August 19, 1997
Argentina to compensate ``Dirty War'' victims with bonds
By Axel Bugge
BUENOS AIRES (Reuter) - Argentina said Tuesday it will issue $3 billion in bonds to compensate relatives of victims of the 1976-83 dictatorship's ``Dirty War'' but some didn't want the money because they said ``life has no price.''
The government is planning to compensate around 15,000 claimants with bonds next year under the terms of a 1994 law, said an Economy Ministry official who asked not to be named.
The 1994 law, pushed by parents of some victims and government officials, called for families to be granted $200,000 each.
But in a novel approach, the government later opted to issue bonds at a face value of $200,000 each instead and then leave local bond markets to decide their value when the relatives trade them for cash.
Since the value of the bonds will be set on the open market, the claimants may receive less than the full $200,000 -- especially if all the claimants try to sell them at once, depressing their market value.
Claimants who wait a few years to sell, however, could see the price of the bond exceed the nominal value.
But members of Argentina's most famous human rights group, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, said they did not want what they regard as blood money.
``We oppose any kind of payment. Life does not have a price,'' Maria Gutman, a member of the group who lost her 19-year-old son, told Reuters. ``We won't accept it. It would be giving up the fight.''
The white-headscarved mothers have made regular marches around the Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential palace since the darkest days of Argentina's former military dictatorship to demand justice for their missing children.
Nearly 10,000 people went missing in clandestine torture centers in the military's campaign against leftist guerrillas and anyone even remotely suspected of sympathizing, an official report said in 1985. Human rights groups say the real figure is more like 30,000.
Bond traders said it was too early to judge what impact the ``victim bonds'' will have on the market, some suggesting they were an electoral ploy by President Carlos Menem's government before presidential polls in 1999.
``Everything they (the government) do out of generosity is because of the elections. I could not care much about this,'' said one bond trader.
Before collecting their bonds next year, applicants will have to first satisfy the government that their relatives were indeed ``disappeared'' by security forces during military rule.
The ``victims bonds'' would have the same structure as the early 1990s bonds called Bonos de Consolidacion, or Bocones, which were given to retirees instead of state pension payments. Their maturity date has not been announced.
August 20, 1997
Argentina To Pay Repression Victims
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- The Argentine government has announced it will issue $3 billion in bonds next year to compensate relatives of the people who disappeared in Argentina's so-called ``dirty war.''
With its Tuesday announcement, the government took a step toward reconciling with families of thousands of people who disappeared under a crackdown by the military dictatorship on suspected leftists and political dissidents.
Between 1976-83, at least 9,000 people disappeared, although human rights groups claim as many as 30,000 people were never seen again.
Several thousand others were executed, but are not classified as ``desaparecidos,'' or disappeared, since their bodies were returned to their families.
Many relatives are expected to cash the bonds right away. But others may gamble on the local bond market, hoping the value of the bond may rise in time. Maturity dates for the bonds have not yet been set.
Some 8,000 people have already applied for compensation, a figure which Human Rights Secretariat spokesman Carlos Villalba said could double by the deadline in the year 2000. So far, 461 cases have been approved.
To be eligible, relatives have to present evidence that their loved ones were abducted and held in captivity. Under a 1994 law, families of victims are entitled to $220,000 each.
Argentines are divided over whether families should accept the compensation.
``My son was tortured and murdered,'' said Mercedes Merono of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. ``Now, it seems he's being traded on the bond market. It's humiliating.''
Merono is a member of a militant wing of the Mothers, whose children disappeared during the repression. Her faction has threatened to expel any member accepting government money.
``We insist there is no price for life,'' she said. ``This money is an attempt to stop us probing and campaigning for justice.''
But Daniel Retamar believes the money is ``recognition -- at last -- of the suffering we went through.''
Twenty years ago, Retamar's father, a union leader, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered -- forcing Daniel, then 16 years old, to hold two jobs so his family could survive.
Like his father, Retamar was held in a clandestine torture center in Buenos Aires. But after 45 days, the younger Retamar was released.
``This isn't just a cheap government handout,'' he said. ``It's recognition of our struggle. Argentine justice is slow, but it's better late than never.''
``We lost our father, and then our home, and I had to work day and night,'' he said. ``Any recognition at all of the state's responsibility for our suffering is very comforting.''