concentration camps, but the ESMA, because it was the busiest – not to mention most elegantly located, in a Buenos Aires neighbourhood – came to symbolize military repression. 

“Not a museum”

“This could not be hidden,” Fernández said last month, standing outside ESMA’s officers’ quarters, which is where prisoners were held. “This is not a museum for us. Museums keep pieces from the past, whereas memorial sites preserve memory, justice and truth,” she added.

Want to read more?

If you subscribe to a free membership, you can read this article and explore our full archive, dating back to 1997.

Subscribe now

Related articles

21 December 2011 by Thijs Bouwknegt

Being the ICC's Chief Prosecutor is a delicate and politically sensitivejob.ForLuisMorenoOcampo it has been "the best job in the world." Fatou Bensouda will be taking over his office in June. She inhe

07 December 2011 by Thijs Bouwknegt

December 7, 2011 Ivory Coast is the latest playgroundoftheInternationalCriminal Court. This week the courtroom in The Hague became its theatre of justice. Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo proudly p

07 December 2011 by Richard Walker

Four Congolese witnesses testifying at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, find themselves caught in a legal wrangle, which could at once set a legal precedent and make them the last

07 December 2011 by Lindy Janssen

Brazil is booming. The economy is expanding and the country is getting ready to host the Football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. But the Latin American giant has not even begun dealing wi

07 December 2011 by Radosa Milutinovic

The primary purpose of the retrial of Ramush Haradinaj, as proclaimed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in its appeal judgement in July, should have been to hear testimonies of two "key" witnesses who proved unwilling to testify in the original trial in 2007. Almost four months into the retrial which started in mid-August, its stated aim has not yet been achieved.