BUENOS AIRES, Argentina
(CNN) -- Argentina's so-called "Dirty War," during which military
forces kidnapped and killed perhaps as many as 30,000 people
thought to be enemies of the state, has been over for 15 years.
Its poisonous legacy, however, continues to live on and on.
Argentine Army Chief Gen. Martin Balza, speaking at a ceremony
Thursday, lamented that because of deep-seated public mistrust
from that era, members of the military "live in a state of permanent
suspicion and blame."
"How long must we bear a stigma that censures even thousands of
officers and enlisted men who had not even joined the army then?"
But ghosts of the past continue to rise. On Friday, Buenos Aires
newspapers quoted an Argentine judge as saying that four more
Swiss bank accounts have been uncovered in the names of military
officers connected to human rights abuses during the Dirty War.
Two similar accounts were previously discovered.
One of those officers who allegedly had a Swiss account, Navy Lt.
Cmdr. Alfredo Astiz, admitted in a recent magazine interview that
he was involved in politically-motivated kidnappings and killings. He
was subsequently stripped of his rank and retirement benefits.
A debate over blanket amnesties
Astiz's admissions have added fuel to a growing debate in
Argentina's Congress over whether to lift blanket amnesties
given to military personnel involved in human rights abuses
during the Dirty War, which took place between 1976 and
1983 when a military junta governed Argentina.
Human rights groups say that during those years, as many as
30,000 people were killed or "disappeared" into torture centers,
never to be seen again. About 15,000 cases have been
In 1987, civilian President Raul Alfonsin gave amnesty to those who
were deemed to have been "obeying orders" during the Dirty War.
Current President Carlos Menem went further in 1989, pardoning
top junta leaders who had been imprisoned for human rights abuses.
Balza, who had never been linked to human rights violations, was put
in charge of the army in 1991. Four years later, he drew
international praise when he apologized for "illegal means," including
torture, that were used to extract information from prisoners who
were later killed.
Humiliating budget cuts for once-mighty military
In his speech this week, at a ceremony commemorating the
anniversary of a battle in Argentina's war of independence, Balza
issued another mea culpa.
"We resorted to sinister procedures that deprived relatives of the
possibility to bury their dead," Balza said. "The violation of human
rights is always dreadful, but more so when it is condoned by the
But despite those apologies -- and promises from Balza that the
army will never again interfere with the country's democratic
processes as it has so often in this century -- the once-mighty
military has suffered from humiliating budget cuts.
The military draft, too, has been scrapped, and some politicians have
openly referred to the armed forces as "useless" for losing a battle
with Britain over the Falkland Islands (which the Argentines refer to
as the Islas Malvinas) in the early 1980s.
Balza complains that members of the armed forces are being treated
poorly in comparison to civilian members of the junta government
and leftist guerrillas from the 1970s, some of whom now hold seats
"How can we educate and train an institution while being repudiated
for the unworthy behavior of a very few?" Balza said.