Michael John Geraghty
Aires Herald, 29 March 2002
the best of times are dull, dry and depressing and Rodolfo Walsh’s
would have read something like: "born 9 January 1927 in Río Negro,
died tragically 25 March, 1977 in Buenos Aires. Deeply regretted
by his loving family and friends. Religious ceremony and funeral
arrangements to be announced. No flowers by request. We did not
see you close your eyes, we did not see you die, we only knew you
had gone without a last goodbye".
There was however
no obituary to announce his death at the early age of 50 years,
no religious ceremony was ever held, no funeral arrangements were
ever made. Rodolfo Walsh lies forever in an unmarked grave on which
no flowers were ever laid. The Buenos Aires Herald and offshore
Radio Colonia were the only media to report his death and
their journalists Robert Cox, Andrew Graham-Yool and Ariel Delgado
had to flee Argentina and its bloodthirsty dictatorship..
Walsh was a
member of the Montoneros, the leftist terrorist organization,
and on the first anniversary of Jorge Rafael Videla’s dictatorship,
24 March 1977, he committed the unforgivable crime of accusing the
dictatorship in an open letter of "toppling an elected government…banning
political parties…intervening trade unions…gagging the press…installing
the worst reign of terror ever known in Argentina… imprisoning thousands
of people without due process…brutally torturing and summarily executing
them…disappearing 15,000 people and exiling tens of thousands more
…throwing prisoners into the ocean from aircraft…creating concentration
camps where judges, lawyers, journalists, and international observers
cannot enter… plunging millions of people into preplanned misery
by destroying industry, freezing wages and increasing prices…without
hope of being listened to, I know I will be hunted down, but I am
faithful to the commitment I assumed to give testimony in times
The letter was
"one of the jewels of universal literature," according to Gabriel
García Márquez, but "the day after Walsh decried these atrocities",
wrote US historian, Donald C. Hodges, "three army tanks demolished
his home in the capital’s suburb of San Vicente and disappeared
(1) him as well". He was murdered in broad daylight in downtown Buenos
Aires by a military death squad whose instructions were to capture
him alive, but had to kill him when he pulled a gun to return their
fire. His dead body was dumped into the boot a car, taken to the
notorious Navy Mechanics’ School (ESMA), gloated over, desecrated
and never seen again.
At the moment
of his death, Walsh, disguised as an old-age pensioner, was on his
way to a meeting with José Salgado, the Montonero and police
officer who - in July 1976 - placed in the Central Police Department
the bomb which killed 20 policemen and maimed some 60 others. Strangely
enough, Walsh - who was a high-ranking member of Montoneros
intelligence - did not know on that fatal morning Salgado had been
captured months previously, tortured beyond recognition and executed.
In other words Rodolfo Walsh was set up by his own Montoneros
whose leadership may have been working with and for the armed
forces. The point has never been clarified, but there can be no
doubt some terrorists were serving both masters and not everyone
was as committed to their ideals as Rodolfo Walsh was.
"I was born
in "Choele-Choel", he wrote, "which means heart of wood", and he
added with the typical wit of the Irish, "many women have scolded
me for my wooden heart!" The Walshes were typical Irish Argentines.
One of his brothers is a naval officer and a sister is a nun. He
inherited his love of literature from his mother, Dora Gill, an
avid reader. When the family fell on hard times in one of Argentina’s
always recurring crises, Rodolfo was sent to an orphanage-cum- boarding
school "to learn reading, writing and arithmetic from priests who
never forgot to use the stick". He also learned to stand up for
himself to these abusive priests and bullying companions. Los
Oficios Terrestres and Irlandeses detrás de un Gato are
stories about his school days and portray the pitfalls, cruelty
and loneliness of boarding-school life. In 1951 he published Los
Nutrieros about the ups and downs of otter poachers. The die
was well and truly cast and Walsh’s concern all his life was justice
for the physically weak and the socially excluded.
He is credited
with being the father of investigative journalism in Argentina.
