Argentine junta casts shadow over new Dutch queen

Critics call on Maxima to clarify her father's role in dictatorship


Dutch Queen Maxima has reached the zenith of her popularity both in the Netherlands and in her native Argentina after ascending the throne with her husband, King Willem-Alexander, last week, but calls remain for her to come clean on her father’s murky role in the former Argentine military junta.

Jorge Zorreguieta, now 85, served as agriculture minister under the notorious regime of Jorge Videla in the 1970s.

The junta, which Videla led from 1976 to 1981, is held responsible for the disappearance of up to 30,000 people during the “dirty war” against political opponents. Many of the disappeared are believed to have been thrown from planes on “death flights” over the southern Atlantic.

Maxima’s father has in the past denied knowing of the disappearances and the Dutch Cabinet even commissioned historian Michiel Baud to look into the extent of his involvement in the military dictatorship.

Baud concluded that Zorreguieta must have known something about the torture and the thousands of people who vanished at the time, though he was almost certainly not personally involved.

“He obviously knew something,” said Pablo Jannes, a 56-year-old Dutch-Argentinian who has been living in the Netherlands since 1987. “Why doesn’t Maxima simply say, ‘My father is lying when he says he doesn’t know’?

“Of course Maxima did not take part in the dictatorship, but I don’t think she’s done enough to distance herself from her father’s past,” Jannes said at his home just outside Rotterdam, a few days after the enthronement.

As a 20-year-old, Jannes saw Videla take power and as a student active in politics and the son of a prominent unionist back then, he already had a taste of the abuses of the repressive Peron regime that ruled the country before the junta seized power.

He still remembers the horror of his arrest under Isabel Peron’s rule after the death of her husband, President Juan Peron, and says he survived five mock executions with guns pointed at his head and the triggers being pulled — practices that continued when the junta took over.

Jannes spent the Videla years laying low, moving from one place to another in Argentina and trying not to draw attention to himself.

“Her (Maxima’s) father made a mistake by agreeing to be a minister under the dictatorship,” he said, sipping a cup of tea.

In 2006, Maxima did meet the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the iconic human rights group representing the relatives of those who disappeared — including babies — during the Videla years in a gesture that was appreciated by the movement.

But Jannes wants the new queen to go further.

“Maxima should publicly admit that her father was involved, and this she hasn’t yet done. It sounds wrong when I hear her and Willem-Alexander speak of human rights,” he said.

In an interview with reporters before her wedding, Maxima said, “I regret that he (her father) did his best in a bad regime. He had the best intentions.”

While Zorreguieta has been accused of being involved in some of the disappearances and continues to be investigated, he has never been charged and put on trial like Videla and former military President Reynaldo Bignone.

He stayed away from his daughter’s 2002 wedding to then-Prince Willem-Alexander in Amsterdam amid popular outcry in the politically correct Netherlands. Her mother also stayed away in solidarity.

In an interview a few weeks before Willem-Alexander became king, Maxima told the Dutch national broadcaster that her family made a joint decision not to attend her husband’s investiture, possibly to avoid further embarrassing questions from being asked.

“Just because he’s not coming to the (enthronement) ceremony and wasn’t at the wedding doesn’t mean that we’ve forgotten,” said Claudia Piazza, 25, a waitress at an Argentinian restaurant in Amsterdam.

“The theme of Maxima’s father has been dropped too quickly,” Piazza said.

Juan Joaquin Medina, 61, who works at another of the city’s Argentinian restaurants, Los Argentinos, remembers well the brutal dictatorship that he left behind to go to the Netherlands.

“There are many Argentinians who do not agree” with the frenzy around Maxima and the enthronement, Medina said.