February 2, 2023
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Historian speaks on Argentinian dictatorship

David Sheinin, a professor at Trent University, disputed the Argentinian government’s historical narrative of the country’s military and indigenous populations in a lecture Monday night in Clark Lounge.

Alex Mason/The IthacanDavid Sheinin, professor of history at Trent University, speaks about his research on the modernization of indigenous people in Argentina Monday evening in Clarke Lounge.

Sheinin’s lecture, titled “The Plot to Modernize Indigenous Peoples: Rethinking Human Rights under Military Rule in Argentina, 1976-1983,” focused on the nation’s military dictatorship during the late ’70s and early ’80s. The event was sponsored by Ithaca College’s Latin American Studies program, in affiliation with the college’s history department and Cornell University’s Latin American studies program. About 30 students and faculty attended the event.

Sheinin argued the dominant narrative of “heroic resistance” against the military dictatorship was a white, middle-class, urban narrative. This was perpetuated by outside groups such as human rights organizations. However, Sheinin said, it is not representative of other narratives from the indigenous peoples.

“There is historical narrative that said the Argentinian dictatorship became a pariah state,” Sheinin said. “I want to suggest to you that this is not the case.”

Sheinin spoke about the Argentinian government’s attempts to bring the indigenous populations under a national native identity. He also discussed the questions of race and ethnicity, of poor indigenous versus middle-class, as well as European-native peoples in the dictatorship.

Sheinin said other questions, beyond the indications of resistance, should be examined.

“What were indigenous people thinking?” Sheinin said. “What was day-to-day life under the dictatorship? There’s evidence of severe repression, but there’s also evidence of different sorts of relationships with the dictatorship.”

According to Sheinin’s website, his previous work on the nation of Argentina includes his 2006 book “Argentina and the United States: An Alliance Contained.” His newest book, “Consent of the Damned: Ordinary Argentinians in the Dirty War,” will be published in November.

Junior Kristin Leffler, who spent last spring studying in Cordoba, Argentina, said Sheinin’s questioning of the military’s intents and the opinions of the Argentinian people were significant.

“The military dictatorship is a very complex issue,” Leffler said. “A lot of people take one side with it, so it’s important to keep an open mind and really see the motives for a lot of their actions.”

One of Sheinin’s main points was that differing narratives about the dictatorship are often silenced.

“The way that Argentines remember the past is that there is one reasonable memory of the period,” Sheinin said. “If you do not remember the dictatorship in this way, if you have any alternative memory of the dictatorship, it is ignorant, it is stupid, it is dumb and it’s a reflection of your identity.”

Politics professor Patricia Rodriguez said the military dictatorship attempted to assimilate the indigenous population, a narrative different from the main ones illustrated by Sheinin.

“The indigenous populations never had their rights and their citizenship recognized,” Rodriguez said. “That’s why they didn’t connect to all the other groups, like human rights organizations, that were complaining about the military.”

Freshman Michael Falconieri said Sheinin’s take on the Argentine situation was unique in comparison to the general history that is told.

“He has almost a theoretical positive outlook on the situation,” Falconieri said. “He wants to believe that the dictatorship was really looking out for the human rights of the indigenous people of Argentina, but at the same time he recognizes that it’s pretty much a complete failure.”