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Esta es una historia real, but it’s not Hollywood

On opening this book the first page depicts a precise line drawing of a particular kind of aircraft (a Short SC-7 Skyvan), followed on the second page by a line drawing of a Lockheed 1-1888 Electra. Photographs of a document in Spanish occupy three pages and then five words appear: This is a true story (Esta es una historical real).


Sean Sheehan


Such words, when they appear on the screen at the start or finish of a Hollywood film, more often than not signify a departure from the truth in favour of melodrama and sentimentality. In this publication, the words and the book’s title, “Destino final”, do mean what they say.

The facts are undisputed. From 1978 until 1983, the Argentinian military set about eliminating left-wing opposition to the country’s dictatorship.

Von Wernich, wearing a bullet-proof vest, enters the courtroom before the verdict. The court found him guilty of complicity in seven homicides, 42 kidnappings, and 32 instances of torture and sentenced him to life imprisonment. La Plata, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina,

A favoured method was to sedate detained individuals with Pentothal before loading them onto military planes. In the words of Adolfo Scilingo, a former Argentine military officer: “They were unconscious: we undressed them and, when the captain of the flight gave use the order, we opened the door and threw them out, naked, one by one.’

“Destino final” is a book of photographs and words, telling the story of the long struggle to bring those responsible into courtrooms, to search for the death flight planes and to identify, from the remains of bodies that have been found, some of the 5,000 victims.

The photographs are grainy, black and white images that document the terrorism of an Argentine state, carried out by the military, with support from the financial sector and, in the words of a judge, “within a national security policy for the Americas sponsored at that time by the United States.”

What you see in the pages of the book are the log books and interiors of aircraft that have been identified as ones that flew so many on their final journeys, detention centres and cells, family members remembering their loved ones, the forensic search to identify victims.

A forensic anthropologist at work to identify the remains of a desaparecido. EAAF laboratory, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2010.

Also photographed are some of those responsible and scenes from their trials but, however closely their faces and presence are examined, little is revealed about how they feel or think. In contrast, the looks of survivors and family members of the dead are haunted and stricken with grief.

The text is in English and Spanish. This is a valuable book about a despicable period in Argentina’s history, the relentless search for evidence and the plight of those who remember what happened.

“Destino final” by  Giancarlo Ceraudo is published by Schilt 

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