The Loss of a Champion of Democracy and Human Rights

April 1, 2009

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

 

I want to share with you some thoughts in a day that is a very sad day for Argentineans.

Raul Alfonsin, former President of Argentina and champion of democracy and human rights, died yesterday evening.


Alfonsin was the first democratically elected President after the Juntas dictatorship (1976-1983), a period during which 30,000 people were kidnapped, sent to clandestine detention centers, tortured and murdered (the “missing”). Among those missing, 1,500 Argentine Jews, who received even worse treatment than other prisoners, just for being Jews.


I was 15 years-old when Alfonsin took office, and I remember that day as if it was today.


The expectations that he raised were so much that it was impossible for him to fulfill all of them. Nevertheless, probably the main achievement of his government was putting the members of the military Juntas in trial for the mass-murders committed under their ruling.


It was an unprecedented trial: a civil government ordered a civil court to judge leaders of the Army, Navy and Air Force for crimes against humanity.


That trial was the cornerstone for today’s democracy in Argentina.


Alfonsin’s leadership was crucial not only for Argentina, but also for other Latin American countries that went back to democracy after: Brasil, Uruguay and Chile. But in none of these countries was ever a trial like the one ordered by Alfonsin.


In 1993, following the opening of [the Simon Wiesenthal Center's exhibit] The Courage to Remember in Buenos Aires, Shimon Samuels and I visited him at his home.

I met Alfonsin many years later, in 2005, at the Buenos Aires airport (pictured).


May he rest in peace.

 

Sergio Widder
SWC Latin American Representive