The first time I landed at Aeroparque airport in Buenos Aires, I thought it was one of the most beautiful airports I'd ever seen. It's a lush green strip on the edge of the brown waters of the River Plate. It was a beautiful warm sunny day and I could smell the eucalyptus trees, and honeysuckle bushes.
Then I saw a military Herc taxiing down a runway, and I remembered something horrible. This was one of the airports where thousands of men, women,and children took off on planes like that, and never returned.
It happened during Argentina's dirty war. Groups of about thirty prisoners would be chosen from some of the clandestine detention centers in Buenos Aires. Most of them had been held for weeks and months, and brutally tortured. Now they were told their suffering was over. They were going to be taken to a nice camp in the south.
Their guards put on music and made them dance to show them how happy and grateful they were. Then the prisoners were told they had to be vaccinated. Instead they were given a powerful barbiturate that made them groggy or knocked them out.
Then they were loaded on to a plane and flown out over the South Atlantic. Sometimes they were given another needle, sometimes they were not. Sometimes their stomachs were slashed open before they threw them out of the door. So the bodies would sink sooner and be eaten by sharks. Once they threw a tiny baby out with its mother. Because the bastard butchers thought the baby was too ugly for anyone to adopt.
It's a horrifying story. Although it's just one episode in a murderous dirty war that went on for years. But what makes this story even more horrendous, is that the death flight killers were blessed by the Catholic Church.
They were told that throwing people out of planes alive was OK. That their victims, the "godless communists" died a "Christian death" because they "didn't suffer." Some of these priests were even criminals themselves.
I mention all of this because this weekend Argentinians are marking the 30th anniversary of the military coup that launched the dirty war. And they've been doing it with a wonderful mixture of sadness and joy.
It may be a wake. But it's also a freedom party.
Although it's hard to celebrate when a legion of war criminals, cogs in a killing machine are probably partying with you.
So many of those responsible for these atrocities have never been punished.
A few days later my Argentine friend took me to an old cemetery on the outskirts of Buenos Aires where they had recently discovered some bodies. It was a beautiful leafy place. In the corner of the cemetery was a small ornate building where bodies were once prepared for burial. It was dark and cool inside. It hadn't been used for years.
My friend told me about a young student who was brought here during the dirty war. They held him down on the concrete slab in the middle of the room. And then they jabbed a needle straight into the heart, and injected him with a chemical used to put dogs down.
The concrete table was spattered with what looked like blood stains. There was a carpet of golden leaves on the floor. And a giant crucifix on the wall. It would have been the last thing he saw before they stopped his heart. I wonder if his killers crossed themselves before they carried his body out.
I hope that the brutish right wingers who killed him, and those who gave the orders, and those who blessed them and called torture and murder god's work,are finally punished. That who he was, and how he died, isn't ever forgotten.
I wish that he could know that his country finally came out of the darkness and into the light.
But at least I can thank that poor student for bringing the horror of what happened during the Dirty War home to me. Sometimes numbers are numbing. Sometimes one story tells you EVERYTHING...
And thank him too for giving me a few more words to throw in the faces of all those fascists and murderous religious fanatics who infest the world, and persecute, torture, and kill for their faith.