Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography

Joe Baxter
(Alberto Pérez Iriarte collection)

Baxter, José Luis [Joe] (1940-1973), activist and revolutionary, was born on 24 May 1940 at El Moro stud farm in Marcos Paz (Buenos Aires province of Argentina), the son of Joseph Baxter (1888-1952) and his wife María Luisa, née Denaro (1910-1996); they also had a daughter, Mary, born in 1947. A professional race horse trainer, Joseph Baxter was born in London and emigrated to Argentina, probably with his Irish-born father Joseph Baxter (sen.), who found employment in a cattle ranch in Buenos Aires. The family had an Anglo-Irish protestant background.

Joe Baxter learnt English as his first language, and was a skilled horse-rider at an early age. He was sent to elementary school in the English School of Córdoba, where he used to receive visits from his family every two weeks. At ten, Baxter had an accident in the school and broke his elbow. For this reason, he would not be able to move correctly the right arm. One of those physical types inclined to be rather corpulent, Joe was nicknamed El Gordo.

When Joe Baxter's father Joseph died in 1952 the family relocated to Buenos Aires and lived in the district of Villa Urquiza (Alvarez Thomas avenue). Mrs. Baxter had to work as children's nurse to supplement the family's income. Joe was sent to another English School in Lomas de Zamora, where he received a tuition grant and assisted younger pupils. Baxter was a good student and became a keen reader of adventure novels, history, and poetry. At fifteen, Baxter entered Instituto Martínez school of Buenos Aires, which was a mediocre secondary school. Joe had plenty of time to hang around the political debate meetings at Café Paulista together with pupils of Salvador and San Agustín Catholic schools. He was fascinated by their nationalist discourse and became an enthusiastic pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic activist. He rejected the Argentine bourgeois ideology that supported the fall of Juan Manuel de Rosas in 1852, and was against the conventional political practises.

After the Soviet occupation of Hungary in November 1956, Baxter joined the Nationalist Union of Secondary Students (UNES), a high-school student branch of the right-wing Catholic organisation Tacuara, led by Alberto Ezcurra Uriburu (1937-1993). Joe Baxter was an enthusiastic supporter of the weekly nationalist paper Azul y Blanco. Two years later, he was appointed Tacuara's secretary-general. At the same time, he was studying in the School of Law and, thanks to his English skills, was working as international operator in the state-owned telephone company. His political activities, on top of the frequent meetings, included violent raids against the URSS consulate, synagogues and other Jewish institutions. In spite that Tacuara was inspired by Catholic priests and modelled after Primo de Rivera's Falange in Spain, Joe Baxter was distrustful of any religious ideology. He described himself as a nationalist and anti-imperialist. An admirer of the poet Ezra Pound, Baxter published in 1959 the poem "Nüremberg" in Tacuara publication. He supported a strong militarization of the movement. After the demonstrations during the visit of Dwight Eisenhower to Argentina in February 1962, Joe Baxter was imprisoned together with other nationalist activists. In prison he met Guillermo Patricio Kelly (1922-2005), with whom he disagreed ideologically, and José Luis Nell (1941-1974), who would be his companion during years.

When the Cuban president Osvaldo Dorticós visited Argentina in 1962, Joe Baxter was captivated with Castro's revolution and its anti-imperialist challenge to the United States. Owing to the creation by Fr. Julio Menvielle of Guardia Restauradora – a Catholic segment within Tacuara – the organisation split and Baxter and others set up Tacuara Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNRT). Therefore began Joe Baxter's metamorphosis from fascism to Marxism, a transformation which would be shared by several members of his generation. In his view, the Peronist labour structure was necessary to attain the national revolution. As an illustration of his ambiguous and complex ideological development, when policemen raided his house in Villa Urquiza, they were bewildered by portraits of Hitler, Mussolini, and Fidel Castro decorating his bedroom.