In 1957 he published Operación Masacre - based on an interview
with a survivor - which tells the real story of how a group of 34
men, most of whom had no connection with a recent revolt against
the Aramburu dictatorship, were taken to a garbage dump in José
León Suárez, a suburb of Buenos Aires, and summarily executed in
a hail of machine gun fire. "All Peronists", said Perón, "are indebted
to the author of Operación Masacre", but Walsh was now a
marked man and anonymous death threats became part of his life.
In 1969 he published
¿Quién Mató a Rosendo? which tells how trade-unionist, Rosendo
García, died in an Avellaneda pizzeria in a shoot-out between
rival unionists, Raimundo Ongaro and Augusto ‘Wolf’ Vandor (2). In 1973 he published ‘El Caso Satanovsky’ which tells
the sordid tale of the murder of a leading lawyer who was litigating
against the military government. None of these cases were ever solved
and Rodolfo Walsh became an unpopular name for many powerful people
for having investigated them.
He was also
a master of the short story genre and Esa Mujer, published
posthumously in 1986 is considered by many one of best short stories
in Argentine literature. It evokes the memory of Eva Perón without
ever mentioning her name. In it Walsh illustrates brilliantly through
an interview with a drunken army colonel the immense power for good
and for evil she exercised on Argentines even after her death. Unfortunately
many of Walsh’s unpublished manuscripts were destroyed in the 1977
military raid on his house in San Vicente.
When the Videla
government came to power in 1976, Walsh was already in the Montoneros
after militating in catholic action, nationalism and Peronist
Armed Forces (FAP). When the government closed Noticias,
the Montoneros newspaper, Walsh, with an underground network
of journalists and contacts, founded, published and distributed
Clandestine News Agency (ANCLA). He was no newcomer to underground
publishing and was, along with Gabriel García Márquez, one of the
founders of Prensa Latina in 1959 in Havana, Cuba. "We need
nothing," he told colleagues, "other than a typewriter and a mimeograph".
ANCLA was the first Argentine news agency to report the casualties
of the dirty war that was tearing Argentina apart and the atrocities
that were taking place in ESMA and other concentration camps. Walsh
was by now a very wanted man and high on the military hit list.
1976, his oldest daughter María Victoria, also a member of the Montoneros,
was killed in a shoot-out. Walsh was shattered emotionally and he
penned Carta a Mis Amigos about "the short, hard, marvelous
life" of his dead daughter "whose true cemetery is our memory".
ANCLA was no longer enough, he probably sensed his end was near,
and he founded Cadena Informativa, a two-page newsletter.
He typed it himself on his battered, portable Royal typewriter "bought
from Matusalem", mimeographed and distributed it however he could.
It always ended telling readers "terror is based on the absence
of communication, defeat it by breaking the isolation, so copy and
circulate this information and rest assured tinhorn dictators surrounded
by bayonets and truncheons are terrified by spoken words and stirring
His second and
surviving daughter, Patricia Cecilia Walsh, was elected to the House
of Representatives in the last election on a leftist ticket and
on 19 March 2002 she delivered on a campaign promise to table a
motion in Congress to have the "full-stop" and "due obedience" amnesty
laws repealed. However only 46 out of Argentina’s 257 legislators
turned up to debate the motion which was dropped because of lack
of quorum. Unfortunately Argentina continues to be a country with
a great capacity to forget its own tragedies and is therefore irrevocably
condemned to repeat them. Rodolfo Walsh overcame the illness of
forgetting what should never be forgotten and immolated his own
life in the process. May he rest in peace wherever he lies.
‘Disappear’ was an intransitive verb in English until English-language
journalists and historians writing about the Argentine situation
used it as a transitive verb to describe the disappearances of thousands
of people in Argentina under the 1976 – 1982 Argentine hardline
military dictatorship. A questionable contribution to philology,
but a contribution nevertheless!
Argentines have a great ability to nickname people and Augusto Vandor
became ‘Wolf’ because he had a pretty little girfriend in Saavedra,
a Buenos Aires neighborhood, who wore a Little-Red-Riding-Hood style