Night of the Pencils
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The Night of the Pencils (in Spanish: La Noche de los Lápices), was a series of kidnappings and forced disappearances, followed by the torture, rape, and murder of a number of young students in September 1976, during the last Argentine dictatorship, also known as the National Reorganization Process.
In March 1976 the Argentine military seized power following a coup d'état. The military junta then implemented what was called the National Reorganization Process which was a set of policies used by the regime to destroy left-wing guerrilla forces and oppress resistance to its rule. The process included kidnappings, torture and murder. Meanwhile, the Montoneros, a leftist guerilla group, responded violently to the junta and its actions as they enlisted other Argentines to join their campaign against the regime. Those enlisted included young, left-wing, politically active students from the organization named the Unión de Estudiantes Secundarios (Union of High School Students) of La Plata. The UES was committed to achieving school reforms and other political reforms, through demonstrations and protests that irked the ruling regime.
The circumstances of the kidnappings, in conjunction with the testimony of one of the survivors, Pablo Díaz, are the reason many hold the view that the kidnappings were a direct consequence of these peaceful protests and that Pablo had nothing to do with the guerrillas. However, Antonius C. G. M. Robben, Professor of Anthropology at Utrecht University wrote:
At 4:00 A.M. on 21 September 1976, Pablo Diaz was taken from his home, hooded, thrown into a car, and taken to La Arana police station in La Plata. They interrogated him briefly about the upcoming student protest and his alleged guerrilla activities. They also brought in another captive, and asked him about Pablo Diaz. The blindfolded man did not know that Pablo was present and responded that Pablo Diaz sympathized with the Guevarist Youth.
Several hundred guerrillas of the Guevarist Youth Group disappeared in a series of gun battles and abductions between 1976 and 1977, after it was discovered they were planning to mount a military offensive during the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.
On 15 September 1998, one of the survivors, Emilce Moler, revealed that the student's benefits' demands were not the reason behind the kidnappings, but because the military regime believed the students were linked to the Montoneros and People's Revolutionary Army.
Jorge Falcone, the brother of one of the kidnapped students, María Claudia Falcone, has maintained that her activities against the military dictatorship went beyond student protests, and that on the day she was kidnapped she was hiding weapons in her aunt's residence and was prepared to use them. He wrote his sister was not a victim, or a martyr, but a hero of the organization Montoneros.
He also defended his sister's commitment to the Montoneros guerrilla movement in Argentina:
My sister wasn't Little Red Riding Hood who the wolf gulped down. She was a revolutionary militant. … The militant was the type who in a moment could send a molotov flying in a lightning act... They could also carry out support action in a major military operation.
Whatever the exact reason for the kidnappings and murders the junta was undoubtedly fearful of the Montoneros and others who orchestrated opposition to the military junta. Thus they sought to destroy any opposition including the UES, that supplied fighters to the ERP. Colonel Ramón Camps, head of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police, and Director of Investigations Miguel Etchecolatz were tasked with eliminating the UES.
On 16 and 17 September 1976, masked men raided homes under cover of darkness, taking students away to clandestine detention centres in what became known as the "Night of the Pencils". It concluded five days later when Camps' henchmen kidnapped the student Pablo Diaz. He was taken to a detention center, joining his fellow high school activists, where they were tortured and some were killed or reported missing and presumed dead. Diaz, however, was one of three from 16 to 21 September to be released by the captors.
The kidnapped students were:
|Name||Age (in 1976)||Date of Disappearance||Current Status||Additional Details|
|María Claudia Falcone||16||September 16, 1976||Missing||The daughter of a former Peronist mayor of La Plata, Falcone joined the UES soon after attending the Fine Arts School. Following 1973, she became involved in schools and health departments in poor neighborhoods of La Plata. In 1975, Falcone actively participated in the campaign for the Secondary School Bus Ticket (Boleto Escolar Secundario-- BES). She was kidnapped from her grandmother's house along with her friend María Clara Ciocchini. According to her brother Jorge Falcone, she was a Montoneros militant.|
|Claudio de Acha||17||September 16, 1976||Missing||After Héctor Cámpora's victory in 1973, Acha participated in the takeover of the Colegio Nacional de la Plata for its democratization. After Juan Perón's death, he joined the UES. He participated in protests for the BES. Acha was kidnapped while at the house of Horacio Ungaro.|
|Gustavo Calotti "Francés"||18||September 8, 1976||Survivor||Calotti was a graduate from the Colegio Nacional. By the time he was kidnapped, Calotti had become a police cadet. He had fought in the UES, but in 1976 he had left and become more involved in left-wing groups. Although his kidnapping took place on 8 September, he is considered a survivor of the "Night of the Pencils" due to his association with the other students.|
