Crossing Cultures: Obama in Argentina

IMG_2596One of the most interesting yet intimidating events we experienced in Buenos Aires was President Obama coming to visit. The first day we arrived in the city, several people told us he was coming, even though it wasn’t for another month. However, his arrival in Buenos Aires was greatly anticipated and incredibly controversial. In order to explain why, one of our professors gave a weeks-long history lesson about Argentina.

Forty years ago, the Argentine military staged a coup and took over the government, which began the darkest period in the country now known as “The Dirty War” or “La Guerra Sucia“. During this time, the military leaders formed the Triple A: The Argentine Anticommunist Alliance. The Triple A hunted down and killed any left-wing activists, military dissidents, or Peronists. An estimated 30,000 people “disappeared” meaning they were killed or kidnapped. Many children of the victims were kidnapped and given to military families. The 30,000 disappeared are known generally as the “desaparecidos”. Having occurred only four decades ago, the Dirty War and its victims still feel like a fresh wound in the hearts of many Argentine citizens.

How does Obama’s visit play into this? Well, he was set to arrive in the country on the fortieth anniversary of the military coup. This date angered a huge number of Argentine citizens because many feel like the U.S. somewhat “condoned” the military’s activity because Henry Kissinger had secretly approved the military rule, and U.S. has yet to release classified documents about the war that could possibly shed light on the fate of many victims. People were mad. They were angered that the President of the U.S., a country that did not push harder to respect and help human rights during such a violent time in Argentina, felt he could come to their country on such an emotional and important day.

When President Obama arrived on March 24th, huge protests were held in Plaza de Mayo which rests between the government buildings that house the Argentine president’s office. We decided to attend the protests. As we walked down the main avenue to the plaza, hundreds of people held up pictures of their killed or disappeared friends and family members and shouted “Nunca Más!” meaning “never again”. I couldn’t help but tear up as we witnessed the emotion and unity of thousands of citizens in the streets.

While many held up signs and photographs, we witnessed more intense protests of Obama’s visit in the form of burning American flags and posters denouncing the President’s presence. Once we saw these, my roommate and I decided to head back to our house just to be safe. It was an incredibly intense day in the city, but I was undeniably lucky to witness such an event–one that I will never see again. It gave us a chance to step away from our American identities and understand a different history from a new perspective.

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