Argentine junta casts shadow over new Dutch queen

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) - The Argentine junta her father served has cast a shadow over the future queen of the Netherlands, Maxima, but since becoming Dutch she has tried to escape the bubble she grew up in and learn the truth.

Princess Maxima, the wife of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander - who on Tuesday becomes Dutch king - even secretly met with relatives of victims of the brutal regime of the 1970s and 80s in her quest for the truth.

The link with the most vicious of the Latin American dictatorships is such a burden that Princess Maxima's father, Jorge Zorreguieta, could not lead his daughter up the aisle at her 2002 wedding in Amsterdam.

Not only could he not attend his daughter's wedding, but he is also not coming to the ceremonies to mark his daughter becoming queen of the politically correct Netherlands.

Princess Maxima concealed her sadness when asked about her father in an April 17 interview.

"This is a constitutional event, when my husband becomes king and my father doesn't belong there, especially if there are issues," she said. "He remains my father, we still enjoy our private moments."

Princess Maxima has admitted in the past that she was saddened by her parents' absence from her wedding.

Her father faithfully served general Jorge Videla's dictatorship, first as junior minister (1976-1979) and then as agriculture minister (1979-1981).

While Mr Zorreguieta, now 85, was in government, regime opponents and others were being disappeared across the country, often tortured, drugged and thrown from aircraft into the ocean.

Human rights organisations say an estimated 30,000 people were killed or disappeared.

Two civil cases have been brought against him, concerning the disappearance of a doctor and a biologist from his ministry, but he has never been charged.

Various other members of the dictatorship have been tried and jailed in Argentina, including general Videla who is now serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.

Mr Zorreguieta insists that he knew nothing of the regime's atrocities during the so-called "Dirty War".

"There are concrete cases of people who asked him for help to find some of the disappeared and he didn't help them," Gonzalez Guerrero, who along with Soledad Ferrari wrote the book "Maxima, a true story", told AFP.

In 2006, Princess Maxima went to meet the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an association that seeks to reunite babies stolen by Videla's regime with their biological parents.

"Yes, we met with Maxima," the association's head Estela de Carlotto told AFP.

"It was a very positive meeting. She showed that she's not indifferent to human rights matters. She's very sensitive and seemed very intelligent, much more connected to Argentina than I imagined," she said.

Princess Maxima, 41, has had to give up her Argentine nationality and is reportedly not allowed to speak Spanish in public, but is admired in Argentina, where the country is proud of her royal destiny.

Estela de Carlotto said that the Dutch ambassador to Argentina called her to say she would like to meet.

The meeting with the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo was kept secret, like all of Maxima's activities in Buenos Aires and in Villa La Angostura, near chic Andes resort Bariloche, where her brother owns a restaurant.

"The change in Maxima has been impressive and does her proud. She lived her childhood in a bubble within which they said that there were no disappeared in Argentina and that the soldiers won a war against subversion.

"She came to the Netherlands thinking that and publicly defended her father. But then the penny dropped and she started to ask questions and find out what happened," said author Guerrero.

Guerrero and Ferrari say that Princess Maxima paid subtle homage to regime victims when she was married, with 30,000 flowers representing the disappeared decorating the different places in Amsterdam where the marriage was celebrated.

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