|María Clara Ciocchini||18||September 16, 1976||Missing||A Catholic school student, Ciocchini participated in the scouting and the UES parish of Bahia Blanca. Because of the crimes of the Triple A (Argentine Anticommunist Alliance) and the CNU (Concentracion Nacional Universitaria) in that city, Ciocchini moved to La Plata at the end of 1975, where she enrolled in Bellas Artes. She lived in the home of María Claudia Falcone. Ciocchini and Falcone were kidnapped together.|
|Pablo Díaz||18||September 21, 1976||Survivor||As the son of a right-wing Peronist university professor, Díaz was expelled from a Catholic school and ended up in "La Legión" (The Legion). He had been a member of the UES, but in 1976 Díaz was active in the ERP-backed Guevarist Youth. 369 member would latter be abducted when it was discovered that this group was planning terrorist attacks for the 1978 World Cup held in Argentina. He was abducted on 21 September 1976. In 1985 he made his experiences public while testifying in court.|
|Francisco López Muntaner "Panchito"||16||September 16, 1976||Missing||The son of a Peronist oil worker, Panchito was a member of the UES in the Fine Arts School. Along with Claudia Falcone, he participated in volunteer work in poor neighborhoods and in the struggle for the BES in 1975.|
|Patricia Miranda||17||September 17, 1976||Survivor||She had not participated in, nor did she belong to, any political or militant organizations. She was held until March 1978.|
|Emilce Moler||17||September 17, 1976||Survivor||Daughter of a retired inspector commissioner and UES militant in Bellas Artes.|
|Daniel A. Racero||18||September 16, 1976||Missing||Son of a Peronist naval officer who died in 1973, Racero worked as a messenger even as a child. When he joined the UES of Normal Nº 3 de La Plata, Racero wrote: "I found a trench to fight for a just cause." He administrated vaccinations, fixed housing and worked for schools in poor neighborhoods and participated in the conquest of the BES. Racero was kidnapped in the house of Horacio Ungaro.|
|Horacio Ungaro||17||September 16, 1976||Missing||Born to a Communist family, in 1974 Ungaro broke the family tradition and joined the UES of Normal Nº 3. He participated in the struggle of the Coordinator for the BES. Ungaro worked at slum schools located behind the La Plata racetrack. He was kidnapped on 16 September 1976.|
Details of the Night of the Pencils were provided by the two of the three survivors from that 16–21 September period. Emilce Moler said: "They tortured us with profound sadism. I remember being naked. I was just a fragile small girl of about 1.5 m and weighed about 47 kg, and I was beaten senseless by what I judged was a huge man" and "after about a week at our first detention centre, we were all taken to another place in a truck. At some point we stopped and some of my friends were taken out. Those are the ones that disappeared." Moler said that she did not know why some UES members were allowed to live and others killed. Like most of the others, Emilce belonged to the students' union, which had links to the urban guerrilla group, the Montoneros. The military regarded them as subversives.
Pablo Diaz testified: "In Arana, they gave me electric shocks in my mouth, my gums, and my genitals. They tore out one of my toenails. It was very usual to spend several days without food."
In September 2011 nearly two dozen junta officials were charged with crimes against humanity for their roles in the Night of the Pencils. Among them was Miguel Etchecolatz, 82, already serving a life sentence for other crimes committed as an officer in the regime.
Today the victims of the Night of the Pencils are remembered, along with thousands of other victims of the dictatorship, on March 24, the Argentine Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice. Night of the Pencils is also now seen as the opening salvo in Argentina's Dirty War.
In popular culture
The saga of the students' ordeal was depicted in Hector Olivera's 1986 film Night of the Pencils. The testimony of Pablo Díaz, the last survivor to be released, served as the basis for a song with the same title by Canarian singer Rogelio Botanz.
- National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons
- Ramón Camps
- Miguel Etchecolatz
- Christian von Wernich
- National Reorganization Process
- Dirty War
- Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina, Antonius C. G. M. Robben, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011, p. 214
- Historia del peronismo, Tomo III, Hugo Gambini, pp. 368-370, Stockcero, 2008
- "Una de las sobrevivientes de La noche de los lápices contó su historia en el Nacional" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-11-30.
- "Memorial de Guerralarga, Jorge Falcone, ISBN 987-9125-33-9". Paginadigital.com.ar. Retrieved 2013-11-30.
- "Carta abierta a María Claudia Falcone a tres décadas de su último combate". Elortiba.org. Retrieved 2013-11-30.
- [Viviana Gorbato, Montoneros. Soldados de Menem. ¿Soldados de Duhalde?, Buenos Aires, Sudamericana, 1999, pp. 96-98]
- La Mentira Oficial sobre la Noche de los Lápices
- Hernandez, Vladimir. "Argentina marks 'Night of the Pencils'", BBC World, September 15, 2011
- "La Noche de Lápices". Cuadernos de la Memoria.
- Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina, Antonius C. G. M. Robben, Page 214, University of Pennsylvania Press (January 25, 2005)
- Historia del Peronismo III(1956-1983) La Violencia By Hugo Gambini, pp. 368-369, Stockcero (December 2008). Retrieved 2013-11-30 – via Google Books.
- "Argentina marks 'Night of the Pencils'". BBC News. September 16, 2011.
- Seoane, María y Hector Ruiz Nuñez: La Noche de los Lápices. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2003. ISBN 950-07-2352-2 Registro en Cámara Argentina del Libro (Spanish)
- Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas (CONADEP): Nunca más. Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 1984. (Spanish)
- CASO Nº 33: FALCONE, MARÍA CLAUDIA (Spanish)