Latin America & Caribbean

Argentine conscript speaks of Falklands abuse by superiors

Silvio Katz with fellow Argentine soldiers on the Falklands in 1982 Image copyright Silvio Katz
Image caption Silvio Katz (second from left) was one of about 10,000 soldiers who served in the Falklands

In 1982, about 10,000 Argentine soldiers were sent to the Falkland Islands to gain control of the territory from Britain, which had governed the islands - known as Malvinas in Argentina - for 150 years.

The brief war cost the lives of more than 900 soldiers, mostly Argentines.

But for many young Argentine conscripts, the enemy was not the British troops, but their own superiors.

About 700 secret files released by Argentina's armed forces reveal that Argentine soldiers were subjected to abuse and torture at the hands of their officers during the 10-week conflict in the South Atlantic.

They are the first official documents from the war to be made public and contain testimonies from soldiers who say they were badly equipped and ill prepared for the cold.

For years a group of soldiers tried to bring those responsible for the abuses to justice, but in February Argentina's Supreme Court ruled that the statute of limitations had expired and closed the investigation.

This group is now appealing to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights.

BBC Mundo's Ignacio de los Reyes spoke to one of the soldiers who was tortured.

'Not my war'

Silvio Katz, who is now 53, works as a cook at a school in the province of Buenos Aires.

Image copyright Silvio Katz
Image caption Silvio Katz says the recently revealed documents will help his sons understand what he went through

He recalled the harsh punishments the conscripts would be subjected to and the abuse he suffered for being Jewish.

"I was just a 19-year-old boy fulfilling the mandatory military service.

"I had only seen weapons in films. Suddenly I was taken to a war I did not choose to fight in.

"Just like the other 10,000 conscripts, I had no idea of what was to come.

"I arrived on the Malvinas on 11 April 1982. I honestly thought we would only go and occupy a place where nothing was going to happen.

"The Argentine strategy was so bad and we had so little information that we thought Britain wouldn't send ships or planes. But the feeling of uncertainty soon turned into horror.

'Psychological torture'

"The worst part was the psychological torture because of my beliefs. I was called a 'Jewish coward', 'Jewish traitor' or just 'shitty Jew'.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption More than 900 soldiers, most of them Argentine, died in the conflict

"They [my superiors] used to drive four stakes into the ground and tie our hands and legs to them [as a form of punishment].

"So I would be tied to the stakes in the rain, while my colleagues were forced to urinate on me. And I didn't know when the punishment would end.

"They would also put my head, hands and feet in icy water. {Other times,] I was forced to eat my food among faeces.

"That was the superiors' way of systematic punishment... their way to show their power.

"I used to lay down in a well and cry and my colleagues would come to comfort me. It is thanks to them that I am not insane now.

'Liberated'

"My time on the islands was the worst of my life. My own war was against the Argentine military.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Argentine soldiers occupied the islands in 1982, but the war was short lived

"As soon as I was captured by the British I felt relieved, liberated. They gave me food and I could feel alive again.

"There are many former soldiers who do not want to be seen as victims of the Argentine dictatorship [which ruled the country from 1976 to 1983 and under which as many as 30,000 people were forcibly disappeared].

"They are afraid they won't be regarded as heroes. But I think we were both victims and heroes.

"Because I feel the pride of fighting for my country, and at the same time I feel that those who tortured me were part of a system that left 30,000 people disappeared.

"Now that these documents have been released I feel relieved and happy. My sons can now see that everything that I told them is true.

"The judiciary did not believe me, but now we are getting closer to justice being served, even if it is late and slowly.

"Those responsible for my abuses are going to pay."

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