The good news is that my story about Peronist Loyalty Day ran in this morning’s Buenos Aires Herald. The bad news is that I cannot get the damn Peronist campaign song out of my head. It is not a pleasant tune (but then, it can’t be easy to come up with lyrics that rhyme with “social justice”).
At midday, I took the subway to the Herald. The television sets on the subway platform played the usual selection of Argentine advertisements: the lottery, anti-cellulite cream, the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Not to be a downer, but it was one of those days haunted by Argentina’s rogue past: fugitive Nazis and military juntas. Part of it was that Andrew had just come back from vacation. Andrew is the Herald’s senior editor. Aside from being the sort of fellow you’d like to have a drink with, he is famous in Argentina for having reported on human-rights abuses during Argentina’s “Dirty War” against the Left during the 1970s. The military rewarded his efforts with death threats that forced him into a prolonged self-exile in London. Seeing Andrew after several weeks’ absence brought back thoughts of Argentina’s dictatorship, which I have, thankfully, experienced only vicariously through his writings.
I checked the wire services. There was a lull in the campaign because the presidential candidates were preparing for their crucial close-of-the-campaign events. Fernando De la Rúa, candidate of the opposition Alliance Party, holds his closing rally tomorrow in the provincial city of Rosario. My colleague Marcelo and I agreed that we would both go so as to cover different angles of the event. I called Graciela at the Alliance’s press office to get accredited. Unlike the Peronists, who require two forms of identification from journalists, the Alliance is happy to issue credentials over the phone. I’m always tempted to give my name as Prince Charles or Sting, just for the souvenir press pass.
More ghosts of Argentina’s past in the afternoon. I went to a press conference given by a German human-rights group that is trying to bring criminal prosecutions in Berlin and Nuremberg against Argentina’s former junta leaders. “Just like the Spanish are doing to Pinochet,” a spokesman said. The organization rather optimistically plans to wait until just after the election, when the winners are in an expansive mood, to persuade the new government to cooperate with the German proceedings.
Fat chance. The ex-military dictators and their junior officers have been shielded from prosecution in Argentina. Some of them still belong to the police or armed forces; others have turned to politics. One of the current candidates for governor of Buenos Aires province served as a police inspector (alias “the Madman”) under the dictatorship. He has dodged dozens of criminal complaints for murder and torture. One of his main ethical precepts, according to a recent interview, is that a police officer must never go on a date with the wife of a prisoner. Hands up, everyone who feels safer!
The spokesman for the German group conceded that Argentine politicians were not likely to extradite the generals to face prosecution abroad. So he spent a good deal of time discussing a plan to get Interpol to capture the ex-dictators. That part I enjoyed. It is impossible, and I mean impossible, for me to hear the word “Interpol” without feeling a little tingle of excitement (“Not now, Moneypenny, Interpol’s on the line”).
All the abstract talk of human rights suddenly became concrete when a woman in the audience stood up to make an impromptu speech. The former military regime had abducted, tortured, and killed her husband and two daughters, she gently explained to the silent room. What really haunted her was that her two infant grandchildren had been sold to well-connected families, and she could never track them down. Her voice began to break. “They owe me those babies!” she screamed.
Hey, pardon me, boys, but after a day like that I was in the mood for something on the lighter side. I kept with the German theme–there was a party at Silke’s apartment. Silke is a German expat working for a beer company. We sat on her balcony, enjoying the spring weather (remember, the seasons are upside down here) and eating carry-out Chinese food. I talked for a long time to Vera, also German, about my plan to return to New York and to keep writing. Diego, an Argentine, wanted to know why Americans cannot adopt the metric system. Inevitably, now that I’m leaving Buenos Aires, I realize how many friends I have here.
Diego urged me to eat another dumpling. I told him I was full.
“You’ll have to pay just the same,” he said, grinning. “More wine?”