Monday, March 18, 2013

Bergoglio/Francis' election as Pope brings new focus on some important aspects of Argentine history

I mentioned yesterday that Robert Perry of Consortium News has been using the event of Jorge Bergoglio's election as Pope Francis I to highlight some of the broader issues of the "dirty war" period in the 1970s and 1980s in Latin America that, among other things, produced the Iran-Contra scandal.

On 03/15/2013 he republished an article from 08/19/1998 by Marta Gurvich, Argentina’s Dapper State Terrorist, on Jorge Rafael Videla, who she describes as "the dapper dictator who launched the so-called Dirty War in 1976." Videla was the first head of the junta that overthrew the constitutional government of Argentina in 1976. Argentina had seen military dictatorships before, all of which brought their share of arbitrariness and cruelty. But the junta, who called their project El Proceso, took things to the next level, as we say these days.

Her article focuses on the kidnappings of babies from political prisoners, a heart-rending issue that persists today as a major concern in Argentina:

Videla, known for his English-tailored suits and his ruthless counterinsurgency theories, stands accused of permitting — and concealing — a scheme to harvest infants from pregnant women who were kept alive in military prisons only long enough to give birth.

According to the charges, the babies were taken from the new mothers, sometimes by late-night Caesarean sections, and then distributed to military families or shipped to orphanages. After the babies were pulled away, the mothers were removed to another site for their executions.
Last year I posted links to a mini-series run by TV Publica argentina, Volver a nacer, that deals with this issue in a moving way. (YouTube playlist for the entire miniseries here.)

The 2005 film Cautiva also deals with this issue and is available with English subtitles. At this writing, the film is also available on YouTube without subtitles. Here is Part 1, posted 09/27/2009. This is the video of the first part, which is unfortunately a poor quality reproduction:

Consortium News also on 03/16/2013 reprints an article of 01/07/1999 by Georg Hodel, Evita, the Swiss and the Nazis, that reminds us that the Catholic Church and the first Peronist regime cooperated to some significant degree in facilitating the immigration of former Nazis, some of them serious war criminals. Peronism was widely regarded in the United States in real time as a more-or-less fascist government. The view persists, and is reflected in Hodel's article: "During World War II, Gen. Peron — a populist military leader — made no secret of his sympathies for Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany. Even as the Third Reich crumbled in the spring of 1945, Peron remained a pro-fascist stalwart, making available more than 1,000 blank passports for Nazi collaborators fleeing Europe."

Peronism is a devilishly complex political phenomenon. Not least among its complications is that Peron did admire aspects of Mussolini's and Hitler's regimes. Hodel engages in some legitimate speculation based on circumstantial suggestions about what role Evita Perón may have played in the immigration of former Nazis.

But he makes polemical claims about Evita that are false: "Born in 1919 as an illegitimate child, she became a prostitute to survive and to get acting roles. As she climbed the social ladder lover by lover, she built up deep resentments toward the traditional elites. As a mistress to other army officers, she caught the eye of handsome military strongman Juan Peron. After a public love affair, they married in 1945." There is no evidence that Evita ever was a prostitute, that she slept her way up the "social ladder" - she always had contempt for the traditional "social ladder" of oligarchical Argentina - or that she was the girlfriend or "mistress" of any army officer other than Juan Perón. This kind of careless reproduction of gossip doesn't boost confidence in Hodel's speculations in the rest of the article.

This excerpt from the excellent 1996 Spanish-language film Eva Perón gives a sample of the contradictory nature of Evita and her politics, Eva Perón hablándole a los trabajadores ferroviarios:

The current President Cristina Fernández is head of the Peronist Partido Justicialista (PJ) and proudly uses both Juan and Eva Perón as positive symbols of her democratic and prolabor policies. What a political figure represents in popular memory and historical symbolism may be very different from what they really were. That's part of why we have historians.

These two videos from TV Publica argentina show Cristina speaking about Evita.

Cristina inauguró un mural sobre Evita 26.07.2011:

Cristina: "Evita cumplió su propia profecía de volver a una Argentina diferente" (35:55 minutes) 26.07.2012 on the 60th anniversary of Evita's death:

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