Sometimes, while I am walking along the street, I ask myself a question: ''Am I free?'' This is not a philosophical inquiry. I was for three years a political prisoner of the military dictatorship that has ruled Argentina since March 1976. I also was an ''imprisoned-disappeared'' person for five long months. Nevertheless, now that I am out of prison, now that I can take care of my daughter again, now that there are no bars between me and the world, I cannot feel free yet. I cannot feel free while 30,000 Argentinians are still disappeared and 1,200 political prisoners remain in jail.
On a January 1977 noonday, I was at home with my year-and-a-half-old daughter when a group of military wearing their uniforms forced the front door. While threatening and beating me, they forced me into a military truck. Immediately after, they went to my husband's place of work and detained him. They took both of us to the headquarters of the Army in Bahia Blanca - the city where we were living.
On July 20, 1981, the then President of Argentina, Roberto Eduardo Viola, was quoted by Time magazine as saying ''there is not a single case'' of persons held in jail without their families having been notified. When we were detained, General Viola was the Army's chief of staff. My relatives went to see the military and ask for our whereabouts. They were told that we had been released: at that very moment we were being transferred to a concentration camp, ''La Escuelita'' (the little school), close to the Army's headquarters.
La Escuelita was an old house where an average of 15 imprisoned-disappeared survived in subhuman conditions, under physical and psychological torture. We were forced to remain prone, often immobile or face down, our eyes blindfolded and our wrists tightly bound. Talking was not allowed, and it was punished with blows.
According to General Viola's statement, if dead, the disappeared ''must surely have died in direct fighting against the armed forces only.''
I met Zulma Aracelli Izurieta in La Escuelita. A student of literature, Zulma was kidnapped some months after her sister Graciela. Graciela, who was pregnant, is still disappeared. Zulma had been in concentration camps for five months; on April 12, 1977, they took her away together with her husband and an 18-year-old couple. They were told that they were going to be transferred to prison. Before leaving, Zulma whispered to me, ''Bye, Alicia, I'll see you in a legal prison.'' Later I knew that their names appeared in the following day's newspaper, as killed in confrontations with the military. These are the ''confrontations'' that Viola mentioned. The same happened to six more persons. A child was born there, he was never given to the family, and his parents are still disappeared.
It is easy to figure out the reasons that the military have to lie in the way Viola did in the statements mentioned above. How could the military recognize their responsibility in the implementation of state terrorism? That responsibility has been denounced by the Argentinian people and by millions of persons as well as nations and organizations all over the world.
But who could support a regime that is not only repressing the people but destroying the country's economy? Argentina's foreign debt before the coup was $ 7 billion; now it is around $30 billion. Real wages decreased by 40 percent and the share of labor in the national income descended from 45.5 percent in 1975 to 30 percent in 1980. These figures show just a part of the economic disaster. In spite of that the military do have supporters: the few rich landowners and the small group of those that are becoming richer due to that economy of speculation. The rest of the country's population gets repression, unemployment, lack of housing and a decent salary, plus a total absence of political rights.
When they detained me, I was a student representative at the university. I am also a Peronist. (The political party that the military overthrew with their coup, Peronism had won elections with 62.8 percent of the votes in a country where to vote is mandatory.) I had strongly opposed the dictatorship, denouncing kidnappings, torture, and all kinds of human rights violations, such as denial of the right to strike and of freedom of assembly. To be a Peronist and a dissident was enough reason to pull me out from my family and from the whole world. While disappeared I wasn't able to know for five months what had happened to my little daughter. Now I know that more than 100 children are disappeared. Should I feel free?
Some weeks ago 1,300 auto workers were arrested for striking. They were just asking for jobs. As you can see, it is not only because I am forbidden to go back to my country that I don't feel free yet: Argentina is still a prisoner of the military dictatorship.