Junto Al PuebloWednesday, November 06, 2013
I have never been close to death except in my imagination or during nightmares. The only time I considered my possible death was in Buenos Aires in the beginning of June 1966.
I was in the Argentine Navy as a conscript but because of my English I had a cushy desk job as aide and translator to the Senior US Naval Advisor, Captain, USN, Onofrio Salvia.
Much has not changed since then with the idea that the United States of America might allegedly interfere in the internal running of other nations that are part of its sphere of influence. By the beginning of June we knew (at least we in the Office of the Senior US Naval Advisor knew) that there was something that was going to transpire soon that would involve a military takeover of the government. At the time Argentina had an old country docto, Arturo Illíá as its freely elected president. The press liked to bill him (with many political cartoons) as a slow turtle. His opponent the head of the army, General Juan Carlos Onganía, who because of his prominent moustache was drawn as a sea lion, was eying the possibility of an extra star on his shoulders. This star, the presidency of Argentina, has often been the ambition of many Argentine senior officers.
The six of us who worked at the Senior US Naval Advisor’s office knowing what was inevitable decided to have a meeting in a nearby café. We discussed that during a possible coup d'état we might either be ordered to shoot some of our fellow conscripts in the army or that it might just happen the other way. We decided in the end to follow our internal judgment. This internal judgment was never taxed as the coup d'état was a bloodless one.
Since then only an occasional near mishap while driving my car has ever given me the idea that my death might be forthcoming at that precise instant.
A couple of months ago Argentine artist Nora Patrich and I flagged a cab near a train station. We were going to the former Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA) the notorious place where many Argentine political activists and many more who were simply arrested by mistake were tortured and killed during the military government that plagued Argentina between 1976 and 1982.
Instead of telling our taxi driver the name of the place she gave him a corner and the street of the place. I thought this funny and came out with it and told the driver that we were going to the ESMA. The driver was youngish and I started a conversation with him. Patrich kept gesticulating to me to shut up. When we got out of the cab she was livid and explained to me that in her experience taxi drivers were not to be trusted and that many if not most were all fachos (an Argentine expression used to denote that someone may have fascist tendencies).
I protested and tried to have my way and that she was just being paranoid. But I later thought about it.
In March of 1977, Nora Patrich’s first husband Horacio Roberto Machi, a young political activist in the city of Rosario, found himself surrounded by the authorities. The shot at his house and finally the house began to flood as the mains had been destroyed. Machi kept a few bullets in his gun but just to make sure he bit into a cyanide pill.
Patrich managed to save their young son and two-year-old daughter and escaped Argentina to Israel.
Now Patrich is Jewish. The Jewish people in their history of persecution have a logical tendency to watch for their backs and to exercise all caution. I had forgotten this when Patrich became angry in the cab. I accused her of paranoia. I was wrong to do this as a white, Roman Catholic old man with an English name I have no need to fear authorities of any kind except perhaps and over-zealous American border agent at Blaine!
I am enclosing this photograph here, which I took outside of that terrible place (and yet so beautiful) ESMA. It is obviously a portrait of some man who disappeared or at least if one is to believe the poster was a member of clandestine activity who went into exile in 1976. Who he is or was I have no idea. The poster was plastered over another announcing the elections that were going to happen on October 26, 2013. I can discern in the bottom left Cristina Kirchner who is currently the president of Argentina. The woman on the right behind the posters is Nora Patrich on her cell phone.