Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rodolfo Walsh- Argentinian-Irish Writer and Revolutionary Recalled

An interesting piece on RTE Lyric FM the other day introduced me to for the first time to the life and writing of the radical Argentinian writer and journalist Rodolfo Walsh. Walsh came, as his surname suggests, from the Irish community in Argentina, and is increasingly recognised throughout Latin America as a writer of considerable stature.

Rodolfo Walsh was born in Choele-Choel, province of Río Negro, the third son of Miguel Esteban Walsh (1894-1947) and his wife, Dora Gill. Miguel Esteban Walsh was the second son of Miguel Walsh (1866-1910) and Catalina Dillon. In his early years , Rodolfo Walsh was sent to the Irish school in Capilla del Señor and then to the famous Fahy Institute in Moreno, considered to be the centre of the Irish Argentinian communities educational world . "I was born in "Choele-Choel", he wrote, "which means heart of wood", and he added "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 recurrent 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 against these abusive priests and bullying schoolmates . 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.

Walsh started his career as a journalist, and from 1959 to 1961 he worked for the agency Prensa Latina in Cuba. Back in Buenos Aires, he wrote for Panorama, La Opinión and Confirmado. His political activity led him to the Leftist Montoneros group, where he acted as an intelligence officer. Walsh played a key role in the bombing of the cafeteria at the police headquarters in 2 July 1976. "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…hampering 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 of difficulty".The latter 'open letter' is considered by Gabriel García Márquez 'one of the jewels of universal literature'. But 'the day after Walsh decried these atrocities', writes US historian, Donald C. Hodges, 'three army tanks demolished his home in the capital’s suburb of San Vicente and disappeared 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 of a car, taken to the notorious Navy Mechanics’ School (ESMA), gloated over, desecrated and never seen again" (Geraghty 2002).
Rodolfo Walsh 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.

In 1969 he had 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 . 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 unpopular with 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.

In September 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. It is thought that after the violent death of his daughter at the hands of the repressive government that he too 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, 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 thoughts".
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. 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 fought to prevent the tendency to forget the atrocities of the right wing military dictatorships, and immolated his own life in the process. May he rest in peace wherever he lies.

Among his published works are Diez cuentos policiales (1953), Cuentos para tahúres, Variaciones en rojo (1953), Antología del cuento extraño (1956), Operación Masacre (1957), Secuencia Final, the plays La granada and La batalla (1965), Los oficios terrestres (1965), Un kilo de oro (1967), ¿Quién mató a Rosendo? (1969), Un oscuro día de justicia (1973), and El caso Satanovsky (1973).


Pamina said...

Thanks for this. I think it's also fascinating that Patricia Walsh has been relatively successful as a politician in Argentina. Although I don't beleive things are anywhere near ideal for the left in Argentina, I think it is interesting to see children of Montoneros and ex-Montoneros themselves take positions of relative power in the new millenium.

Nacho said...

"Walsh played a key role in the bombing of the cafeteria at the police headquarters in 2 July 1976."

As far as I know, there is no clear proof of this. Even surviving montoneros deny it.

Anyway, brillant writer and great man.

The left in Argentina sucks, shamefully.

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