Friday, March 24, 2017

Rodolfo Walsh: revolutionary Argentine journalist

March 24, 1977: On this date Rodolfo Jorge Walsh (January 9, 1927 – March 25, 1977) an Argentine writer, journalist and revolutionary of Irish descent, published his “Open Letter from a Writer to the Military Junta” (excerpts from which are below) accusing them of disappearing thousands of Argentines. The next day he was murdered. 

“In 1976, in response to censorship imposed by the military dictatorship, Walsh had created ANCLA, (Clandestine News Agency), and the ‘Information Chain,’ a system of hand-to-hand information distribution whose leaflets stated in the heading: 

Reproduce this information, circulate it by any means at your disposal: by hand, by machine, by mimeograph, orally. Send copies to your friends: nine out of ten are waiting for them. Millions want to be informed. Terror is based on lack of communication. Break the isolation. Feel again the moral satisfaction of an act of freedom. Defeat the terror. Circulate this information.

While US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger congratulated Argentina’s military junta for combating the left, stating that in his opinion “the government of Argentina had done an outstanding job in wiping out terrorist forces,” fulfilling Kissinger’s earlier wish for the military junta to stamp out “terrorism.” As Christopher Hitchens writes in The Trial of Henry Kissinger (New York: Twelve, 2012/ first published by Verso, 2002),

“When Kissinger and [Admiral] Guzzetti first met, the number of ‘disappeared’ was estimated at 1,022. By the time Argentina had become an international byword for torture, for anti-Semitism, for death-squads and for the concept of the desaparecido, a minimum of 15,000 victims had been registered by reliable international and local monitors. In 1978, when the situation was notorious, Kissinger (by then out of office) accepted a personal invitation from the dictator General Videla to be his guest during Argentina’s hosting of the soccer World Cup. The former Secretary of State made use of the occasion to lecture the Carter administration for its excessive tenderness concerning human rights. General Videla … has since been imprisoned for life. One of the more specific charges on which he was convicted was the sale of the children of rape victims held in his secret jails. His patron and protector, meanwhile, is enjoying a patriarchal autumn that may still be disturbed … by the memory of what he permitted and indeed encouraged.”

Hitchens also reminds us that Argentina’s “Dirty War” was but one component of Operation Condor, “a machinery of cross-border assassination, abduction, torture and intimidation, coordinated between the secret police forces of Pinochet’s Chile, Stroessner’s Paraguay, Videla’s Argentina, and other regional caudillos.” Among the objectives of this “campaign of political repression and state terror,” “nominally intended to eradicate communist or Soviet influence and ideas,” was the suppression of “active or potential opposition movements against the participating governments’ neoliberal economic policies, which sought to reverse the economic reforms of the previous era.” The U.S. government under several successive presidential administrations provided technical assistance, intelligence information, and military aid to the participating governments in South America: Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil.

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From the “Open Letter:”

The first anniversary of this Military Junta has brought about a year-end review of government operations in the form of official documents and speeches: what you call good decisions are mistakes, what you acknowledge as mistakes are crimes, and what you have left out entirely are disasters. [….]

Illegitimate since birth, your government could have legitimized itself by reviving the political program that 80 percent of Argentines voted for in the 1973 elections, and that continues to be an objective expression of the people’s will—the only thing that could possibly be denoted by the ‘national being’ that you invoke so often. You have gone instead in the completely opposite direction by returning to the ideas and interests of defeated minority groups, the ones who hold back workforce development, exploit the people, and divide the Nation. This kind of politics can only prevail temporarily by banning political parties, taking control of unions, silencing the press, and introducing Argentine society to the most profound terror it has ever known. [….]

Fifteen thousand missing, ten thousand prisoners, four thousand dead, tens of thousands in exile: these are the raw numbers of this terror.

Since the ordinary jails were filled to the brim, you created virtual concentration camps in the main garrisons of the country which judges, lawyers, journalists, and international observers, are all forbidden to enter. The military secrecy of what goes on inside, which you cite as a requirement for the purposes of investigation, means that the majority of the arrests turn into kidnappings that in turn allow for torture without limits and execution without trial.

The refusal of this Junta to publish the names of the prisoners is, moreover, a cover for the systematic execution of hostages in vacant lots in the early morning, all under the pretext of fabricated combat and imaginary escape attempts.

Extremists who hand out pamphlets in the countryside, graffiti the sidewalks, or pile ten at a time into vehicles that then burst into flames: these are the stereotypes of a screenplay that was written not to be believed, but to buffer against the international reaction to the current executions. Within the country, meanwhile, the screenplay only underscores how intensely the military lashes back in the same places where there has just been guerrilla activity.

Seventy people executed after the Federal Security Agency bombing, fifty-five in response to the blasting of the La Plata Police Department, thirty for the attack on the Ministry of Defense, forty in the New Year’s Massacre following the death of Colonel Castellanos, and nineteen after the explosion that destroyed the Ciudadela precinct, amount to only a portion of the twelve hundred executions in three hundred alleged battles where the opposition came out with zero wounded and zero forces killed in action.

