The other day the event popped back in my mind. Summer of 1977. It was winter in Argentina and the beginning of the Dirty War. President Jorge Videla’s regime was more than a year old. I waited on the fourteenth floor of the Ministry of Marine and eventually I was ushered into the office of Admiral Massera, the political brain behind the coup. It wasn’t a real interview. I had to send my questions on paper and I received the answers in writing. I had held back my most critical questions so I could ask them once I was face to face with the man. It didn’t go well. Massera didn’t appreciate it that I asked questions about the disappearance of a professor the day before. Professor Bravo, member of the committee for Human Rights in Argentina was abducted in broad daylight. And he certainly wouldn’t say anything about the many other intellectuals and activists who disappeared. “That’s all communist propaganda. The fact that you know about this proves that we have freedom of the press in Argentina.”
That freedom of the press actually only applied to the Englishman Robert Cox whom I had spoken with the day before. At the time he was editor in chief of the Buenos Aires Herald, the only (English-language) newspaper that was still uncensored. All the critical Spanish-language newspapers had already been banned or—according to Cox—they censored themselves in fear of abduction.
Later, after the fall of the fascist regime, it was found that up to 5000 Agentineans were held, tortured and murdered at the Argentine Marine School of Engineering (ESMA), under Massera’s Marine Ministry. Only a few hundred survived. Admiral Massera was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Why did I suddenly remember this event?
A colleague of the former Argentine dictator Videla and his buddy, Admiral Massera, was in the Dutch news, for the umpteenth time: Jorge Zorreguieta, initially deputy minister of agriculture during the Argentinian dictatorship, but now father-in-law to our heir apparent to the throne. Queen Beatrix, aged 74 and therefore well past retirement age, does not want to give up the throne just yet. But it’s a matter of time.
Prime Minister Kok took a tough stance in 2002, when he banned Zorreguieta from the wedding of his daughter Máxima and our Crown Prince Willem-Alexander because of his Dirty War past. It’s unlikely that Kok’s successor Diederik Samsom will take the same tough stance. He has even stated that he would have no problem with Zorreguieta’s presence.
At the time I felt a little ambiguous about Zorreguieta’s forced absence at his daughter Máxima’s wedding. Is a wedding a government affair, and if so, why, for God’s sake? But Crown Prince Willem’s coronation definitely will be a government affair. By the way, it’s flabbergasting that a bragging Dutch-Argentinian pilot who claims to have conducted death flights has been in jail in Buenos Aires since 2009 without charge, while Zorreguieta was never even arrested. Even Videla (on the photo left, next to Zorreguieta) himself has said that Zorreguieta was present at the pre-coup meetings, as lobbyist for the meat and grain export tycoons, the wealthiest citizens of Argentina. Videla (who is serving two life sentences) now accuses these tycoons: “They claim innocence. First they told us to do what we had to do and now they lay all the blame on us.” However, attempts to charge them with the disappearance and murder of people in Zorreguieta’s department have so far had no results.
Máxima is definitely an asset to the Dutch royal family. She not only improves Prince Willem’s image—he can be a bit awkward—but she also provides a fresh approach to the monarchy, which was becoming more and more a useless antiquity. She is engaged in meaningful issues such as micro credit for developing countries. She swims laps around the canals to raise money for AIDS and on top of all that, she’s a beautiful woman. My wife Jacqui met her once. She’s down-to-earth, humble and very friendly. All qualities the Dutch value.
But what are we going to do about that old man who insists on sitting in the front row at the coronation? Now that we really can’t ignore the suspicion that he was partly responsible for the disappearance and murder of 30,000 people less than 35 years ago?
I already had little faith in Samsom’s wishy-washiness but this is really going too far. How hard is it to stand our ground? Would Prime Minister Rutte have walked out? I suppose it’s a waste of energy to get worked up about it in a country where an abductor, robber, blackmailer and possibly murderer is coddled daily in the media.