On March 24, 1976, in the midst of a convulsed social and political climate, Argentine armed forces seized power. The immediately overthrew the constitutional mandate of Estela Martínez de Perón and imposed a de facto government led by a military junta. Commanded firstly by Jorge Rafael Videla, they established as main goal to reorganize the nation by using the methodology known as state terrorism. In other words, they pretended to use the state ́s monopoly of violence to discipline and terrorize groups and social sectors considered subversive, that is to say, a threat to the social cohesion of the country. Censorship, violence and political persecution along with kidnappings and forced disappearance of persons were the main tools of the military to install a terror regime.
The background of this plan was to follow the steps of the Chilean dictatorship installed by Augusto Pinochet whose main objective, directly influenced by the shock doctrine promoted by the neo-liberal think-tanks, was to generate the social and political conditions for the application of neo-liberal prescriptions. To fulfill this purpose, they needed to undermine the main social and political movements and actors that represented a potential danger. So, they focused their intervention on social organizations, factories, trade unions and the student movement.
According to Florencia Bossié (2009), the areas linked to education suffered censorship and repression through different mechanisms. In the case of the University, the dictatorship aimed to dismantle the student movement that had gained strength by resisting in the last years and also aimed to intervene academic units that didn’t fit the curricular or institutional agenda of the new government. The Education and Culture Ministry created a plan called Operación Claridad that was in charge of the physical disappearance of persons considered suspicious, as well as the systematic destruction of cultural assets, the intervention of publishing houses, universities and libraries (Bossié, 2009). Social Work was not exempt from such repression.
Exploring what happened in the heart of Social Work during those dark years and asking ourselves why was there an attempt to erase our voices, is an act of justice and remembrance for our colleagues who disappeared or were assassinated by the military junta. Of a total of forty-five academic programmes, fourteen were closed or suspended. One of the most paradoxical cases was that of the Rosario Social Work School, that was closed in 1976 through a resolution of the provincial government of Santa Fe, justifying their action by “meanings of public knowledge”. Also, as a part of the intervention, historical documents were illegally appropriated (files, books, papers produced by students) and moved to Social Work School of Santa Fe city; that documents were partially recovered in 2004.
This intervention can only be explained by the big changes that the profession was going through in the years before the military coup. According to Mariana Servio (2009), this process was linked to different international events (the Cuban Revolution, the French May, the arrival of Salvador Allende to the presidency of Chile), national events (Cordobazo y Rosariazo) as well as the arrival of new readings mainly linked to the Marxist tradition. One should also mention the influence of their contemporary Latin-american thinkers like Enrique Pichón Riviere y Paulo Freire.
These factors created a process of revision of the “classic” vision that prevailed until that moment in the profession. They acknowledged that, until then, social work had retained a traditional and conservative profile which preserved the status quo and reproduced the established social order. Since the middle sixties, a new Latin-american and Argentinian movement known as reconceptualization began to emerge within Social Work.
Although it was heterogeneous, this movement suggested that our profession should accompany the processes of social liberation contributing to the organization, mobilization and awareness of the Latin-american people that were oppressed by the imperialist countries and the capitalist system. In those years, a significant part of Social Work students began to take part in a sociopolitical project committed with social transformation and started to take part in students, political and social organizations in order to fight against inequality, injustice and oppression. Within this framework, the arrival of the last dictatorship led to a brutal interruption of the reconceptualization movement.
Nevertheless, following María Virginia Siede (2015), the ultra- conservative sector of the profession in Argentina -represented by Marta Ezcurra, a social worker who was linked to the military and also member party formed by dictatorship apologists, directly opposed the reconceptualization movement. Far-right social workers, at a conference that took place in 1969 branded the reconceptualization movement as communist. Such a characterization proved really dangerous at a time when people involved in the movements were facing repression and violent persecution (Siede, 2015). In addition, in 1977 the far-right fraction of the profession was involved in negotiations aiming at surrendering regulation of the professional practice to the military government (1977:69).
After the re-establishment of democracy in 1983, a new phase seeking to uncover and judge the atrocities perpetrated by the armed forces began. To that end, the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) was created. Their investigation, documented in the Nunca Más report, that revealed the shocking figure of 30,000 forced disappearances and detailed accounts of the treatment by the armed forces towards the captives. In 1985, began the judicial trial against of the members of the de facto military government known as Trial of the Juntas, after which only five where convicted. However, the pressure exerted by military groups to prevent prosecutions from continuing, led to the enactment of the Full Stop Law and the Law of Due Obedience in 1987, leaving the process truncated. It was not until the arrival of Nestor Kirchner to the presidency of Argentina that the trials where reopened.
It is important to understand that this process couldn't have taken place without the fight of the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo who, on the search for their missing children and grandchildren during the dictatorship, have transformed their struggle for memory, truth and justice into the anchor of Human Rights in Argentina. To this day, their quest has not stopped and the identity of 130 children stolen and illegally adopted during the dictatorship have been restored.
In this context, the possibility of starting to rebuild the professional project that had been devastated during those seven years was opened. In a complex process, closed and suspended social work careers began to reassume their activities thanks to the efforts of those who resisted the dictatorship and organized to reroute the project. In the case of Rosario, the Social Work School was reopened in 1986 thanks to the dedication and commitment of teachers and graduates who had experienced the closure in their own flesh.
Vindication of social workers involved in this story is of particular importance, mostly because during all these years the Social Work has made Human Rights a cornerstone of the profession. That is why in 2012, December 10 was established as a new "Social Work Day" in Argentina: "placing the issue of Human Rights as the central axis of our ethical-political project as a professional collective" and stating that "the issue of Human Rights is, without doubt, the great horizon that gives meaning to our professional practices (...) many colleagues and Social Work students have lost their lives, who believed and fought for a more just and humane country" (Resolution JG 1/2012 of the Argentine Federation of Professional Associations of Social Service, Paraná, April 14, 2012).
Memoria, verdad, justicia. Nunca más.
Bossié, F. (2008). Biblioclastía y bibliotecología: Recuerdos que resisten en la ciudad de La Plata. Congreso "Textos, autores y bibliotecas", 24 al 26 de septiembre de 2008, Córdoba, Argentina. Disponible en: memoria
Servio, M. (2009). Trabajo Social y tradición marxista. Apuntes para recuperar la experiencia argentina en los años ́60 y ́70. En: Revista Cátedra Paralela, N° 6, Rosario, UNR Editora
Siede, M. V. (2015). Trabajo Social, marxismo, cristianismo y peronismo. La Plata: Dynamis.