Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Dirty War

Politics in Argentina is a complex thing. First off there is a great deal of corruption, from the highest political offices to the lowly cop who stops you for a driving infraction and, when he takes you to the back of the car, suggests it would be easier to "settle things here" meaning a bribe to overlook the infraction.

The political figure most familiar to Europeans and North Americans is of course Eva Peron or ´Evita´ who is still regarded by most Argentenians as next to a Saint.

She gave women the vote, did poverty relief and then, in one of the actions I think the most ballsy, bought the most expensive mansion in Mar Del Plata, and much to the outrage of the neighbours, turned it into a home for abused, poor, rural women.

Evita however died very young and her husband, the dictator Juan Peron, was later exiled to Spain after some political fracus. He returned to be elected but upon his death his new wife, a former exotic dancer, Isabel Peron, took over the reigns of power in the country.

Isabel was a disaster as a leader. I guess a CV featuring the sole occupations of exotic dancer and trophy wife of military guy twice your age doesn´t necessarily provide you with the requisite skills essential to running a country. Thus Argentina went again, entirely to the dogs. Luckily it was ´rescued´ by wise fathers of the military in 1976 who undertook a Coup overturning civilian rule in the country.

Thus began ´The Dirty War´.

The Junta, opposed to any and all social and progressive action started a campaign of torture and terror that was to last until they were overthrown in 1983 following the disastrous Falklands War.

Over the seven years of their rule, it is estimated that over 30,000 Argentinians were ´disappeared´. The military would grab suspected leftists or progressives anywhere, anytime: walking home from work, coming off the bus, and make you ´disappear´ never to be found or heard of again.

This number doesn´t include those who were arrested and detained and tortured only to be later released.

The fate of the ´disappeared´ has never been settled, except that it is known that they were murdered. The revelation that some of them were dumped drugged but alive from planes to drown in the Atlantic Ocean reignited calls for criminal trials for former military officials.

No one, except a movement called the ´Mothers of the Disappeared´ dared to speak out against the Junta. However they only did so by silently filling the plaza in Buenos Aires outside the presidential palace on Thursdays and dressed in black.

The Dirty War still haunts Argentina, not just in the failed attempts to prosecute the former generals and operatives, but in the fate of the children of the disappeared´.

This is a much discussed issue in Argentina. The babies and very young children of women and men who were ´disappeared´ were often surreptiously adopted out (just given) to families of the cronies of the regime. This was the focus of the film that won the Foreign Language Oscar in 1985: ´The Official Story¨´ but now all these children are grown up and have realized the story of their origins seems dodgey.

Many people in their 30s have hired lawyers only to learn that they were the children of those women and men shot, buried in unmarked graves or thrown out alive to drown in the sea.

They learn that they have grandparents, aunts, uncles and brothers and sisters.

Currently Christina Kircher, a Peronist, runs the country but inflation runs amok, the value of the peso falls and the gap between the rich and the poor widens. Argentinians complain that the prices for basic foodstuffs change dramatically up to three times a month without any raise in the daily wage.

Along the expressway through the middle of Buenos Aires and the bad areas of other cities, for example the bus and train station lies shantytown after shantytown.

The very poor, some 20% of the country´s population live without electricity, running water or even true houses. Instead they reside in filthy hovels literally made of salvaged garbage.

But this October comes the election for Presidente in Argentina. Will Christina run again or give up and resign? Which party, the Radicalists (who are not radical), the Socialists or the Peronists will take the reigns of power?

In 2001, when the peso was devalued the President had to flee from angry crowds and be rescued by helicopter and off into exile from his balcony. The situation in Argentina was so bad they had seven presidents in the year. In one week they had five. As soon as a foolish candidate assumed office and realized the mess he had inherited, he would resign.

That year the wine harvest failed, there was hail and all the grapes were ruined. Disastro.

I joked today to the tour guide that Argentina seems to be the sole country where everyone is eager to refuse the honour of being a president.

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