Memoria Palermo: A Personal Story of Disappearance and Memory

Poster for the Memorial of Alberto J. Munarriz and Rolando E. Adem

Poster for the Memorial of Alberto J. Munarriz and Rolando E. Adem

While reporting for The Argentina Independent in Buenos Aires in March, one day I received an email out of the blue from a friend whose family has a personal connection. He invited me to attend a memorial service for members of his family. I had been taught the current affairs and the history of the country, with emphasis on the dictatorship of 1976-1983 under Jorge Rafael Videla, Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri and the atrocities of this time are written about endlessly. But to take a closer look at a personal story from those who were actually there was a unique experience I was honoured to have. The following is a brief interview with Susana Munarriz, sister, wife and friend of the men being commemorated, followed by photos from the ceremony.

What was your relationship to the 2 men being commemorated?
SM: Alberto Jose Munarriz was my brother and Rolando E. Adem was my husband at the time.

What happened to them?
SM: Alberto disappeared on the 14th of November 1974 at the age of 28 years old. Rolando disappeared on the 16th of March the following year at the age of 26.

Could you tell me a bit about their backgrounds as individuals?
SM: Alberto was born in 1946. He was the oldest of three children and the only boy of a middle class family living in Buenos Aires. After finishing high school in the Liceo Naval, a high school run by the Argentine Navy, he began studying business administration but soon lost interest in the field and went on to study journalism. Since childhood he was an avid reader.

MemoriaPalermoIn his 20s he developed a strong interest in social issues, history and politics. He had very close family ties, excellent relations with his parents as well as with his sisters and extended family. As a hobby he studied to become a glider pilot. In 1970, he spent three years as a political prisoner under the military dictatorship of that time. Released in 1973 under a democratic government, he again enjoyed his freedom until November 1974 when he was kidnapped and disappeared just a few days before the government of Isabel Peron decree State of Siege.

MemoriaPalermo - Version 2Rolando was the youngest of four children born to a middle class family in Buenos Aires. After finishing high school, he spent time working on his parents’ ranch in the southwest region of the country. He later worked in Buenos Aires and become involved with labour organizations. He married Alberto’s sister in 1972. He was a very resourceful individual with a special love for the countryside and was particularly sensitive to the hardships and conditions of the rural workers. He and his wife were active in human rights organizations that defended and assisted political prisoners.

What were the circumstances regarding their disappearances? Why might they have been targeted?
SM: We don’t know the exact circumstances as to how they were kidnapped. In Alberto’s case, we received information that he was taken away from inside a restaurant in the city of Buenos Aires by security forces in civilian clothes. Rolando was kidnapped near Hurlingham train station in the suburbs of Buenos Aires by members of the secret police. They were both targeted because of their political ideas and their activism in denouncing the policies of repression and social injustice of the military and civilian government of the time. Both were members of a left wing political party.

Can you explain how you felt about the political climate at the time? Did you feel in danger yourself? 
SM: Absolutely. The social and political climate at that time was one of fear, censorship, persecution and repression. Testimony of which were the killings of well known politicians, lawyers and intellectual figures, and the kidnapping and disappearance of students, activists and members of the labour movement. There were thousands of political prisoners jailed without charges or legitimate judiciary process. As all other relatives of those killed or disappeared, we lived in constant fear.

Do you think Alberto or Rolando felt they were in danger?
SM: Most probably. It was a feeling shared by all those who were in some way or another opposed to the regime.

Have there been investigations since and have there been any successes in discovering the truth of what happened?
SM: Our family did numerous judiciary presentations denouncing their disappearances at the time it happened as well as later on and we continue to this day. During the military dictatorship of 1976-1983, their cases, along with thousands of others were taken to the UN, OAS and numerous other international human rights organizations. We are still waiting for the truth of what happened to them and still hopeful that justice will be done.

Do you think the current administration is making a sincere effort to commemorate those lost and to bring justice for Argentines affected?
SM: The current administration has taken serious steps to denounce the involvement of the military, civilian and security forces for their crimes again humanity and has facilitated the legal process for many organizations and individuals. Many accused have already been condemned by the courts and are facing harsh sentences. Granted this has been an important step on the road toward justice, but we are still looking for answers about the whereabouts of our loved ones.

Is there anything else you would like to say?
SM: Yes, I would like to point out that the struggle to get the complete truth and justice continues in Argentina and that we will never forget our loved ones and all those who are still missing.

Today, Amnesty International pegs the number of disappeared from Argentina at 15,000, however, many other sources insist the number is closer to 30,000. Memoria Palermo is a grassroots organization made up by people from the Palermo district- a neighbourhood of Buenos Aires- that decided to publicly commemorate disappeared people from the neighbourhood by installing pave stones with names on the side walks as a way of both remembering together, and reminding others. The stones are located near the homes, workplaces, schools and places last seen.

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