Argentina is still haunted by the ghost of the 70s

Carlos A. Manfroni

LA NACIÓN – Literature is full of ghosts. The best known of them is probably that of the king in Hamlet, murdered by his brother. Edgar Allan Poe’s many ghosts stand out because of their relationship with psychology, “The demon of perversity”, which drives a murderer to confess a crime that he thought was perfect, is particularly significant among them. At the beginning of the 20th century, Frenchman Gaston Leroux wrote his famous work The Phantom of the Opera, later revived by Andrew Lloyd Webber as a musical that has been a hit on Broadway since the 80s. There are the ghosts created by Charles Dickens in “The Spirit of Christmas Past” and “The Spirit of Christmas Present”, where they appear to Evenezer Scrooge in order to reproach him for his greed and his unhealthy attachment to money. And, already in the 21st century, we have the extensive interview –turned into a book– made by the Swiss writer Nicholas Eltz to the Austrian mystic María Simma, who bears witness to her dialogues with the souls in Purgatory.

There are dozens of works of ghosts. Almost all of them appear in order to reveal some tragic event from the past, uncover a crime, seek redress for injustice, ask for forgiveness or express a repressed or hidden feeling in the society of their time.

In Argentina, where everything works backwards, even ghosts, a sheet of lies fell on the community regarding the tragic decade of the 70s. That spectral blanket covered no less than half of the truth, so that part of it looks like the whole truth. Even those with a broader vision seem possessed by the ghost of fear and silence, which haunts with a sheath without a sword and the promise of public ridicule for those who dare to speak outside the script.

Our proverbial love of our own image makes us vulnerable to the fear of being criticized for contradicted the views currently approved by the customary givers of prizes and punishments.

Regarding spirits, for 40 years the “theory of the two demons” has constantly been agitated, both by people in favor of it and against it. During the 1980s, there was no one who did not embellish their political speech with that allegory. At that time, that expression aroused offense from the military sector, where it was argued that those who began a terrorist attack could not be compared with the State forces that reacted against it. Since 2003, the invocation of the “theory of the two demons” has become anathema not only for the sectors of the left, but in almost all circles, precisely because of the same argument.

Thereafter, a surprising majority felt compelled to hold that crimes committed by agents of the state were infinitely worse than those perpetrated by terrorists. That generalization is, in my view, inappropriate. For the obvious reason that such a division does not take into account the victims in this unfortunate story. Compassion was left aside and was replaced by a useful tool for an attack.

The seriousness of these crimes must be measured case by case. In some circumstances, the deaths caused by certain members of the Armed Forces or the security forces will be more serious. In others, however, the crimes committed by members of terrorist organizations will be more serious.

There is a multiplicity of assessments to be made before measuring the seriousness of a crime, not legally, but morally: the degree of innocence of the victim, his age, his distance from the confrontation that was taking place, whether he started the attack, whether or not he was in a combat attitude, the suffering caused to him before he died and the damage caused to his family and the number of victims affected by a single act.

Or perhaps the disappearance or death of Rodolfo Walsh is more serious than that of the dozens of men, women and children who were blown to pieces, their viscera stamped against the walls as a result of the bomb that he ordered planted in the Federal Police dining room? Does your status as a writer and journalist exonerate you from such an atrocity? Or, on the contrary, if the origin of the author were taken into account, as has been done until now, to maintain that the crimes committed by agents of the State are more serious, Walsh’s writing profession should have played against him at the time of the moral evaluation of his crime? Shouldn’t we suppose that a journalist and writer has more elements of judgment to foresee the extension of the damage that his action will cause and a special sensitivity to place himself in the place of the victims and their families? And yet, awards, neighborhoods, streets, squares and passenger transport stations are named after Walsh.

Is the murder of Juan Barrios, the three-year-old boy who was taking an ice cream from his mother’s hand, less serious than the death of the terrorist who killed him with a burst of shots after injuring a policeman and setting him on fire with gasoline? Is the policeman who wallowed in his burnt flesh, killed while standing guard outside a bank, less important?

And what about the murder of the Argentinian Lieutenant Colonel del Valle Larrabure, kidnapped and locked in a well for more than a year, who weighed 40 kilos and died of strangulation after being tortured for months because he did not want to betray the nation by giving the ERP a formula for explosives? Is it less serious than the death in a shooting of Roberto Santucho, the head of the organization that assassinated him?

However, members of the terrorist forces have their names on the Wall of Remembrance; books narrating their exploits; compensation of around 250,000 dollars and jobs in government. The legal prescription that saved them from jail seems to have acted as a moral prescription for their actions.

Argentina, still anchored in the 70’s, in a spirit of silence, fear and lies, and can only get out of Purgatory with a complete confession and mutual forgiveness.

Certainly, the ghost of Hamlet did not pass through our land crying out for justice for his death, nor that of Edgar Alan Poe, in order to induce the murderers to confess their perfect crimes, so meticulously perfect that they were even rewarded. Only the Phantom of the Opera seems to have settled in, forcing Christine Daaè to sing the aria that he himself had composed.

Hopefully one day the ghosts of Charles Dickens would arrive on Christmases past and present, in order to rebuke many powerful people for their greed and insatiable thirst for money, because that was the only objective for which they forced Argentina into such social confrontation.