Bishops in Argentine step up pressure on government
THE ARGENTINE Catholic bishops have published a book containing a series of previously private communiques to the military government on behalf of political prisoners and families of people missing after being abducted.
The publication came as the government faces increasing civilian pressure to account for the large number of missing persons since the miltary came to power in March, 1976. Estimates by human rights groups of the number missing range from 6,000 to 15,000.
About 7,000 people defied a government order and held a march in Buenos Aires earlier this month, to protest against government silence about the missing persons. One of the march leaders was 1980 Nobel Peace Prizewinner Adolfo Perez Esquivel. Also participating were Bishop Jorge Novak of Quilmes and Bishop Jaime de Nevares of Neuquen.
The communique by the bishops to the government were ist'ued in a book edited by the Argentine Bishops' Conference and, containing church documents dating to 1965. The book was published in September.
Prior to publication of the book, a public statement issued by the permanent committee of the conference called on the military to account for missing persons, to return to constitutional rule and to return the government to civilians.
A private message to the ruling junta in 1976, at the height of the anti-insurgency operations against guerrillas, said that "common good and human rights are permanent, inalienable values that cannot be ignored in any emergency, no matter how grave." It condemned "assassination, direct or after abduction, of anyone regardless of his or her (political) affiliation."
The message criticised indiscriminate detention, long incarceration, holding prisoners incommunicado and denial of religious services to prisoners.
In 1977 the bishops supported the "claims of many relatives and friends that their men and women are missing or have been kidnapped . . . in acts attributed to the armed forces, the police or persons acting in their name."
The document said that "relatives and church authorities, who so often interceded have been unable to obtain an iota of information about their fate."
In mid-1981 the bishops publicly criticised the "dirty war" between guerrillas and the government that left a toll of innocent victims. They asked the government to clarify the situation of the missing and of those jailed without trial.
In December Cardinal Raul Primatesta of Cordoba _repeated the call, saying that the church "has many times tried to elicit concern among authorities on an issue that has brought deep sorrow to all of us."
The hierarchy had chosen private channels as a better way than public denunciation to get results, the book indicated.
Officials of the military government have defended their tactics, which have included suspending the Constitution and holding people without charges, as necessary to win the war against guerrilla groups active since the late 1960s. Some high ranking officials have said that excesses by security forces were responsible for some of the disappearances but that most are the result of actions by guerrillas or common criminals.
The military had destroyed the guerrilla movement by 1979. Most of the disappearances occurred between 1976 and 1979.
Human rights pressures have been growing since Argentina lost the Falklands Islands war with Britain and have become part of the overall criticism of the weakened military in the wake of its quick defeat in the 74-day war.