Last Thursday night about 8:30 p.m., five cars suddenly appeared before an apartment building in the middle-class suburb of Munro. Five men, claiming to be members of the national police force, led Maria Consuelo Gonzalez, 30, and her three young daughters away.
Neighbors later told the woman's relatives that she had been taken from the apartment, a hood over her head, to one of the cars. Her children-- Delia Teresa, 5; Eva Judi, 4; and Mariana, 3-- were loaded into another of the vehicles and driven off into the night.
The neighbors said they believed that the woman's husband and the children's father, Regino Adolfo Gonzalez, 31, had been captured outside the apartment building and also taken into custody.
Despite public pleas by other members of the Gonzalez family, publicity in some newspapers here, a denunciation before the interamerican Human Rights Commission-- now on a fact-finding mission to Argentina-- and a writ of habeas corpus filed Monday, nothing has been heard of the two adults-- or of the three small children-- since their abduction almost a week ago.
The Gonzalez family is only the most recent reported example of the many Argentines who have disappeared since the country's current military government came to power three years ago.
Argentine and international human rights groups estimate that the number of missing persons is somewhere between 8,000 and 20,000-- most of them believed to have been taken away by military security squads formed to fight the government's so-called "dirty war" against terrorism.
Despite the presence of the human rights commission, which will issue a report on Argentina after completing its current two-week visit, the number of persons who have disappeared here has increased substantially over the past six weeks.
Twenty-five persons were reported missing to local human rights groups between Jan. 1 and Aug. 2. Since Aug. 3, 16 persons, including the five members of the Gonzalez family, have disappeared and only three were later publicly accounted for by the police.
The commission is investigating all aspects of the human rights situation, including the status of almost 3,000 political prisoners and several prominent Argentines. Among them are former president Maria Estela Martinez de Peron and newspaper publisher Jacobo Timerman, who are under house arrest. But the question of the missing is considered the most serious and urgent human rights issue in Argentina today.
It is also considered to be the most sensitive issue as far as the government is concerned. The government has been forced by the visit of the human rights commission to take steps and issue statements that seem to contradict its claim that the armed forces are not responsible for those who have disappeared.
Last week the government put into effect a new law which would allow the country's courts to declare missing persons dead after 90 days if there is no evidence brought forward to indicate that they are still alive.
Human rights groups here have charged that this is a "final solution" to the problem that would allow the government to wash its hands of either accounting for-- or redoubling efforts to locate-- those who have disappeared.
There is no other government in the world, members of the human rights groups say, that would allow its courts to declare people dead-- instead of trying to find them-- if it were not itself responsible for their disappearances.
Another seeming contradiction in the government's position become apparent yesterday, when Gen. Juan Bautista Sasiain, the head of the federal police, told the human rights commission that there are no paramilitary-groups in Argentina.
Since the government has also declared the war against terrorism won, Emilio Mignone, a vice president of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, said today that Bautista's statement could only mean that the government itself is responsible for the continuing disappearances. If there are no paramilitary or terrorist groups capable of kidnaping people, then only the armed forces or the police could possibly be involved, Mignone said.
The primary task of the human rights commission will be to sort through all the claims and counterclaims, sift through the evidence that has been presented to it, take account of Argentina's recent troubled history and then write a report that presents the current state of human rights in Argentina factually and dispassionately.
In order to accomplish this task, the commission arrived here on Sept. 6 and began meeting with members of the current government, leaders of the country's political parties (now in recess), human rights activists, church leaders, former civilian and military presidents, families of those who have disappeared since the current government came to power and relatives of those who were kidnaped and killed by terrorist groups such as the Montoneros.
The commission also visited several of the country's jails where political prisoners are being held, and at least one building in Buenos Aires suspected of being a police torture center. The five-member commission will leave Argentina Thursday.