What are the legacies of genocidal violence? Argentina hardly resembles what it was in the period after March 24, 1976 when the military dictatorship of El Proceso2 made 30,000 people “disappear.” Three decades later, democratic institutions have proven resilient and, after Congress annulled laws preventing trials for past state atrocities,3 more than 200 such lawsuits, out of an anticipated thousand, are under way. For the first time, the word genocide has gained legal currency. Ex-police chief Miguel Etchecolatz and Catholic priest and former chaplain Christian von Wernich have been sentenced for crimes committed “in the framework of the genocide that took place in Argentina between 1976 and 1983.”4 As time passes, genocide becomes a term and a part of history that is more readily acceptable, as is the case with the former generals Antonio Domingo Bussi and Luciano Benjamín Menéndez. Their indictment brings light to and characterizes the state’s killings, which were designed in September 1975 as a “final solution.”5 However, ongoing judicial prosecutions do not prevent the past from mentally and physically haunting Argentines. On September 17, 2006, Julio López, a key witness in Etchecolatz’s case, disappeared. And just as his absence has allowed us a glimpse into the shadows of state terror, other witnesses have been threatened, and ESMA6 torturer Héctor Febres died from cyanide before being sentenced. Meanwhile, CORREPI, the Coordinator against Police and Institutional Repression, reports less visible, albeit extended, arbitrary killings by members of the police and the security forces. In fact, CORREPI has documented the deaths of 2,334 harmless individuals since the return of democracy in 1983.7 The victims, overwhelmingly male, poor, and young – including children – were killed in the street just because of their appearance, or died in deplorably overpopulated prisons, or while locked away in police stations.8Even though the total numbers are unknown, this data shows that, in Argentina, state

violence has not ended but has become diffuse. Puzzlingly, more than one third of these deaths, 847, occurred under the government of Néstor Kirchner, a president who made human rights a priority. Are deaths by the police a continuation of El Proceso or do they call for a more extended genealogy? This essay interrogates Argentina’s violent palimpsest in its endogenous, structural, and transnational roots, focusing on the legacies of the genocidal violence of El Proceso in current forms of state violence. Similarities and continuities between violent practices connected to the state, performed by its different specialized organs and developing at a different pace, find a decisive link in policing. Julio Simón, Etchecolatz, and Von Wernich, the first condemned in recent trials, were part of la bonaerense, the police of the Buenos Aires province. In the 1970s, police officers constituted the largest group of perpetrators after the army. In fact, the genocidal violence of El Proceso took the form of a police operation advanced by what Julie Taylor appropriately characterizes as a police dictatorship.9 As Taylor observes, the decades after El Proceso gave a free rein to state terror, it “now openly stalks the Argentine streets as the gatillo fácil,”10 the police trigger-happy eagerness to use deadly force. Furthering this analysis, I draw here on the transcripts of about 70 tape interviews with members of the police and public security officers from eight different Argentine districts collected between 2001 and 2007, on documents, and on secondary data, to explore the bonds between past genocidal violence and current police violence. Acknowledging the specificity of genocide should not prevent us from recognizing how regular police techniques of collecting information and identifying, arresting, and interrogating individuals, all central to maintaining order in liberal democracies, are also key elements in the organization and implementation of massacres by the state. Modern states consist of relatively autonomous and selfpreserving administrative, military, and police apparatuses coordinated by an executive in a “Janus faced structure” of internal and transnational alliances.11 States trust policing to professionalized officers and, in varying degrees, also to intelligence and military agents and private bodies. One of the main aspects involved in policing is law enforcement. The other is maintaining public order, which Argentine police officers refer to as prevention and describe as comprising “everything,” from giving street directions to detaining suspicious individuals. Approximately 170,000 police officers watch the lives and property of almost 40 million Argentines. The country’s “effort of police” comprises one federal and 23 provincial civilian forces, plus two militarized bodies, the gendarmerie and the prefecture, which patrol borders, ports, and airports. By law, the Argentine military performs police functions only exceptionally, yet the increasing presence of the security forces controlling street protests amounts to militarizing policing. Throughout history, Argentines have endured domestically “the hostilities that citizens of other states experience mainly in the area of foreign relations.”12 As one commissioner observes, the problems with the police in Argentina are not just “a consequence of the military regime of 1976, or 1983; we verify them throughout history.”13 In fact, Argentina exhibits a solid tradition

of elite association with the police, the military, and irregular forces in eliminating “internal threats.”14 After the beginning of the twentieth century, immigrants were received with strict residence laws, deportations, and violence. In 1909, the police killed close to a hundred strikers in Buenos Aires. Helped by Liga Patriótica paramilitaries, the number of dead escalated to several hundred in 1919, and the military executed hundreds more in Patagonia in 1921. Torture became systematic in police stations after the 1930 military coup and the introduction of the picana (electric prod) in 1934.15 The foundational violence of the Argentine state against indigenous peoples, gauchos – traditional nomadic cowboys – and provincial caudillos, would reappear targeting immigrants, political subversives in the 1970s, and now “criminals.” Patriotic traditions notwithstanding, El Proceso materialized a wave of Cold War state terror with a conservative death toll estimate of 22 million.16 Mounted on a shadow state apparatus outside the law, Cold War violence mixed police techniques used to track individuals with the military might to destroy them as internal enemies. Focusing on examining the police links between the terror of El Proceso and current forms of state violence in Argentina, in this essay I also interrogate the role of foreign actors and transnational networks in perpetuating clandestine state apparatus. Overall, I contend, Argentina illustrates the always latent genocidal potential within state power.