By 1963 Joe Baxter was a full-time political activist. He admired Algeria's nationalist revolution and rejected anti-Semitism. At the same time, his group received arms from Peronist army officers and was planning radical operations to finance their activities, which included among others a planned invasion to Falkland/Malvinas Islands. Although he did not play a direct role (but was implicitly concerned) in the raid to the bank labour union's hospital Policlínico Bancario on 29 August 1963 - the first urban guerrilla operation in Argentina - Joe Baxter was responsible to launder part of the booty in Brazil in 1964.

That year was the start of Baxter's international career. From Brazil he travelled to Madrid and met Juan Domingo Perón at his house. Perón introduced him to Héctor Villalón, a businessman with good connections in Cuba, China and Egypt. Baxter then moved to Algeria and Egypt and worked with several revolutionaries. To avoid the Argentine authorities, he settled for some time in Uruguay and transformed Tupamaros revolutionary group into an urban guerrilla organisation. In 1965, he received training in northern Vietnam. During a sudden attack he ignored the withdrawal order and fired on the enemy, being awarded for this action. Baxter also travelled to China to receive military and ideological training.

In 1966 Joe Baxter entered clandestinely in Argentina, and the following year went to Cuba thanks to his network with Tupamaros organisation. In Havana he married Ruth Arrieta, daughter of a Bolivian nationalist officer. Joe Baxter was in Paris during the Fourth International of 1968, where he represented the Trotskyist groups. In these circumstances Baxter met Rubén P. Bonnet, Luis Pujals and Mario R. Santucho, who would be founding members of the Peoples Revolutionary Army (ERP), a Trotskyist terrorist organisation in Argentina. After the hijacking of Fiat Argentina's chief executive Oberdan Sallustro that year, Baxter broke with ERP and created other radical groups like Leninist Trend and Red Fraction. By the early 1970s he was living in Chile with his wife and daughter Mariana, born in 1968 in Cuba.

Joe Baxter died on 11 July 1973 when the Boeing 707 of Varig Airlines, en route to Rio de Janeiro, attempted an emergency landing near Paris Orly airport killing 123 passengers. He was travelling on a false passport and carried with him $40,000 dollars, presumably to support the fighting of the Sandinist National Liberation Front (FSLN) of Nicaragua. Joe Baxter was buried beside his father and mother at the British cemetery of Chacarita in Buenos Aires. The stone that marks his grave carries the inscription El no quiso nada para sí (he wanted nothing for himself).

Edmundo Murray


I am most grateful to the journalist Daniel Gutman
for his review of the entry, corrections and additional information. The greater part of the records provided in this biography have been taken from Gutman's book Tacuara: historia de la primera guerrilla urbana argentina (Buenos Aires: Vergara, 2003). I am also thankful to Alberto Pérez Iriarte and Juan José Santos for the photographs of Joe Baxter and the family tombstone.


- Bardini, Roberto, Tacuara: la pólvora y la sangre (Mexico: Océano, 2002).

- Bardini, Roberto, A 30 años de la muerte de Joe Baxter. Una rosa roja en un casquillo de obús chino disparado en Viet Nam. Entrevista a Alberto Pérez Iriarte. Available online <> (cited 12 October 2005).

- García, Karina, Tacuara y el Asalto al Policlínico Bancario, in: "Todo es Historia" (Buenos Aires) N° 373 (August 1998).

- Gutman, Daniel, Tacuara: historia de la primera guerrilla urbana argentina (Buenos Aires: Vergara, 2003).
- Joe Baxter Papers (1972-1973) at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam. Includes documents concerning the Trotskyite movement in Latin America (Argentina: PRT and Chile: PSR), particularly articles by Joe Baxter (published and unpublished).

- Kremer, Arnold, Hombres y Mujeres del PRT-ERP: la pasión militante (Buenos Aires: Contrapunto, 1990).

- Navarro Gerassi, Marisa, Los Nacionalistas (Buenos Aires: Alvarez, 1968).

Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies

Online published: 1 November 2005
Edited: 07 May 2009

Murray, Edmundo, '
Baxter, José Luis [Joe] (1940-1973)' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" November-December 2005 (


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2005

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