Many of the hostages are union representatives, intellectuals, relatives of guerrillas, unarmed opponents, or people who just look suspicious: they are recipients of a collective guilt that has no place in a civilized justice system and are incapable of influencing the politics that dictate the events they are being punished for. They are killed to balance the number of casualties according to the foreign ‘body-count’ doctrine that the SS used in occupied countries and the invaders used in Vietnam. [….]

These events, which have shaken the conscience of the civilized world, are nonetheless not the ones that have brought the greatest suffering upon the Argentine people, nor are they the worst human rights violations that you have committed. The political economy of the government is the place to look not only for the explanation of your crimes, but also for an even greater atrocity that is leading millions of human beings into certain misery.

Over the course of one year, you have decreased the real wages of workers by 40 percent, reduced their contribution to the national income by 30 percent, and raised the number of hours per day a worker needs to put in to cover his cost of living from six to eighteen, thereby reviving forms of forced labor that cannot even be found in the last remnants of colonialism.

By freezing salaries with the butts of your rifles while prices rise at bayonet point, abolishing every form of collective protest, forbidding internal commissions and assemblies, extending workdays, raising unemployment to a record level of 9 percent and being sure to increase it with three hundred thousand new layoffs, you have brought labor relations back to the beginning of the Industrial Era. And when the workers have wanted to protest, you have called them subversives and kidnapped entire delegations of union representatives who sometimes turned up dead, and other times did not turn up at all.

The results of these policies have been devastating. During this first year of government, consumption of food has decreased by 40 percent, consumption of clothing by more than 50 percent, and the consumption of medicine is practically at zero among the lower class. There are already regions in Greater Buenos Aires where the infant mortality rate is above 30 percent, a figure which places us on par with Rhodesia, Dahomey, or the Guayanas. The incidence of diseases like Summer Diarrhea, parasitosis, and even rabies has climbed to meet world records and has even surpassed them. As if these were desirable and sought-after goals, you have reduced the public health budget to less than a third of military spending, shutting down even the free hospitals while hundreds of doctors, medical professionals, and technicians join the exodus provoked by terror, low wages, or ‘rationalization.’

You only have to walk around Greater Buenos Aires for a few hours before quickly realizing that these policies are turning it into a slum with ten million inhabitants. Cities in semi-darkness; entire neighborhoods with no running water because the monopolies rob them of their groundwater tables; thousands of blocks turned into one big pothole because you only pave military neighborhoods and decorate the Plaza de Mayo; the biggest river in the world is contaminated in all of its beaches because Minister Martinez de Hoz’s associates are sloughing their industrial waste into it, and the only government measure you have taken is to ban people from bathing.

You have not been much wiser it comes to the abstract goals of the economy, which you tend to call ‘the country.’ A decrease in the gross national product of around 3 percent, a foreign debt reaching $600 dollars per inhabitant, an annual inflation rate of 400 percent, a 9 percent increase in the money supply within a single week in December, a low of 13 percent in foreign investment—these are also world records, strange fruit born of cold calculation and severe incompetence.

While all the constructive and protective functions of the state atrophy and dissolve into pure anemia, only one is clearly thriving. One billion eight hundred million dollars—the equivalent of half of Argentina’s exports—have been budgeted for Security and Defense in 1977. That there are four thousand new officer positions in the Federal Police and twelve thousand in the Province of Buenos Aires offering salaries that are double that of an industrial worker and triple that of a school principal—while military wages have secretly increased by 120 percent since February—proves that there is no salary freezing or unemployment in the kingdom of torture and death. This is the only Argentine business where the product is growing and where the price per slain guerrilla is rising faster than the dollar.

Martinez de Hoz’s 1976 policy was similar to the formula prescribed by the IMF that Walsh mentions here. The general idea was to restructure the States economic program, cutting down on domestic spending and any State regulation, to allow for growth through the international economy. The old ranchers’ oligarchy (‘oligarquia ganadera’) refers to cattle-ranching families that owned Argentine land and gained high social status starting in the nineteenth century. De Hoz himself came from such a family.

The economic policies of this Junta—which follow the formula of the International Monetary Fund that has been applied indiscriminately to Zaire and Chile, to Uruguay and Indonesia—recognize only the following as beneficiaries: the old ranchers’ oligarchy; the new speculating oligarchy; and a select group of international monopolies headed by ITT, Esso, the automobile industry, US Steel, and Siemens, which Minister Martinez de Hoz and his entire cabinet have personal ties to.

A 722 percent increase in the prices of animal products in 1976 illustrates the scale of a return to oligarchy, launched by Martinez de Hoz, that is consistent with the creed of the Sociedad Rural as stated by its president, Celedonio Pereda: ‘It is very surprising that certain small but active groups keep insisting that food should be affordable.’ [….]

These are the thoughts I wanted to pass on to the members of this Junta on the first anniversary of your ill-fated government, with no hope of being heard, with the certainty of being persecuted, but faithful to the commitment I made a long time ago to bear witness during difficult times.

Rodolfo Walsh—I.D. 2845022

Buenos Aires, March 24, 1977


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